“Mauna Kea is the place of our origin”, said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one group that is protesting the telescope.
“Protesters say they are taking a stand to defend Mauna Kea, sacred to native Hawaiians, from the worldwide conglomerate attempting to build the mega-telescope, also known as the TMT”.
As I marched alongside protestors who wound their way up the mountain, however, I learned their animosity stems from something much bigger than a giant telescope or sacred mountaintop.
University of Hawaii officials say an email was sent to telescope and observatory employees early Friday morning, advising them to use extra caution while driving on the access road and suggesting that they drive with hazard lights on to improve vehicle visibility. County police and state DLNR officers arrived on the scene around 7 a.m. “They were intent on escorting construction workers to the top of the island, and we were intent on preventing that”, Perez says.
No work has been done at the site since construction was put on hold in April, following the arrest of 31 protesters. David Ige agreed to decommission “as many telescopes as possible” in the surrounding areas “with at least 25 percent of all telescopes gone by the time TMT is ready for operation”.
TMT board chair Henry Yang said in a statement Wednesday that workers had turned back after finding boulders in the road and being told by DLNR officials that it was unsafe to proceed. “When the public looks at Mauna Kea, what you see are telescopes”.
Cultural advocates say it took hours for enforcement officers to get past the first group, but as the day progressed, a total of 11 individuals were arrested.
“We’re bracing ourselves mentally, spiritually for the battle ahead”, said Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the protesters camped out near the visitor center at 9,200 feet.
He was charged with the petty misdemeanor offense of obstructing and then released after posting $250 bail.
“The state and Hawaii County are working together to uphold the law and ensure safety on roadways and on Mauna Kea, while allowing the people their right to peacefully and lawfully protest”, the governor’s office said in a statement late Tuesday.
Hundreds of protesters flocked to Mauna Kea Wednesday to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope from resuming. Its partners include India, China, Canada, Japan and the Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp., formed by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology.
“We had a major confrontation today”, says Andre Perez, an organizer with Oahu-based Movement for Aloha No ka Aina, who was among those arrested. “This action is a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk”, McCartney said. “But tomorrow is another story”.