Above: Miriam Fuchs (left) leads a tour of the SMA Observatory on Maunakea for students of the STARS Program during Summer 2019.
By: Miriam Fuchs, Telescope Systems Specialist at EA Observatory/JCMT
Having dreamt about working for the Maunakea Observatories as a teenager, I feel lucky to be employed at East Asian Observatory as a Telescope System Specialist for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT). I spend many nights atop Maunakea working with visiting scientists to obtain pristine observations of the cold dust and gas in the universe that forms stars and planets. Additionally, I help support community outreach and educational programs on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. A highlight of my year was recently staffing the PISCES STARS (STEM Aerospace Research Scholars) Program for Hawaiʻi high school women.
On the first day of the program, we participated in an interactive workshop led by Hōkūleʻa voyager and Navigator in Residence at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Kalepa Baybayan. We learned about the 32 houses of the night sky that denote the location of rising and setting stars; we learned how to align the canoe to interpret which direction to venture towards. Having navigated using their knowledge of the skies and seas, the people of this island established their scientific legacy long before there were telescopes on Maunakea. It was incredibly inspiring for me to explore the unique, interwoven history of science and culture here in Hawaiʻi alongside the STARS students.
Today, we face a difficult situation as protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) have become a platform for voicing legitimate concerns about systematic injustices against the Hawaiian people. Regardless of your opinion on the TMT, it’s hard to imagine it being built under such an untenable situation on our island. For some, a sacred mountain should be undeveloped; for others, it should help us seek greater knowledge. A scientific endeavor such as an unprecedented new telescope can bring unparalleled opportunities for jobs, internships and educational opportunities for our keiki. Yet for many, that is beside the point.
While the issue has resonated around the globe, it is deeply personal for those of us living on island. It is certainly not an argument between scientists and native Hawaiians—for there is crossover on all sides—but rather one between family, friends and neighbors.
To the amazing participants I’ve worked with in the PISCES STARS program over the last few years, please know that I understand how difficult it might feel in the current climate to be enthusiastic about pursuing science careers here on island. I encourage them to reach out to others and listen to every person’s vision for the future of Maunakea. I hope the STARS students’ experiences during the program have encouraged them to express their own ideas about the future of science in Hawaiʻi and allowed them to feel more comfortable making their voices heard.
Folks go up to Maunakea to pray and practice their culture, to do science, to hunt, to snowboard, to hike, and to witness incredible sunsets and the world’s clearest night skies. I believe if we can continue to listen to one another and approach each other with mutual respect and a shared reverence for the mountain, there is hope to find a solution everyone on our island community can embrace.