Astronomers say site will offer unparalleled view into deep space, but many Native Hawaiians fear it will desecrate sacred mountain
Dozens of people have been arrested on Hawaiis Big Island this week after hundreds of protesters stood, lay and even chained themselves to structures in an effort to stop the construction of a billion-dollar space observatory at the summit of Hawaiis tallest mountain.
The protests are the culmination of longstanding controversy over the site of the proposed observatory atop Mauna Kea, the highest point in the Hawaiian islands.
Astronomers say the site will offer an unparalleled view into deep space. But many Native Hawaiians consider the mountain sacred, and fear the construction of a telescope as tall as an 18-story building would desecrate it.
At 13,796ft above sea level, Mauna Kea is higher than the clouds and so cold it sometimes snows. Protesters have been blocking the only road that leads to the construction site atop the mountain, where about a dozen large telescopes have already been built. The new proposed observatory, known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), would be among the largest in the world.
The current unrest dates back to 2014, when construction on the telescope first began. A protest at the groundbreaking ceremony attracted the attention of celebrities such as the actor Jason Momoa, who is part Hawaiian. In 2015, construction was halted by the Hawaii governor, David Ige, following the arrest of 31 protesters. Then in 2018, the states supreme court ruled the construction legal, and Ige has said he supports building the telescope.
On Monday, as many as 500 protesters gathered at the base of the road leading up Mauna Kea in an attempt to block construction vehicles heading up the mountain to begin work. In the early morning hours while the sky was still dark, eight protesters dressed in winter clothes locked themselves to a cattle guard that crosses the road, preventing vehicles from moving past.
Our goal is to protect Mauna Kea, said Kahookahi Kanuha, an organizer from the Hawaii Unity and Liberation Institute (Huli), a group that opposes construction on Mauna Kea, who was reached by phone at the protest site. What that means is that we do not allow the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope for thats what would desecrate our mountain.
The Native Hawaiian-led movement is fighting to protect spiritual and environmental aspects of the sacred mountain. Mauna Kea is associated with Wkea, the sky father, who partnered with Papa, the earth mother, to birth Native Hawaiians. The mountain is home to the endemic wiku bug and Lake Waiau, an alpine lake that some Hawaiians visit to offer a newborns umbilical cord.
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