TMT backers hope to rally Hawaiian support with Big Island student's 2015 petition
You won't see flags or red shirts with their movement but native Hawaiian supporters of the Thirty Meter Telescope say they are just as passionate and see an opportunity to inject Hawaiian culture and knowledge into western science.
"Hawaii is a great place for us to globally be leaders in these areas and it would be great to be open to that and not be pushing those kinds of opportunities away," said Malia Martin, founder of Imua TMT. "This could be the first telescope that is done the right way, a more pono way with more involvement from the people."
Imua TMT organizers say many Hawaiians are reluctant to speak out for fear of backlash, so to give them an outlet, they are bringing back a petition started by a high school student from Kona in 2015 (https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/we-support-tmt.html).
Back then, Mailani Neal told KITV-4 she wants to be an astronomer and work on the telescope. Now 22, Neal is getting her Ph.D. in New Mexico and says while she empathizes with protesters, she doesn't agree with their unwillingness to compromise.
"I've felt in my na'au too, that sadness and overwhelming grief when I think about what had been done to our people," Neal said. "I've come to the realization since we can't go back and change what happened, we have to think about what is in our control and that is to better the future for our people."
TMT supporters say unlike previous telescopes, the TMT project has actively engaged the community on the Big Island and consistently shown respect for native culture in its development.
Protesters say the time for compromise is gone.
"They're grasping at straws, trying to muster up some support, rather late in the game," said Andre Perez, an anti-TMT protest leader. "We have sacrificed our land, our culture, our language, our spirituality. And we are finally saying no more."
A recent poll shows support for the telescope has fallen since protests began in July.
But supporters say the current discourse has given them an opportunity to clarify misinformation about TMT and its impact on the environment.
"The protesters have gotten everyone's attention through the social media campaign and now there's been more interest in hearing the supporters' voice," said Samuel Wilder King II, Imua TMT executive director.
So while some are immovable on the issue of Mauna Kea, Hawaiian TMT supporters hope they can bridge the divide.
Imua TMT is hosting a panel discussion on Oct. 18 at 2:30 p.m. at Kuykendall 101 Auditorium at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.