Look to Hawaii’s Past to Build Future

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, September 1 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Bronson Azama , Castle High School, Class of 2020

An Native American proverb says, “Only when the last tree is cut, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.” These wise words, warning humans of the bitter reality that money alone cannot sustain a population, are relevant in the controversy surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Protests have urged people to evaluate what exactly constitutes the idea of “progress” being championed by both sides. We must ask ourselves, what is progress? Is it just giving jobs to our people? Is it just science? Is it just technology? Can it be tradition? The conflict has created a false narrative pitting tradition against progress. The reality is that they are not mutually exclusive, and we can look toward tradition to move forward and create a better future.

Mauna A Wakea has already been impacted by destructive human activity. Chemical spills above a known aquifer in the 1980s and 1990s, the destruction of habitats for endangered species, and the disregard for religious practices have all reduced the sanctity of the mountain. These injustices must be weighed against the purported benefits of bringing jobs to the community and the continued study of the stars.

Although Hawaiians have always valued understanding the stars, we must also understand that Hawaiians practiced sustainability, bioengineering, and lived in harmony with nature. Although it is of great benefit to the astronomy community, TMT is simply not a sustainable practice. The question is: Do we look into space, or do we malama, take care of, this place? In the ahupua‘a of He‘eia, located on the Windward side of Oahu, the coexistence of science and culture is in full effect. Organizations such as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology (HIMB) have partnered with numerous community organizations in the area including the Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, and Kako‘o ‘Oiwi, to create the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS).

The NERRS project is a partnership between government officials, community members and academia to integrate traditional Native Hawaiian agricultural practices with modern restoration efforts to improve the ecology of freshwater and saltwater ecosystems.

Currently in He‘eia, they are restoring ancient taro patches, better referred to as lo‘i kalo, and a loko I’a, or fishpond. The removal of invasive species has resulted in the return of native birds and fish. Let nature speak for itself that the land is healing through malama aina. The return of sustainable practices has opened a door in the present. Research to ver- ify how the ecosystem is improving, including the water quality and native birds and their behavior, help contribute to other restoration efforts.

Narratives dictating that tradition is not progress and that culture is not science need to be broken. For me, being able to drink water that comes from my aquifer without harmful chemicals and bacteria is progress.

Being able to swim in our bodies of water without worrying about infections is progress. Being able to eat food that grows from my land and fish that comes from my sea is progress. Having a home designed in harmony with nature is progress. Returning to our traditional concepts of life is progress. Sustainability, eco-friendliness and bioengineering, are ways to create and measure this progress.

Despite our different backgrounds, we must view each other as equals and work together to better Hawaii Nei through sustainable methods that have allowed us to thrive for so long. Honoring the past and using it to propel us into the future — now that is the start of progress.