Approach to science keeps tradition in mind

Student leader consultant for Faulkes Telescope

By EDWIN TANJI

City Editor

KAHULUI — A student leader at Maui Community College says he is looking to the future with his feet firmly set in his Native Hawaiian past. 

Dendrick Kamalu, chairman of the Associated Students of Maui Community College, joined University of Hawaii astronomy officials last week for a blessing of the site for the planned Faulkes Telescope on the Haleakala summit. 

But the opportunity for expanded educational options for students on Maui, in Hawaii and in Great Britain was only part of the reason for participating in the blessing, Kamalu said. 

“I was also interested in the cultural aspect of Haleakala,” he said. 

He said he felt comfortable participating in a project to build a new observatory on the summit, although he also considers the summit a sacred area based on Hawaiian cultural and religious traditions. 

The sophomore student leader from Molokai blends a strong sense of the traditional with an interest in the technology of the the 21st century. At MCC, he is a liberal arts student, but as he moves on in school, he said, he expects to major in some facet of computer science. 

He was a natural choice to represent the students, not only of MCC but of the U.H. system as a whole in the Faulkes Telescope Project. MCC Pro-vost Clyde Sakamoto asked him to represent students in discussions with officials of the U.H. Institute for Astronomy as they proceeded with the planning on the project over the past year. 

“I was actually quite pleased to be asked to be involved as the only student that had any input in the development of the project,” Kamalu said. But to be involved in construction of another modern scientific structure on the summit, Kamalu said he needed to be satisfied that the U.H. scientists also were respecting Hawaiian cultural sensitivities about the location. He said he was reassured that the university, which has control of the 18-acre section of the summit designated by a 1961 governor’s executive order as the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site, would honor area-related sensitivities. 

Kamalu said his understanding of Haleakala was influenced by Maui kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who has demanded that the U.H. provide a master plan for the summit before proceeding with more observatory developments. 

But Kamalu said he also considers Dr. Emmett Aluli as his mentor, both on Hawaiian cultural issues as well as on the need for education and the responsibility of involvement in the community in which he lives. 

Growing up with a hanai family on Molokai, Kamalu said, he lived “just down the road” from Aluli and frequently had conversations with the doctor-activist about issues affecting Hawaii. 

Aluli is a founder and longtime leader of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, the group of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians organized in 1975 to protest the use of Kahoolawe as a bombing range, saying the island was an important cultural resource. The protesters eventually were proved correct when a survey found numerous archaeological sites, leading to the entire island’s being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Aluli subsequently was chairman of the state’s Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, responsible for preparing for the state to take over management of the island in November 2003, when the U.S. Navy gives up all responsibility for the former Target Island. 

Kamalu said he sees the new observatory on Haleakala as an intrusion on the summit but one that provides a positive educational benefit for students in general and Hawaiians in particular. 

He noted the importance of astronomy to the traditional Hawaiians, who depended on their knowledge of the stars in navigating across the Pacific. He said he appreciates the work of Nainoa Thompson, the U.H. regent who learned the skills of the ancient navigators from a Micronesian traditional navigator, Mau Piailug, who was willing to share his knowledge. 

The Faulkes Telescope Project, funded by a British scientist and software developer, Martin “Dill” Faulkes, is intended to provide opportunities for students from kindergarten through college to develop astronomy projects using the 2-meter telescope operated by Internet connections. 

Students in both Hawaii and Great Britain will have access to the Haleakala telescope as well as a sister facility to be built in Australia. Students will design projects, will be allotted observation time and will be able to control the observations remotely through a secure Internet connection. 

According to the U.H. institute, the instrument on Haleakala will have an electronic camera with resolution of 4 million pixels. As the project is developed, the camera will include capabilities for infrared imaging, allowing for observations in daylight as well as for visual imaging at night. 

“Right now they’re developing the educational element, but they are providing for the Hawaiian cultural element,” Kamalu said. “It started to provide for both sides.” 

He said he was assured by U.H. officials that there will be a site set aside for Hawaiians to exercise traditional cultural practices. 

“That’s the one thing I’m very pleased about,” he said. 

Design and use of the site will be determined by the Hawaiian community, he said. It also can serve as an educational facility for Hawaiians on traditional cultural practices and religion, he said. 

Maxwell, saying he has not been told of the designation of a cultural site on Haleakala, expressed some skepticism. He noted that he had gone along with the development of the Air Force’s AEOS observatory on Haleakala, partly because he was promised a site for Hawaiian cultural practices would be provided. 

“It didn’t happen,” he said Saturday. “To this date, they have not set aside a cultural site for traditional practices. 

“I just wanted to emphasize that Haleakala and the summit is an important cultural area,” he said. 

At least, though, he said, the Institute for Astronomy has been provided funds for preparing a master plan for the summit. “That’s what we told them we wanted before they built anything else: Have a master plan so we know what they are doing up there,” he said. 

An official with the Institute for Astronomy said Sunday there have been discussions on providing a site for Native Hawaiian cultural practices, but no specific area has been selected. 

For Kamalu, appropriate use of Haleakala is also a primary issue. The 20-year-old representing the next generation of Hawaii said he will continue to be involved. 

“It feels good, being able to make a difference for MCC and for the students,” he said.