TMT Collaborators Divestment

Uahikea Maile

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is an observatory governed by a corporate, non-profit, and multinational board of directors with partners and stakeholders across the world. This unit examines, first, the international network of collaborators in the TMT project—specifically, the partners and stakeholders—and, second, the growing movement in Hawaiʻi and beyond the islands to demand that TMT collaborators divest from their financial, technological, and scientific investments in the observatory sited to be built at Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi island.

TMT is a technoscientific innovation of massive proportions, and the collaboration that constitutes it is both enormous in scale and bureaucratically complex. In order to protect Mauna Kea from desecration and destruction at the hands of this monstrous project, it is crucial to understand the TMT collaboration and demand its collaborators divest.

Who are the collaborators? What are their investments? What is divestment and why is the divestment movement critically important?

The original partners of the Thirty Meter Observatory Corporation, established in 2003, organized together to propose the TMT project for construction at the northern plateau of Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi. Original partners included the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), the University of California (UC), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) participated at this time in planning discussions. According to the corporation in consultation with researchers and engineers, the mountain in Hawai‘i was the most exceptional one in the world for a Extremely Large Optical Telescope as a ground-based facility that could be used by cosmologists, astronomers, and astrophysicists to uncover the origins of humanity, hunt for habitable planets outside of the solar system, and discover extraterrestrial and alien life, to name just a few of the science opportunities. This was a lofty research agenda that compelled the corporation to propose siting the observatory at Mauna Kea because of its low optical turbulence and excellent atmospheric and meteorological conditions. Although the corporation was initially driven by North American institutions in the US and Canada, it expanded quickly to bring aboard the National Optical Astronomy Observatory of Japan, National Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Indian Institute of Astrophysics. In this sense, scientists from settler-states in North America entered into a technoscientific collaboration with those in Asian countries rationalized settlement, colonization, and occupation in Hawaʻi through their unapologetic desires for conquest in outer space.

After transforming in 2014 into the Thirty Meter International Observatory Limited Liability Company (TIO), the estimated cost to develop TMT at Mauna Kea was $1.4 billion. Corporate partners pledged to cover this cost—some with cash over time, whereas others with in-kind contributions like infrastructure and instrumentation. The University of California and Caltech committed $50 million from their institutions to the project and an additional $200 million,

acquired through a grant from the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation, for initial design, infrastructure, and development. The National Research Council of Canada allocated $243.5 million to manufacture the observatory’s enclosure as well as the telescope’s adaptive optics system and some first-light suite instruments. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory of Japan and National Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences largely pledged in-kind contributions, whereas the Indian Institute of Astrophysics committed $200 million to produce approximately 20% of the mirrors for the telescope’s primary segmented mirror. Although these numbers constitute the bulk of the fiscal contributions and pledges in TMT, these financial investments are co-constituted by investments, such as appeals and advocacy, in the project’s cutting-edge technology and the fresh science capable with it. In other words, to desire the observatory, for its technological innovation paired to scientific inquiry, is to necessarily compel economic investment in it. This is the tangled web woven in technoscientific investment in TMT. Therefore, divestment work targets not just the financial, technological, and scientific investment.

The TMT divestment movement is global and championed by Kānaka Maoli and kia‘i (mountain protectors). In this unit, you will learn about TMT divestment work taking place, to this day still, in Hawaiʻi, California, and across Canada. At the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu, the University of California, and the National Research Council of Canada, Kānaka Maoli are showing up to oppose the TIO’s proposed construction of TMT by calling for wholescale divestment in the observatory at Mauna Kea. This means demanding divestment from the technology to occupy Mauna Kea and the science that would extract data from its occupation insofar as it also means demanding financial divestment from the proposed development in Hawai‘i. In the divestment movement, Kanaka Maoli have been clear: no consent, no TMT. Some collaborators have heard this message, but they have still yet to act. While opposition in the form of direct-action demonstrations is critical to protect Mauna Kea, so too is opposition in the form of divestment work. The battle rages on against technoscience in occupied Hawaiian national territory and against settler colonialism and capital on our sacred mountain.

The guiding questions and resources for you to learn about TMT Collaborators and Divestment. The guiding questions provide a framework of inquiry for reading the resources. This unit contains four sections of resources that have been curated for you to learn about the TMT collaboration and divestment movement. These are listed below with various materials such as local and global news articles, blogs, institutional and organizational websites, videos, podcasts, and scholarly research.

