Native Hawaiians have turned to the United Nations to help them stop the construction of a gargantuan $2.65 billion telescope on the sacred mountain Mauna Kea.
Background: The extremely large telescope, known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), has been planned for decades. Construction began in 2014 but was halted due to strong mass opposition.
At present, Mauna Kea — the Earth’s tallest mountain from base to peak — is already home to 21 telescopes and 13 observatories. If built, the new telescope would purportedly allow scientists to address “fundamental questions in astronomy ranging from understanding star and planet formation to unraveling the history of galaxies and the development of large-scale structure in the universe.”
As of 2021, the TMT was estimated to cost $2.65 billion, up from the previous $1.4 billion. Stakeholders in the multinational project include the U.S., Canada, China, India and Japan.
What the petitioners are saying: The petition against the TMT was sent to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on July 14, in line with the fourth anniversary of protests by elders and hundreds more who formed blockades to stop construction. It described Mauna Kea as “a sacred site of immense religious, spiritual, and cultural importance for Native Hawaiians” and argued that construction of the TMT violates indigenous rights.
Petitioners include Kahea, a Hawaiian environmental organization; Ziibiing Lab, a University of Toronto research group focused on Indigenous politics; and the University of Windsor’s Transnational Law and Racial Justice Network. They particularly criticized Canada’s involvement in the project and urged the United Nations to intervene to “prevent further and irreparable harm to Native Hawaiians’ lands, practices and sacred sites.”
“The government of Canada is a major partner and supporter of the TMT project, which for decades Native Hawaiians have challenged legally and opposed physically,” said Uahikea Maile, director of the Ziibiing Lab, as per CTV News. “We must not tolerate the status quo of Canadian human-rights violations against Indigenous Peoples, whether in or beyond its borders.”