The plan to build a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea
has resulted in a worldwide protest movement and a very interesting hashtag
At first glance, the notion of colonialism having anything to do with astronomy or science seems far fetched, but as you peel back the layers, the story becomes quite interesting. Science, as a method of inquiry and discovery is most potent when it isn’t influenced by politics, yet it has benefitted greatly from the moral injustices of colonialism towards indigenous communities over the centuries. Today indigenous perspectives are often excluded from the scientific discussion, but we have an unprecedented opportunity to heal this history and elevate the conversation to benefit all of humanity.
By claiming “survival of the fittest” or “might makes right” Social Darwinism, is an example of how science has been inappropriately used to justify the colonial power dynamic. The concept has very little to do with Darwin, it ignores the research that values cooperation as a component of evolution, and it conveniently implies supremacy and domination of one species or culture over another. This perspective permeates our economics, politics, foreign policy, and has unfortunately permeated science as well. Many indigenous perspectives sees things differently, as inter-connected in a larger web or circle, and do not view life-forms or cultures in a hierarchy.
This difference in world-view is at the heart of many struggles on the planet and is especially apparent in Hawaii where scientists are proposing to place a 30-meter telescope on top of the watershed which is the sacred mountain of Mauna Kea. Background here. This week on social media voices in the scientific community spoke up about the ethical issues surrounding the telescope. Though Hawaiians hold Mauna Kea as their sacred and ancestral site, they are also voicing concern over their watershed and fragile habitat on this island eco-system. Any holistic scientific inquiry would value the top of a watershed for the health of all life-forms including humans, yet this argument has barely been heard in what is being viewed as a clash between culture and science.
When science gains by oppressing the Sacred, then Science becomes The predator of moral balance.. it is critical that our collective lesson teaches aloha pono: respect my boundary, as i respect yours. We have an obligation to build science on dignity, respect of each other first. That being the standard, please, please see what is sacred to us is not sacred to this project. Kapu Aloha , Do not take what is not yours Sacred. Science, and industry, and government are feeling the violation of disrespecting. I am sorry that is happening to you. Please forgive me should you understand it might be a failure of mine. Thank you for respecting me . WE lOVE YOU, NOW, BEFORE AND AFTER THIS CONFLICT!. We see you bigger than your moral immaturity. I See We Hawaiians Challenged to meet the intellectual and moral imbalance prevailing. Were all going to the mountain, just from the No Risk Side. Aloha pono! Love prevails all trauma . Peace first, not after you take. -Harry Uhane Jim
I created the image of the telescope on Mt. Rushmore above to illustrate a perspective that many westerners are too quick to ignore. What if your water source, your sacred site was the chosen spot for this telescope? Mt Rushmore itself (without a telescope on it) is symbolic in that it is a sacred place to the Sioux Tribe. To have the faces of the white foreigners who invaded their land and killed their ancestors on that mountain shows the insensitivity and disrespect of colonial attitudes towards indigenous people that most westerners fail to notice. It is no surprise that Lakota Chief Arvol Lookinghorse has expressed solidarity with Hawaiians in their fight to protect their sacred mountain.
Storyfy illustrates the unfolding social-media drama that erupted on Twitter between academics and scientists. Buzzfeed also did a great piece that explores the controversy in Astronomers Clash Over A Giant Telescope On A Sacred Hawaiian Mountain. You can search the hashtags #decolonizeastronomy #tmtshutdown and #aoletmt. Charee Peters, an Astronomy PhD student, and proud Yankton Sioux tribal member, kicked off the discussion with her tweet below. Dr. Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein, theoretical astro|physicist, has been leading the charge along with others in the field. Scientists recognize that the credibility of their work relies on acknowledging that not everyone has the same concept of progress as western science.
As an indigenous astronomer, I need to say: This is sacred ground! No science is worth taking away people’s culture. http://t.co/pan5ll4wtf
— Charee Peters (@SiouxperNova) April 6, 2015
Wherever you stand on this issue we can all celebrate that this conversation is becoming part of the public discourse across cultures. Mutual respect and open dialogue between opposing viewpoints is the only way to heal and grow our understanding of each other. We live in a time when every voice matters. We must continue to embrace and include all perspectives if we want to heal the traumatic history we all inherited and create a better future.