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Chancellor’s Message: Understanding the varying perspectives and viewpoints about Maunakea

The issues being discussed are very important to us all and I encourage each of you to listen, learn, and share your opinion in a respectful way.

By Don Straney

Hilo sealA healthy university is one that embraces diverse subject matter, wide debate, and constructive argument. The recent events on Maunakea prompted by the start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope have greatly affected some members of our University of Hawai‘i at Hilo ‘ohana and others from our island and state. At UH Hilo, we respect the right of people to express themselves peacefully, and we have hosted several events this past month designed to help the UH community and the general public understand the varying perspectives and viewpoints about Maunakea.

Kapu aloha 

Early in April, we hosted a panel discussion to explore the concept of “kapu aloha” for the mountain. Three women were on the panel: Manulani Aluli Meyer, a former associate professor of education at UH Hilo and world scholar-practitioner of Hawaiian and indigenous epistemology; Luana Busby-Neff from Molokai, a founder of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana; and Ngahiraka Mason, a senior curator of Maori art from Aotearoa, who gave us an intimate summary of her own experience and understanding of relationships to mountains.

This two-hour community meeting was attended by 80-plus people, who learned that kapu aloha is a discipline that teaches compassion and aloha for all, especially for those who are perceived to be polar to the cause. As Manulani expresses, “A kapu aloha helps us intentionalize our thoughts, words and deeds without harm to others. It honors the energy and life found in aloha, compassion, and helps us focus on its ultimate purpose and meaning.”


Later in the month, the Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language held a “teach in” about Maunakea with their students and invited the upper classes of two immersion schools. It was an informational and enrichment day for getting to know more about Maunakea, share cultural connections and examples of strategies for action taken from traditional Hawaiian stories and documented Hawaiian history, as well as information about the current history of astronomy on the mountain.

The purpose was to impart information to students — the future leaders of our communities — in a nonjudgmental fashion, and then let them form their own opinions about the current debate.

BOR meeting

About the same time, the UH Board of Regents held a special meeting at UH Hilo to hear about the management of Maunakea and the Maunakea Science Reserve. Public testimony on the current debate about TMT was welcomed and 61 members of the UH Hilo community and the general public presented their views.

There was a lot of respect and aloha shown by everyone who attended the BOR meeting (standing room only in our largest lecture hall) and we listened carefully as presentations occasionally included direct criticism and pointed challenges to the BOR and UH.

As I write this, the board has scheduled a follow-up meeting at UH Hilo for Sunday, April 26, to continue hearing testimony.

Respect and aloha

I believe it is important to provide opportunities for our students, faculty, staff and the local community to gather together at events like these to learn from many different sources about the events unfolding on Maunakea. This type of discussion and debate is what a university is for.

The issues being discussed are very important to us all and I encourage each of you to listen, learn, and share your opinion in a respectful way. Our respect and aloha for one another will guide us well as we move forward.


Don Straney