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June 1, 2015
by Mary Horn, Psy.D.

The Controversy in Hawaii is Representative of Important Issues World-Wide

June 1, 2015 05:55 by Mary Horn, Psy.D.

The Hawaiian Islands are widely known for their beauty and rich cultural diversity.  Located in the North Pacific Ocean, they encompass some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, some of the highest mountain peaks, volcanoes, waterfalls, rain forests, and protected land and native species. The climate in Hawaii boasts eleven of the thirteen climate zones in the world. The climate zones each have unique ecosystems and characteristics that make up their weather patterns. With all the natural beauty that Hawaii has to offer, the Hawaiian Culture and Spirit remain today the most powerful aspects of what make the Hawaiian Islands so special.

Researchers believe that the islands were first settled in as early as AD 300 by Polynesian long-distance navigators. The Hawaiian Islands were governed independently up until 1898 when they were annexed as a United States territory and became the 50th State in America in 1959.  It is a gross understatement to say that for the Native Hawaiian people, many hardships and heartbreaks have occurred throughout the years, and the scars from the losses they have suffered run deep. Through the years, there have been many conflicts stemming from religious and Hawaiian Cultural beliefs, and the changes that come with modern society, science and progressive development. The current conflict involves sacred land and a chance for major scientific advancement that impacts the world.

The dilemma that Hawaii faces today is representative of what should be of concern world-wide. Culture, environmental preservation, and scientific advancement are all integral aspects of our modern society. But how far do we go? What is the impact psychologically on people whose passion and love for their land and culture is a part of who they are? How do we decide between land and cultural preservation or scientific advances?

Current Controversy in Hawaii

There are many volcanoes that make up the Hawaiian Islands. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano with its peak being the highest point in the State of Hawaii. Actually, when measured from its base on the ocean floor, it is over thirty three thousand feet from top to bottom. That is greater than Mount Everest above sea level. In ancient Hawaiian religion, the peaks of the island of Hawaii are considered sacred. Because Mauna Kea has the highest peak, it is considered the most scared of them all. Since the eighteenth century, the Native Hawaiians have been trying to protect the delicate landscape of the island chain, but particularly, their most sacred mountain. However, Mauna Kea’s summit with its high altitude, stable air flow, and dry environment has been discovered to be one of the best sites for scientific research, namely, astronomical observation. Since 1964, eleven countries have funded thirteen telescopes that now sit at the summit of Mauna Kea.

In 2013, a thirty meter telescope was approved to be built on the summit. If built, it would be one of the largest telescopes ever built. It could contribute a great deal to science and the understanding of our universe. The problem is, it would be built on sacred landscape and would likely affect endangered species and protected land. Environmentalists opine that the land on Mauna Kea is fragile. It is also ceded land, which means it should only be used for the benefit of the native people. Native Hawaiians still actively practice religious ceremonies on Mauna Kea. 

Developers of the telescope project report that the State of Hawaii, Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the construction of this project in April of 2013. However, when the groundbreaking for the telescope construction began in 2014, several dozen demonstrators picketed and chanted in the middle of the roadway. They also interrupted the blessing, groundbreaking and stopped the proceedings. Beginning in March of 2015, demonstrators again blocked access to the road that would lead to the summit. People ages 27 to 75 have been arrested by local police. The cause to protect Mauna Kea’s summit from one of the largest telescopes in the world, has grown to the point of a state wide protest in 2015. David Ige, the Governor of Hawaii halted construction of the project temporarily, and the company constructing the project, has stopped indefinitely. 

Psychological Impact

The Hawaiian culture is highly spiritual.  An important aspect of the culture is the use and respect of the land and its natural resources.  For many people around the world, culture is a part of who they are.  Consider the psychological impact of being unable to stop the destruction of land that one believes helps to define who they are and where they come from. Imagine being reminded daily as you watch and live with what you consider the destruction of what you hold most dear. 

All over the world, people are tasked with deciding if it is more beneficial to develop or preserve.  For the scientists who planned this project and have eagerly awaited its construction, there is also a psychological impact.  The astronomers look to their future when they look to the stars. To imagine access to one of the largest telescopes in the world, only to have the project abruptly halted and put on hold indefinitely, is also devastating. They spend many years researching and planning for future discoveries. Those who support the telescope on Mauna Kea report that they are trying to be environmentally responsible.


Currently, Mauna Kea, the scared mountain, is the battle ground for Hawaiians, astronomers and environmentalists. However, what it represents is a world-wide controversy about what should be most important to us. Our planet, our land, our culture, scientific development, but most of all, finding a way to work together…


Davis,C. (2015, March 26) Thirty Meter Telescope Protesters Continue to Block Construction on Mauna Kea [Web log post]. Retrieved April 4, 2015, from -kea

Drewes, P. (2015, April 3) Mauna Kea’s Master Plan Pits Conservation Against Development [Web log post]. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from

Hall, S. (2015, May 9). Science and Religion Clash Over Telescope Construction on Sacred Summit [Web log post]. Retrieved 2015-5-17 From 

Hawai’I Facts & Figures (PDF). State Web Site. State of Hawaii Dept. of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. December, 2009. Retrieved 2010-05-23 From

About the Author

Dr. Mary Horn Dr. Mary Horn, Psy.D.

Choosing to enter therapy can be difficult, so I will walk beside you on this journey. Together we find new endings for old beginnings. No one should have to walk the road of transformation alone. I try to provide a safe, neutral environment, so change can happen..

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