Native Hawaiian Demonstrators Halt Construction on Mauna Kea After Weeks of Protest

Jason Momoa, supporting Manua Kea.
Jason Momoa, supporting Mauna Kea.

For the last week, hundreds of Native Hawaiians have taken to the streets to protect Mauna Kea, the highest peak on Hawaii’s Big Island. Two years ago, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project was awarded a permit with the collaboration of the University of Hawaii to build a telescope with a 30 meter aperture on the summit of Mauna Kea. The planned Thirty Meter Telescope is an internationally funded $1.4 billion piece of equipment that upon completion is expected to be able to see up to 13 billion lightyears away with unprecedented resolution at multiple wavelengths.

This is a worthy cause that I can appreciate as a scientist, but not at the expense of Native Hawaiian people, who revere Mauna Kea’s summit as both a holy place and a burial ground for elders.

Native Hawaiians have protested the TMT Project since plans to build it on Mauna Kea were first announced. Last October, dozens of protesters disrupted the TMT Project’s live-streamed groundbreaking ceremony with a peaceful, non-violent demonstration. Mauna Kea’s protecters are concerned that Native Hawaiians were not adequately consulted prior to the state Board of Land and Natural Resource’s decision to allow construction on Mauna Kea’s holy ground, and that the entire area is also environmentally fragile. The protesters are hoping to take their challenge of the TMT Project all the way to the Supreme Court.

Protesters march to protect the summit of Mauna Kea from a construction project they say will desecrate it.
Protesters disrupt the groundbreaking ceremony for the TMT Project at Mauna Kea last year, saying the construction will desecrate the summit.

Mauna Kea’s protectors have increased their demonstrations recently as the University of Hawaii’s 65-year master lease of Mauna Kea lands for the Mauna Kea Observatories is due to be renewed. Thirty one protesters were cited for trespassing over the last week, and the campaign has even earned the support of actor (and future Aquaman) Jason Momoa, who posted pictures of himself mid-protest to Instagram. He wrote:

I need your help to protect Mauna Kea! I’m asking everyone I know and everyone I don’t to take a photo of themselves holding up a sign or they can write on their shirt, or their body, whatever they feel, the words “WE ARE MAUNA KEA” and ask their friends, family, and fans to click on the link in my profile to sign the petition and learn more. We need 1million signatures. Please help, this is more than just about Mauna Kea it’s about Mother Nature and preserving her for future generations.

Professional surfer Keanu Asing also expressed support for the cause of the Mauna Kea protectors in an interview.

Today, Hawaii’s Governor David Ige temporarily halted construction on the TMT Project amid protests, pending “further dialogue” with protesters. However, there is no evidence that the construction project’s stoppage is permanent.

For much of Hawaii’s recent history, Native Hawaiians have struggled to assert their sovereignty over their own land and destiny after a history of colonialism that has seen the exploitation of Hawaiian land and resources at the expense of Native Hawaiian people. The notion that sacred ground like Mauna Kea could be given up for a project like this — without input from Native Hawaiians, and in fact over their explicit protestations — is yet another manifestation of that colonialist mentality.

Supporters of Native Hawaiians’ right to protect land they hold sacred are urged to sign this petition, which reads:

We, the undersigned, are in support of the letter submitted to you by the Mauna Kea Hui dated April 1, 2015.  We accordingly urge you to do the following:

• Immediately halt all TMT-related construction on Mauna Kea.
• Immediately stop all arrests and other interference with those standing in protection of Mauna Kea.
• Upon thorough review of the facts presented to you, revoke the CDUA that was wrongfully issued to the TMT project, and protect Mauna Kea from further destructive development from here on.

We urge you to act in the spirit of ALOHA, in accordance with the laws of the State of Hawai’i and international standards protecting indigenous peoples, the environment, and Mother Earth, to take expedient action in this matter.

Truly respecting the host culture of this land means respecting thesacred places that that culture has held in reverence for millennia. Doing so lays a good foundation for genuine healing of the longstanding historic wrongs that continue to affect the well-being of everyone in Hawai?i.  You have an opportunity to begin a great healing process right now, and to turn the future of Hawai’i toward one that is truly pono.

We urge you to take this opportunity, for all of Hawai’i and the world.

Please protect Mauna Kea.

Supporters are also encouraged to tweet their support to #WeAreMaunaKea.

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