Green Hawaiian Mountain Seals and the Giant Telescope

Hawaii, or as I like to call it, “The 1898 Grover Cleveland Happy Meal for Future Generations” has a vision problem.

One of my college rugby mates started making facebook posts from this mountain in Hawaii called Mauna Kea. He is Hawaiian, as in “covered in weird triangle pattern tattoos” Hawaiian, not “your friend Russel who moved there from Alabama and now he and his wife say ‘Aloha’ on the phone or named their kids after a fish or fruit Haole” Hawaiian. And it is so different from what I care about that I paid attention and now you get to learn about it.

Here’s a quick rundown of Hawaii: they used to hang out and surf a lot, then the tribes were united by Kamehameha the 1st, or Kalanipai’eawohiokaleikinikeali’ikuikamehamehao’iolaniikaiwikapukau’ikaliholihokunuiakea. He is not to be confused with Alekaneteroʻiolanikalanikualiholihomakaoʻioulikūnuiākeaokūkāʻilimoku, who is Kamehameha the 4th, who died with no heir until a King from the house of Kalākaua was elected. King Kalākaua allegedly ran up a lot of national debt, leading to 1887, when a thing happened called the Bayonet Constitution(bayonet referring to the item that would be inserted in the King if he chose not to sign it) which had income requirements and land ownership requirements to vote, leaving Hawaiians with about as much voting rights as colored people on the mainland had, which is to say barely more than Asians(who were strictly excluded from political participation in Hawaii). In addition to literacy requirements, the Bayonet Constituion set high income requirements that were only really affordable by westerners who had made huge money via international trade. When the next Hawaiian Queen tried to fix this, a rebellion was instigated by mainlanders upset that they might soon have the exact same rights as everybody else and upon completion, the glorious Kingdom of Hawaii joined the United States. This happy union between indigenous people and the United States of America resulted in ‘ceded’ Crown lands which means that a government group called the HHCA has stewardship over land that Native Hawaiians were pretty happy to manage all by themselves for centuries. Well, about thirty years ago the University of Hawaii decided it was in the Hawaiian-people-who-did-not-want-them-there’s best interest to start building observatories on around Mauna Kea, a mountain which is holy to them.

The original line was “we’ll just build one, it will be small and we’ll run the plans by you first”. There are currently 13, 2 were literally never used and instead of knocking down any of the dozen old ones and then putting a new one on the old spot to be minimally invasive, the new plan is to build the biggest Observatory yet right on top of the mountain and the tribal people are kinda upset at this and the notion of a 5000 gallon septic tank being installed on their sacred site is icing on the Haole Manu cake.

Hawaiian Governor Ige showed up in the first week of protests and said he understood what they were upset about and was doing what he could. The Hawaiian State Supreme Court ruled the telescope was okay in 2013, so the only way the Native Hawaiians can stop construction is to reach the famously liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning they have to figure out a procedural way to make their case a matter of federal interest and go all the way up the Federal Court system. However, Native Hawaiians do not have the same legal status most continental tribes do, they have opposed most moves towards this kind of protection as it would indicate legal acceptance of their overthrow and being part of the United States. The two legal cases that come up here are Arakaki v. State of Hawai’i, 314 F.3d 1091 (9th Cir. 2002) and Rice vs Cayetani which concern the OHA, a weird quasi-governmental group run by Native Hawaiian for Native Hawaiians and the cases mentioned define how such a race-based membership organization is not a violation of the 14th and 15th amendments.

All you need to know is that in 1959 Congress created a group called the HHCA which handles all ceded crown lands(aka tribal land we own now) primarily for “the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians” and four other reasons, only one of which matters for how these managers of land justify the middle finger in the face of Native Hawaiians that this telescope represents. One of the other four uses of the land is for Public Education. For you people who hate college, yeah, Public Education means the University of Hawaii, which in its library may have an unopened book called “Things Native Hawaiians Do Not Want.”

On a larger issue too, at what point does scientific progress have the right to overstep religious significance? Is looking into space from the ground so vital that the only possible place for a 30 meter telescope has to be right on top of a volcano that the local tribe values? Other possible sites for construction of what is called the E-ELT are the Atacama Desert(a desert so barren that it has literally never rained there), Baja Mexico, three places in India and one in the Canary Islands. It is crazy to think that the scientists chose a vibrant and fragile rainforest ecosystem that also doubles as a religious holy site over a giant, flat, totally empty desert like Atacama.

Well, environmental concerns are where I think the Hawaiians have a last ditch option. The only way they can absolutely 100% stop construction at the last minute is to discover an endangered species on top of the mountain. Anything, a flea, frog, maybe a salamander. They are going to have to find one, or kidnap a mountain gorilla from Rwanda, or do what I suggest: grab a Monk Seal, paint it green and put it on top of the Mauna Kea. Then start a giant campaign to save the Green Hawaiian Mountain Seal, selling little Green Hawaiian Mountain Seal pins, stuffed Plushy Greeen Hawaiian Mountain Seal dolls, and selling little Green Hawaiian Mountain Seal green laser pointers to shine at the observatory telescopes on the mountain currently because that is a required part of the mating ritual of Green Hawaiian Mountain Seals. Most importantly, they could use a hashtag like #savethehawaiiangreenmountainseal which would appeal to the tide pod generation, and more importantly, allow my buddy PK to go home to his wife and kids.





Seal photograph by Jamie Hall


Overview of the Hawai`i Judicial System

Arekaki Decision

Rice Decision

TMT stuff

TMT locations:

Special thanks to PK who I literally can’t pronounce his name but he ok in my book.