Open Letter: Thirty Meter Telescope Project

Image of telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Open Letter

I have been watching with great concern the on-going conflict around the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project on Maunakea in Hawaii. This conflict has garnered significant global attention from scholars, policy makers and communities.

As a member of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), Western has affirmed its interest in supporting the cutting-edge astronomy research that will be enabled by TMT. As a result, the research community at Western has been in dialogue around the choice of Maunakea as the site to build TMT, and the implications of colonization on the inherent rights of those Native Hawaiian people who oppose this choice. Western colleagues are in consensus that the TMT project has a long and complex history. Our community members hold diverse positions and perspectives on aspects of the TMT project.

At Western, it is clear that the situation in Hawaii offers opportunities to more deeply reflect on and discuss the role of ethics in research, especially in relation to working with Indigenous peoples in settler colonial contexts.

Western is committed to strengthening relationships with Indigenous peoples and nurturing an environment of respect, reconciliation and collaboration in our research, education and campus life. These principles guide us in our work here at home, and in our relationships abroad.

While the potential for scientific advancement offered by the TMT is immeasurable, we also recognize that research should not be pursued at the expense of Indigenous community engagement and recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights. Moreover, Western does not condone the use of military force or violent action in response to these types of disputes.

As the situation in Hawaii unfolds, we are taking the necessary time and steps to create ethical spaces in our academic community, where diverse peoples and ways of thinking can come together in pursuit of a way forward.

Dr. Sarah Prichard
Acting Vice-President (Research)
Western University

Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is Western’s involvement in the TMT project?

Western is one of 20 Canadian member-universities of ACURA. Western has in the past had a representative on the 6-member ACURA Board of Management. ACURA has two non-voting representatives on the TMT International Observatory Board of Directors. The voting member from Canada is not from ACURA, but from the National Research Council (NRC): i.e., a representative of the Canadian Federal Government.

Western also holds one of three Canadian positions on the 18-member Science Advisory Committee to the TMT International Observatory.

Several Western astronomers are members of TMT International Science Development Teams. There are nine teams organized by science goal, and membership is open to qualified researchers from TMT partners and the wider astronomy community.

2) What is ACURA’s involvement in the TMT project?

ACURA was founded in 2003 as an association of Canadian universities to advise the Federal Government on Canadian investment in the next generation of extremely large telescopes. After a thorough review of opportunities, Canada signed on to the TMT International Observatory partnership in 2014. The partnership now includes University of California, the California Institute of Technology, Japan, China, and India.

Western does not receive or expend any research funding for the TMT project. Canada’s NRC provides funding for the TMT project.

3) What research partnerships is Western involved with in the TMT project?

Western astronomers are participating in international teams to prepare for and develop plans for future TMT science instruments and projects. Under academic policies, individual faculty members are protected and have the rights to direct their own research agendas without interference of government or administration.

4) Is there other scholarly work happening at Western related to the TMT project?

Scholars from Western across diverse disciplines such as astronomy, geography, and Indigenous studies, are involved in other types of research related to the TMT project. Some Western professors are also engaging their students in coursework that brings forth diverse perspectives on astronomy, TMT, and Indigenous rights. Many students are curious about the TMT project - wanting to get involved and to educate themselves.