Sacred Sites: Balancing Scientific Progress and Native Hawaiian Sovereignty

October 27, 2020 3:30 pm — 5:00 pm
Webinar Only

An ELI Public Webinar

The Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) project proposes building an observatory on Mauna Kai, a dormant volcano on Hawai’i's Big Island that is also one of the most sacred sites to Native Hawaiians. Scientists prefer Mauna Kai as it is one of the only locations in the Western hemisphere suitable for such a telescope, which will enable scientists to observe astronomical objects not viewable from most other locations. The site was formally selected in 2009 and since then a series of legal challenges have come up, including challenges that went all the way to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. Additionally, protests have delayed construction of the TMT for over a decade.

Native Hawaiians have a long history of displacement and injustice propelled by the United States government and large corporations. This project is perceived as yet another instance of development without their explicit consent, and is seen by many as a desecration of Native Hawaiian culture. In late 2019, protests blocked construction materials from accessing the construction site for the TMT. While project developers plan to move forward with the Mauna Kai site, they have also applied for permits in alternative locations.

The TMT debate represents the ongoing issues of former Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination, Indigenous rights, environmental justice, stewardship, and decision-making. Complicating legal factors include the Hawai’i State Constitution with its listed rights afforded to Native Hawaiians, and the lack of federal tribal recognition for Native Hawaiians, which limits the benefits and legal protections afforded to them. Join ELI and expert panelists as they explore the complicated history behind TMT longstanding challenges to preserving the culture of Native Hawaiians, the natural environment of the islands, sovereignty and tribal status issues, environmental justice, and more.

Cynthia R. Harris
, Director, Tribal Programs; Deputy Director, Center for State, Tribal, and Local Environmental Programming; and Staff Attorney, Environmental Law Institute, Moderator
James Douglas Ing, Partner, Watanabe Ing LLC
David Kauila Kopper, Senior Staff Attorney, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation
Kekailoa Perry, Associate Professor, University of Hawai’i

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