A Call to Divest Canada's Research Funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea

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A Call to Divest Canada’s Research Funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea 

To: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Government of Canada

Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport

CC: The Canadian Astronomical Society, the National Research Council of Canada, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA),  the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. 

We write to you as concerned citizens, community members, graduate students, faculty members, staff and alumni to urge you to divest Canadian funding from the Thirty Meter Telescope non-profit international partnership project on Mauna Kea. 

On April 6th, 2015, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed approximately $234.5 million to fund scholars from the Canadian Astronomical Society, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia to develop the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaiʻi. According to the Globe and Mail, this funding through the National Research Council was designated specifically to develop the 56 metre movable steel dome of the telescope, which was slated to be built on unceded Coast Salish territories in Port Coquitlam for approximately $150 million. Canada is also scheduled to contribute in shared operation costs for this $1.5 billion project, with the University of Hawaiʻi, and the University of California, amongst other academic institutions. 

The Thirty Meter Telescope, however, is an unethical project that, if completed, will desecrate sacred Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) lands. It is unethical both because of its intended location and because the project does not have the consent of Kanaka Maoli people. Kanaka Maoli scholar Gregory Pōmaikaʻi Gushikan notes that “Mauna Kea is a sacred wao akua (place of the gods). It is a piko (spiritual and genealogical center) of Kānaka Maoli which sustains life for all living beings on Hawaiʻi Island.” Mauna Kea is an aquifer that is the primary source of freshwater for those on island. Building a large imposing structure on the mauna without the consent of Kanaka Maoli people is a direct violation of the principles of free, prior and informed consent (specifically articles 11, 19, 28, and 29) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and would also have adverse consequences for the ecological health and well-being of this community as well as the sacred landscape of which much of the island’s water is connected.

We urge you to divest from the TMT project. We ask you to put a stop to ongoing non-consensual activity on the mauna. Multiple statements written by Kānaka Maoli and allies have observed that there has been ongoing resistance to the telescopes since at least the 1970s, when the first proposed Canada-France-Hawaii telescope was built in a coalition between Canadian, French and American astronomers under the previous Trudeau Government. In previous iterations of non-consensual activity, the conflict between the community and the TMT corporation led to a direct confrontation on the mauna, where fifty-seven kiaʻi (protectors) were arrested, causing immense cultural and physical harm and violence to Kānaka Maoli who stood to protect the mauna. Most recently on July 17, 2019, more than thirty kūpuna (elders) were arrested for protecting the mauna.

As researchers, we are especially concerned about the ethics of this project. Kanaka Maoli faculty members at the University of Hawai’i, allies at the University of California, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the American Studies Association (see attached statements) have questioned the university’s ethical contributions to this project. A December 2018 statement signed by over 200 Kanaka Maoli faculty, students and allies, condemned the project for upholding unethical research standards that lack the “respect for places and communities affected by the project.” The statement contends that because there has been no consultation or ethics protocol created to interrogate the cultural and spiritual impacts this may have on communities, such projects are an example of non-ethical research that not only contradicts the institution’s commitment to be a Hawaiian place of learning but actually positions the university to potentially arrest its own Indigenous and faculty students. In 2015, many of those arrested on the first standoff were in fact members of the University of Hawaiʻi community who expressed their responsibility to protect the mauna. And yet, despite the university’s commitment to being a Hawaiian place of learning, it has aided in a project that will further alienate, and culturally, physically and materially exploit Indigenous peoples of Hawaiʻi. 

Additionally, as the faculty of Hawaiʻinuiākea: Hawaiian School of Learning have recently stated, the University of Hawaiʻi’s leadership under President David Lassner raises serious questions about the university’s commitment to Indigenous peoples. In a statement, they condemned his leadership, for “overtly attacking Hawaiian culture, lands and people here and on Mauna Kea.” They insisted on his resignation for ‘“weaponizing” Hawaiian concepts and identity to mask his support “of the Governor and Hawai’i county Mayor’s threats to deploy unreasonable and extreme force against faculty, students, staff and community members.” With the Governor of Hawaiʻi’s recent announcement calling the “crisis” around Mauna Kea a “national emergency,” we stand with the faculty of Hawaiʻinuiākea and support their call for his resignation, as well as calls to halt the emergency proclamation enacted by the state. 

As academic affiliates of the below listed institutions, we are reminded of the coinciding contradictions of Canada's own legacy of funding unethical research that has aided in the ongoing alienation of Indigenous communities throughout Canada.  Numerous universities, including the University of Victoria, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia (among many others across Turtle Island implicated in the TMT project), have undertaken extensive investigations to re-envision more ethical relationships and responsibilities to Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes and Coast Salish territories. Canada must live up to its own research ethics policy related to research done with or affecting Indigenous people in Canada (Chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement) which states that research should be guided by the principles of respect for persons, concern for welfare, justice collaborative research, mutual benefits, collective decision-making and local guidance, in addition to free, informed and ongoing consent. Canada’s investment in this project is thus a contradiction to this investment and a longer conversation around decolonization within and beyond Canada’s settler borders, including institutional support for the development of Indigenous research ethics and methodologies.

We, the undersigned write to raise awareness regarding the risk and harm posed by the TMT and to ask that the affiliated universities, as well as the National Research Council of Canada, Government of Canada and responsible Ministers to divest from the building of the telescope. 

Sincerely, 

Katherine Achacoso (Alumni of the University of Toronto) and Doctoral Student in the Department of American Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa 

Sarah Marie Wiebe (Alumni of the University of Victoria) and Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa

David Uahikeaikealeiʻohu Maile, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Jeff Corntassel, Associate Professor, University of Victoria

Jessica Kolopenuk, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta

Eve Tuck, Associate Professor, OISE, University of Toronto

Nathan Lachowsky, Assistant Professor, University of Victoria

Ethel Tungohan, Assistant Professor, York University

More statements of solidarity:

American Studies Association 

University of California Divestment

University of Hawaiʻi statement asking David Lassner to revoke Governor Ige’s State of Emergency Proclamation.

To support the kia’i at Mauna Kea:

KAHEA 

How to stand for Mauna Kea