We Are Mauna Kea Protester
Cliff Matias
This elder was very inspirational to the younger protesters in Hilo, Hawaii.

Telescope Opposition Gains Momentum With Rallies, Walk-Out and International Support


Opposition to the construction of a giant $1.4 billion telescope on top of sacred Mauna Kea Mountain gained momentum Monday, April 13 when hundreds of students and faculty members at the University of Hawaii at Manoa staged a walk-out, thousands rallied on the Big Island and Oahu to call for an end to the project, and support poured in from around the world.

“We are not going to stop until this issue is brought to a halt,” said Jon Osorio, professor in the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, at a press conference following the walk-out, which was reported by KITV.

Native Hawaiians believe that Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is 13,796 feet above sea level, is the most sacred place on all of the islands. The University of Hawaii and its partners want to build the world’s biggest telescope—an 18-story high industrial complex telescope—at the top of the mountain. Scientists say it’s the best location in the world to see the faint and distant objects they can’t observe with existing telescopes. Thirteen other telescopes are currently located on Mauna Kea. Environmental groups oppose the project because of concerns about impacts to the water quality of the aquifer and the environment.

An elder on top of Mauna Kea standing with the Iroquois Warrior Society Flag, which has been flying since the beginning of the protests. (Cliff Matias)

The university’s partners are the Thirty Meter International Observatory (TIO), Goodfellow Bros, the University of Hawai‘i (UH), the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). The University of California, California Institute of Technology, National Astronomical Observatories of China and Japan and other international institutions are also providing funding for the project, according to the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). The council has issued a statement calling for international support to stop the desecration of Mauna Kea.

RELATED: Treaty Council Calls for US and International Support for Mauna Kea

The construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has sparked strong feelings among Native Hawaiians, who have protested the project at an encampment on site since March 30. Some say the movement to protect the sacred mountain has sparked a spiritual awakening and cohesiveness among the people. Members of the burgeoning nationalist movement who seek full independence from the United States, say the TMT project is another example of abuse of the land, which bolsters their argument for the restoration of Hawaii’s status as an autonomous nation state.

Pua Chase, one of the organizers of the Mauna Kea protest and her 12-year-old daughter Kapolei, attended the rally on the Big Island Monday.

Event organizer Pua Chase and her daughter Kapolei Flores are working to protect Mauna Kea. (Cliff Matias)

“This is about all of us waking up in a different consciousness to say our Mauna is sacred,” Chase told ICTMN. “If you held this rally on this corner about a couple of weeks ago maybe on a good day 20 people would have showed up… We’re thrilled because [information about the protest is] out there now, it’s global, but more than that people are supporting us because they’re going through the same things—they’re standing up for their mountains, their forests, their oceans, their lands and their sacred ways—and so are we. So if we all can support one another that is the purpose, the mission and the shift at this time.” She was inspired by the actions of the Idle No More movement among the First Nations in Canada. “They made me stronger than my fear.”

Opposition to the project has gone on for years, but opponents say their voices haven’t been heard.

“The university and the TMT have been disregarding our input on this matter and we are standing up for our culture, our land and our mauna,” UH freshman Ho’oleia Ka’eo said.

“We always knew that in the end it would have to be a political movement that would stop this because no one in these agencies was willing to listen to us, hear our testimony,” said Osorio.

Snow is part of life when you’re this high above sea level, but it’s still odd to most local Hawaiians. (Cliff Matias)

As demonstrators were planning Monday’s actions over the weekend, TMT organizers launched a new website in an effort to counteract the powerful appeal of protecting a sacred site.

“We thought it was necessary because there was an awful lot of misinformation that was out in the social media and the media,” Sandra Dawson, the Hawaii Community Relations manager for TMT, said in an interview with KITV.

Dawson dismissed the Native Hawaiians’ claim that Mauna Kea is a sacred placed.

“It’s a plateau that has no archaeological sites,” she said. “It’s not a place where people have gone historically for any cultural observations. There were no historic sites there and so it was chosen specifically for that reason.”

READ MORE ABOUT THE SACREDNESS OF MAUNA KEA HERE: Indigenous Hawaiians Fight Proposed Telescope on Sacred Mauna Kea

On Saturday, April 11, Gov. David Ige announced that the TMT team informed him it will extend a moratorium on construction that was supposed to expire on April 14 until April 20, Civil Beat reported.

RELATED: Giant Telescope Project Halted on Sacred Mauna Kea; Protests Continue

Chase’s daughter Kapolei thinks construction will resume and the telescope will be built, but not without facing resistance.

“If and when they say this project is going to move ahead, there’s no going back for us,” she said.

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