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33 Native Hawaiians Arrested Protecting Sacred Mountain From Giant Telescope

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The summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Charmian Vistaunet / Design Pics / Getty Images

A decade-long fight over the proposed construction of a giant telescope on a mountain considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians came to a head Wednesday when 33 elders were arrested for blocking the road to the summit, HuffPost Reported.


The most recent protests kicked off Monday, when construction on the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) was set to begin on Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island. Astronomers say the mountain is one of the best places in the world to get a clear view in an attempt to understand the origins of the universe. But some Native Hawaiians revere the mountain as sacred. It is both a place where important ancestors are buried, and a place believed to be an entrance point to heaven, CNN explained.

"We're losing all of the things that we're responsible for as Hawaiians," activist Walter Ritte, who was one of eight to chain himself to a grate on the access road Monday, told Hawaii News Now. "We're responsible for our oceans. We're responsible for our land. We're responsible for our future generations," he said. "We must win this battle," he added.

Ritte was one of the 33 arrested between around 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, Hawaii News Now reported. Most of them were kupuna, or elders.

"We're kupuna fighting for our families," Ranette Robinson, another of the arrested activists, said.

Hours after the arrests, Hawaii Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation to give authorities more "flexibility" to stop protesters from blocking construction.

"We are certainly committed to ensuring the project has access to the construction site," Ige said, as ABC News reported. "We've been patient in trying to allow the protesters to express their feelings about the project."

Hawaii News Now estimated that 1,000 people were present at the demonstrations, while ABC News reported those numbers swelled to 2,000 after Wednesday's arrests.

Plans for the TMT were first announced 10 years ago, according to Hawaii News Now, and opponents have tried both direct and legal means of blocking it since then. HuffPost gave a brief run-down of some of them:

Protesters, who call themselves "protectors" of the mountain, disrupted a groundbreaking back in 2014. And police arrested more than 30 opponents the following year after they attempted to stop construction. Later that year, the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated a construction permit, finding that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources violated due process when it approved the permit in 2011. Those behind the project were forced to apply for a new one.

Last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court declared the project's latest permit legal, according to ABC News. Opponents are, however, still fighting in court as well. Last week they filed a suit arguing that the telescope's builders must post a security bond equal in cost to construction before starting their work.

Not all Native Hawaiians oppose the project, however. Annette Reyes, who lives on the Big Island, said most important cultural traditions were not practiced on the summit.

"It's going to be out of sight, out of mind," she said, as ABC News reported.

The 13 observatories already located on the mountain have put work on hold during the protests.

"The safety of everyone on the mountain, (observatory staff), law enforcement and protesters is of paramount importance to us," East Asian Observatory Deputy Director Jessica Dempsey said in a statement to CNN.

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