Protect Mauna Kea: An Open Letter
This letter was originally written by the Wisconsin Youth Climate Action Team and Extinction Rebellion Madison.
Dear UW Department of Astronomy and Chancellor Rebecca Blank,
The University of Wisconsin promotes itself as an institution dedicated to diverse learning styles and perspectives, including a commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. However, the complicity of the UW system in devaluing Indigenous knowledge and land rights through its support of the proposed Thirty Metre Telescope International Observatory Project on Hawaii’s Big Island, prove otherwise. UW is a founding member of AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, a large consortium involved in the financial and scholarly promotion of this eighteen-story telescope. The construction spot is located on Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain to Native Hawaiians since time immemorial, where land and water protectors have a long history of defending their rights since colonization and occupation began. Over the past few weeks, tensions have escalated and included the arrest of at least 35 kūpuna, or elders, and many Hawaii politicians, including Democratic Governor David Ige, have further fueled the criminalization of Native Hawiians and the militarization of their sacred spaces.
Youth climate activists are here today on behalf of students, staff, faculty, and supporters of the university to demand that UW immediately condemn the TMT project and end all forms of support through divestment. This includes the University of Wisconsin-Madison specifically, and its Astronomy Department. UW should leverage their position as a founding member of AURA to end the consortium’s partnership with the TMT project. Rather than maintain a position of silence and neutrality, we feel UW is compelled to publicly denounce and divest from this massive telescope, in a location where thirteen already exist. Divestment would send a powerful and positive message that this university cares for Indigenous students, cultures, and civil rights and does not condone the desecration of the sacred.
UW’s careless relationship to this destruction of a religious site emboldens scientific imperialism and sends a message that Western forms of learning will be violently prioritized. This is an act of modern colonization that dismisses traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous cosmology that holds Mauna Kea to be the meeting place between the spiritual and physical worlds.
In the words of Hawaiian activist Kaniela Ing, “Mauna Kea impacts all of us. It’s an environmental struggle against developers who seek free reign. Profiteers [are] exploiting fragile places without regard for the future... We are concerned about whether we will be able to breath in 20 years, or be out of fresh water, or have any space left in our sacred places...”
UW cannot pledge to advocate for Indigenous students, respect Native nations, and pursue sustainability and then turn around to put resources into projects that ignore sacred land rights. We, as people of conscious, cannot allow these insidious networks of colonization and environmental racism to go unchecked, because they not only threaten Indigenous sovereignty from Hawaii to here in Wisconsin, but are the leading causes of the climate crisis and ecological breakdown that threatens us all. For all these reasons, we stand in solidarity with the Indigenous people of Hawaii to demand protection for Mauna Kea and call on UW-Madison to publicly join us.
University of Wisconsin Students, Educators, Workers, and Wisconsin Taxpayers
Wisconsin Youth Climate Action Team
Extinction Rebellion Madison
F.H. King: Students for Sustainable Agriculture