Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Native Hawaiians Continue to Protest Plan to Build Telescope on Sacred Land

Popular
Protests led by Native Hawaiians have blocked the construction of a telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea on Big Island. Actions for Mauna Kea / Facebook

By Jessica Corbett

A week after construction was scheduled to resume on a long-delayed $1.4 billion telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea — a dormant volcano on Hawaii's Big Island — thousands of Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred continued to protest the planned observatory.


Explaining that the 13,796-foot mountain is considered home to Native Hawaiian deities, Kaho'okahi Kanuha — a leader of the kia'i, or protectors, who have set up camp on the mountain — told CNN Sunday that "it is without a doubt one of our most sacred places in all of Hawaii."

Kanuha said that Mauna Kea — considered by astronomers one of the best places in the world to observe the skies — already has been "desecrated" by 13 other telescopes and with the ongoing Indigenous-led movement against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

"This is our last stand. We are taking a stand not only to protect our mauna and aina — our land — who we have a genealogical connection to," Kanuha explained. "We are fighting to protect it because we know if we cannot stop this, there is not very much we can fight for or protect."

Pua Case, an Indigenous organizer and one of the Mauna Kea protectors, appeared on Democracy Now! Monday to discuss why thousands of Native Hawaiians and other critics of the project are protesting.

"For the last 10 years, we have held off the project of the building of an 18-story telescope on the top of our mountain, near the summit, on a pristine area called the northern plateau, over our water aquifer and the source of water for much of this island," said Case.

"We are making a stand as not just Native people and not just the local community, but really a worldwide community, because there are so many similarities," she added. "There are Native people everywhere around the world standing for their mountaintops, for their waters, for their land bases, their oceans, and their life ways. We are no different than them."

A project of the TMT International Observatory — a partnership between University of California and the California Institute of Technology, as well as institutions in Canada, China, India and Japan — the controversial telescope would be the largest in the Northern Hemisphere.

The protests against the telescope were triggered by Democratic Gov. David Ige's announcement on July 10 that an access road would be closed to transport equipment up the mountain.

Last Wednesday, after police in riot gear failed to clear protectors from the access road despite arresting 33 kūpuna — elders — and one caregiver, Ige issued an emergency proclamation that expanded law enforcement's power to close off parts of the mountain and manage protests.

On the mountain Sunday, activists "scheduled a variety of workshops and training sessions throughout the day," according to Honolulu's Star-Advertiser. "Some of those workshops were aimed at sharing Hawaiian culture, although others were meant for practicing 'nonviolent direct action' in the event that law officers showed up."

Ige raised concerns by sending some members of the National Guard to the mountain last week, but the governor has insisted they are focused on transportation and duties other than managing protests and that, as of Friday, he does not plan to call in any more troops.

The demonstrations haven't been contained to the mountain or the Big Island. On Oahu, KHON 2 reported, about 2,000 people "marched two miles on Sunday from Fort DeRussy to the Honolulu zoo" to protest the telescope.

Solidarity actions have also popped up around the country, and as of press time, a Change.org petition demanding "the immediate halt to the construction of the TMT" was fewer than 1,000 signatures away from reaching its goal of 150,000.


An open letter that has been signed by astronomers doesn't explicitly denounce the project, but calls into question how the government and the partnership behind the telescope have handled opposition.

However, the letter does "call upon the astronomy community to recognize the broader historical context of this conflict, and to denounce the criminalization of the protectors on Mauna Kea" as well as "urge the TMT Collaboration and the government of Hawaii to desist from further arresting or charging protectors, and to remove military and law enforcement personnel from the summit."

On Monday morning, Democratic Lt. Gov. Josh Green became the highest ranking public official in the state to visit the mountain amid the protests. He told reporters, "I came here today to listen and to respect people."

"I'm here to make sure people are OK," said Green, a physician who arrived at Mauna Kea after an emergency room shift. "I'm not here for a political statement."

Green's visit came after Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim went to the access road over the weekend. Kim told a crowd there that "we all see different things, but I'll tell you how I feel: For the first time in my 80 years of life, I see a group of people finally coming together to feel proud of being who you are, because you are the most beautiful, warmest, givingest people on God's Earth."

Despite the local opposition, TMT International Observatory spokesperson Scott Ishikawa told Hawaii News Now on Sunday that "Mauna Kea continues to be the preferred site for TMT."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A man pushes his mother in a wheelchair down Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami on May 19, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.

Read More Show Less
To better understand how people influence the overall health of dolphins, Oklahoma State University's Unmanned Systems Research Institute is developing a drone to collect samples from the spray that comes from their blowholes. Ken Y. / CC by 2.0

By Jason Bruck

Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.

Read More Show Less

Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus

On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.

Read More Show Less
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks. jacqueline / CC by 2.0

By Kelli McGrane

Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.

Read More Show Less

"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images

Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.

Read More Show Less
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons. Curtis Palmer / CC by 2.0

By Ashutosh Pandey

Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A women walks with COVID-19 care kits distributed by Boston's Office of Neighborhood Services in Boston, Massachusetts on May 28, 2020. The pandemic has led to a rise in single-use plastic items, but reusable bags and cloth masks can be two ways to reduce waste. JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP via Getty Images

This month is Plastic Free July, the 31 days every year when millions of people pledge to give up single-use plastics.

Read More Show Less