Guiding Questions:

1. Who are the partners and stakeholders in the Thirty Meter Telescope? How have they financially, technologically, scientifically invested in TMT at Mauna Kea? What narratives and tropes are articulated by TMT partners and stakeholders to rationalize its construction in Hawaiʻi?

2. In what ways does the TMT’s multinational non-profit corporation collaborate with public institutions, private industry, and governments? What legal orders and jurisdictions, rules and laws, and policies are navigated in such a collaboration?

3. How do international technoscientific collaborators discuss TMT’s proposed build site at Mauna Kea in relation to Kanaka Maoli consent? What legal-political issues are implicated in this discourse about development and consent?

4. How have Kānaka Maoli engaged with partners and stakeholders, excluding the State of Hawaʻi and University of Hawaiʻi, in the TMT collaboration? Conversely, how do these individual partners and stakeholders talk about engaging Kanaka Maoli?

5. What is divestment? What are some of the specific movements that shaped global practices of divestment? As a unique legal, political, and economic strategy, how and why is divestment used in the struggle against TMT at Mauna Kea?

6. If investment in the TMT collaboration at Mauna Kea is an investment in both relations of capital and colonialism, what do TMT divestment demands teach us about anti-capitalism and decolonization in Hawaiʻi?

How to Use this Unit:

1. Explore the Information on TMT Collaborators to understand the TMT Corporation’s public information about the Corporate Board of Governors and its Partners.

2. Examine the TMT Divestment News to get a sense of the local and global media coverage on the TMT project as it relates to local and global demands that its collaborators divest from development at Mauna Kea.

3. Read On Divestment to learn about the rise in divestment movements globally—calling for individuals and institutions to divest from: South African apartheid in the 1960s; Israeli apartheid, occupation, and human rights violations in Palestine beginning in 2005; fossil fuels beginning in the 2010s; and the Dakoa Access Pipeline in 2016—to contextualize the movement for TMT divestment in Hawaiʻi.

4. Read New Research on TMT Divestment to investigate the investments, desires, and deferrals of TMT collaborators and, simultaneously, how new research shows that Kanaka Maoli are holding the corporation and its partners accountable.

Information on TMT Collaborators:

● TMT Corporate Partners (

● TMT Board of Governors (

TMT Divestment News:

● “Commending CASCA’s Decision Not To Support TMT Without Native Hawaiian Consent” (

● “The Colonial Lens”

( iboiron-pam-palmater)

● “Indigenous Sovereignty, Settler Colonialism, and the Thirty Meter Telescope” ( rty-meter-telescope)

● “Canadian Astronomy, the TMT, and Kanaka Maoli Resistance on Unceded Territory at Maunakea” (

● “Canadian astronomers contend with issue of Indigenous consent over Hawaiian telescope project”

( 38068)

● “Indigenous students ask Canadian universities to divest from the Thirty Meter Telescope”

( ivest-from-the-thirty-meter-telescope-1.5225229)

● “#UCDivestTMT Public Records Request Press Release”

( release)

● “University of California pressured to cease TMT funding”

( essured-to-cease-tmt-funding)

● “Japan Suspends TMT Funding Citing Mauna Kea Stalemate”

( ting-mauna-kea-stalemate)

“India, co-builder of Hawaii telescope, wants it shifted out of proposed site” ( shifted-out-of-proposed-site/article30618654.ece)

On Divestment:

● What is Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)? (

● BDS Movement (

● BDS South Africa (

● Standing Rock and Defund the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)


● #DefundDAPL Flyer and Information

( 2174345/DefundDAPL_flyer_Dec2016.pdf?1482174345)

● “The Fight Against the Dakota Access Pipeline Is Not Over. Here’s How You Can Join” ( -not-over-heres-how-you-can-join)

● What is Divestment? ( ● “A beginner’s guide to fossil fuel divestment”

( divestment)

New Research on TMT Divestment:

● “Deferring Divestment: Fieldnotes on Canadian Investment in the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea” forthcoming in Unsettling Technoscience: Theorizing Indigenous and Settler Science, Technology, and Society

● “Unsettling (S)pace: Technoscientific Desires for Time, Territory and Outer Space atop Mauna Kea” forthcoming in American Indian Culture and Research Journal