Why Are So Many Native Hawaiians Protesting The Thirty Meter Telescope On Mauna Kea?


Mauna Kea
[Photo of Mauna Kea by Vadim Kurland | CC BY 2.0]
Elders of Kanaka Maoli, the indigenous people of Hawaii, on Mauna Kea were arrested Wednesday on the frontlines of a road blockade intended to block crews from beginning construction on the planned Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Thursday marks the fourth day of protests that included nearly a thousand protestors and the latest in a 10-year battle. The Hawaiian Supreme Court already heard the case and upheld the permit for construction on the TMT.

By Thursday even, protestors’ social media reports indicated 36 Native Hawaiians were arrested in all. Some of them were elders walking with canes or sitting in wheelchairs. The elders were reportedly given citations and released.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) stated that 33 elders were arrested Wednesday morning. On social media, supporters of the protesting group of Native Hawaiians voiced strong opposition to the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy’s plans to develop the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea.

Why Is Mauna Kea The Ideal Spot For The Thirty Meter Telescope?

The desire to build the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea is based on its altitude. Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s highest peak. The elevation of the peak tops out at 14,000 feet. Another factor that makes the location desirable for the telescope is the lack of light pollution on Muana Kea. The telescope, if built according to plan, will produce images that are 12 times sharper than imaged produced by the world-famous Hubble Space Telescope. Some of the mountain’s 13 existing telescopes will be dismantled over the next ten years.

Why Are Protestors Trying To Stop The Telescope’s Construction?

The mainstream media is almost universally stating that some of the indigenous people in Hawaii consider Mauna Kea a sacred place. The details usually end there though. Focus has also been placed on the Native Hawaiians who support the construction of the TMT.

To thousands of aboriginal people of Hawaii (and even throughout Polynesia), Mauna Kea is especially sacred land. The sleeping volcano is the apex of their ancestral ties to creation. Historically, everyone but the highest chiefs and priests were forbidden from climbing to the summit.

What Makes Mauna Kea Sacred Ground?

Those that are protesting to protect the mountain from further construction believe that the higher regions of the mountain are realms of the creator. Mauna Kea’s summit is considered a temple of the Supreme Being. It’s also believed to be the home of divine deities and divine ancestors.

This mountain is believed to be the meeting place of the Earth Mother (Papahānaumoku) and the Sky Father (Wākea) who was the eldest son of “Ancient One” (Kahiko). In many Native Hawaiian’s religious beliefs, Wākea and Papahānaumoku together created the Hawaiian Islands.

Additionally and perhaps paramountly, Mauna Kea is the burial ground of many of their ancestors, including high ranking chiefs and priests. In their beliefs, these grounds actually embody the spirits of these important ancestors.

To this day, aboriginal people to Hawaii view the volcano with reverence and still perform religious ceremonies there. You can find altars on Mauna Kea. Additionally, the summit is close to several dozen archaeological sites and it is home to many properties that are eligible for National Register of Historic Places registration.

Does The University Of Hawaii Realize This Is Sacred Ground?

Yes. There has been a long legal battle over the use of the mountain. Additionally, the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy recognizes the volcano as “a sacred place for the people of Hawai’i” as you can see on its Maunakea Visitor Information Station webpage or YouTube video:


Are All Native Hawaiians Opposed To TMT?

No, there are Native Hawaiians that support the construction of the newest telescope too.

According to West Hawaii Today, support for the telescope’s construction has grown over the years among Native Hawaiians. Now, a majority of Native Hawaiians reportedly support its construction, though some claim that the poll is inaccurate, according to the same West Hawaii Today article.

Where Does Hawaiian Presidential Candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Stand On The TMT Issue?

In 2016, Rep. Gabbard said in a statement that she was personally opposed to building another telescope on Mauna Kea, but she recognized that not all Native Hawaiians are opposed to the construction.

“I am personally opposed to building yet another telescope on Mauna Kea, but the question of whether we support or oppose TMT is too simplistic. It’s a much bigger and more complex question — what lessons must be learned from the past in Mauna Kea’s desecration, and what is the pono (righteous, moral) path forward?”

Friday, Rep. Gabbard issued the following statement: