Construction on Sacred Land?: Thousands Protest Hawaii Telescope Project

by | July 23, 2019 AT 8:07 AM

By David Matthews

Close to 2,000 demonstrators have gathered near an access road in Hawaii to protest the construction of a telescope on sacred ground.

Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope was set to begin last week on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, and at 13,803 feet, Hawaii's highest peak. However, the peak is considered sacred ground for native Hawaiians.

"It is without a doubt one of our most sacred places in all of Hawaii," Kaho'okahi Kanuha, a protest leader, told CNN.

He said that the land had already been "desecrated" by other observatories.

"We are taking a stand not only to protect our mauna and aina, our land, who we have a genealogical connection to," Kanuha said. "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."

"This is our last stand," he said.

Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory board said in a statement earlier in July that it was "committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community."

On Wednesday, 33 protesters were arrested for forming a line and blocking a road.

Gov. David Ige said his office is focused on safety and wouldn't use force to disperse the crowds.

"However, there are thousands of people on the mountain, and I encourage all to remain respectful and calm," he said.

He also said the protest was disorganized and that there were "inadequate bathroom and rubbish facilities" as well as reports of drug and alcohol use -- claims denied by protest organizers, who insisted the site was very clean.

"What we have here is not an image of dysfunction and not an image of a crumbling society," Kanuha said. "We have images of, basically, people uniting, people coming together, and each and every day we get bigger and bigger and become more organized and get stronger and stronger."

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