By Mahealani Richardson

"The silence is deafening."

That's how OHA Trustee Peter Apo describes the lack of support from the Native Hawaiian community for the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope.

He says despite the protests and legal battles, a silent majority support building the telescope atop Mauna Kea.

"I think it's important to the legacy, to the identity to who we are as Hawaiians. The legacy of the search for knowledge," he said, of the telescope. "To not pursue that, to not have it happen in our homeland is crazy. Frankly, I think that's the cultural injury."

He believes ancient Hawaiians would have welcomed the telescope.

"If they were given the opportunity for a tool, a technology like the TMT, they would build a temple on top of the mountain and put the TMT on top of the heiau," he said.

When asked if his Hawaiian values have been questioned because of his opinions, Apo says he's been called a "traitor" and "guilty of treason."

He's not the only prominent Native Hawaiian backing the project.

One of Hokulea's master navigators, Kalepa Baybayan, has also supported it.

"It's pretty lonely, yet you have to be pretty brave to take a stand for something that polarizes the community," he said.

He added, "The education benefits that it will bring the community is a very generous offering on the part of TMT."...

The judicial veil draped over the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is now lifted with the findings and decision of contested case hearing officer Riki May Amano that the project should proceed.

The decision is now referred to the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to determine next steps on Sept. 20. From my perch as an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, I observe three interlocking dimensions to the moving-forward equation.

First, there is the business of whether the ambitious 18-story-high TMT facility will survive this second-time-around scrutiny by the BLNR as meeting conservation district use criteria, given what I expect will be an emotion-charged public hearing process.

Second, there is the hot-button concern driven by Hawaiian opponents of TMT, who have successfully rallied thousands of supporters globally who cite the project as a disrespectful pursuit rife with cultural injury to the sacredness of Mauna Kea.

Third, there is the matter of the ticking clock imposed by the multinational TMT consortium of academic institutions and its need for a hurry-up process that yields "reasonable assurances" by this fall that construction can begin in April of 2018.

To the question of whether the TMT passes muster as an allowable use of conservation district land, I believe the BLNR cannot simply consider the TMT in a vacuum that ignores the 25-year history of expansion. The astronomy complex that crowns the mountain now houses 13 observatories sprawled across 500 acres, which is five times the size of Ala Moana Beach Park.

A decommission plan is long overdue that provides a time frame for deconstructing observatories as they become obsolete, so that there is a predictability to the shrinking of the footprint of the complex. I believe there are already at least two observatories that fall into the obsolete category.

The claim of cultural injury by opponents who cite any digging into the mountain as a cultural injury flies in the face of the well-documented historical record of land-use traditions.

Through the centuries Hawaiians repeatedly altered the Mauna Kea landscapes to build temple complexes, terrace massive acreages for food production, and dig deep into the mountainside to create quarries to access high-quality stone for tools.

Finally, the somewhat official ticking clock notification of a time-sensitive boundary driven by the consortium presents the highest level of vulnerability. Opponents will no doubt press the opportunity to bleed the time frame by exhausting every avenue of appeal so that the clock will run out and all arguments are rendered moot.

I join Hokule'a navigator Chad Baybayan in saying that the real cultural injury results from not supporting this global opportunity of the millennium to be a leader in the search for knowledge of the universe that would lead us to the night of Po, the beginning of the universe, from whence came our ancestors.


The Thirty Meter Telescope Project has been developed as collaboration among Caltech, UC, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), and the national institutes of Japan, China, and India with the goal to design, develop, construct, and operate a thirty-meter class telescope and observatory on Mauna Kea in cooperation with the University of Hawaii (TMT Project). The TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO), a non-profit organization, was established in May 2014 to carry out the construction and operation phases of the TMT Project. The Members of TIO are Caltech, UC, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India, and the National Research Council (Canada); the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a TIO Associate. Major funding has been provided by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation.

For more information about the TMT project, visit, or follow @TMTHawaii.


Sandra Dawson

TMT Manager, Hawaii Community Affairs