A group of mostly Native Hawaiians rallied Friday in Honolulu against the planned Thirty Meter Telescope, vowing to exert nonviolent protest to counter what they view as desecration of Hawaii’s tallest mountain.
“We will stand firm. We will kupaa (be unmovable). We will persist. We will not give up. This telescope will not be built,” declared Davianna McGregor, University of Hawaii-Manoa ethnic studies professor.
McGregor was among a handful of speakers who appeared at a news conference Friday morning in front of the Honolulu headquarters of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The “protectors” of Mauna Kea called on the state, UH and the TMT International Observatory board of governors to stand down from the $1.4 billion, cutting-
edge astronomy project.
With more than 50 people holding signs and flags of protest, speakers accused authorities of using heavy-handed and racist tactics in removing Native Hawaiian structures from the mountain last week, including two ahu, or altars, that were built on the TMT site in 2015.
“We’re also here to voice our concerns over what looks like the state’s gearing up for the excessive use of violence when the protectors of Mauna Kea have only shown aloha in this struggle,” said Candace Fujikane, board member of KAHEA: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance.
“I want to ask the question here: Why is the state risking our lives and our safety for a private corporation?” said Fujikane, a UH English professor. “They are looking at arresting us for a private corporation, and we need to ask the question, Why? … Why?”
KAHEA attorney Lance Collins called on the state Board of Land and Natural Resources and Gov. David Ige to renounce the use of a recently purchased Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), also called a sound cannon, which has been used for crowd control and confrontations with protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, N.D., and
Collins, a Maui attorney, said the device potentially violates state and federal laws and a United Nations convention against using military weapons for torture.
In a statement, the DLNR said its purchase from LRAD Corp. was for a portable
battery-powered public address and hailing system and not a weapon. It said the purchase was for the smallest system the company offered.
“We understand and
acknowledge the concerns raised regarding use of
excessive force on nonviolent noncombatants. The LRAD system purchased
by DOCARE is not intended to be used in that way,” the statement said.
Collins said his clients remain suspicious, considering the $15,000 cost for the system.
“We call on the board to publicly renounce the use of these devices and other military weapons against civilians and get rid of it as soon as possible,” he said.
State officials last week
issued a “notice to proceed” for construction of the 180-foot-tall observatory
following more than 10 years of planning, approvals and delay.
One of three “next-
being planned around the world, the TMT will have a resolution 12 times sharper than that of the Hubble Space Telescope and be capable of seeing more than
13 billion light-years away.
TMT International Observatory is a nonprofit based in Pasadena, Calif., with partners that include Caltech, the University of California and astronomy
institutions in Canada, India, China and Japan.
TMT officials said construction would take a decade and begin sometime this summer after they consult with state officials on
On the same day the
notice to proceed was issued June 20, groups of state employees and law enforcement ascended the mountain and removed four structures — two altars and two hale — that officials described as unauthorized.
“Make no mistake, this is violence and aggression,” Mauna Kea Hui leader Kealoha Pisciotta said Friday.
Cultural practitioner Billy Freitas told reporters he was praying at one of the ahu when DLNR employees and armed officers interrupted.
“The way it was dismantled? Totally unacceptable,” Freitas said. “I hope they have it in their hearts to ask forgiveness for what they’ve done.”
UH earlier issued a statement saying removing the ahu was not its first choice.
“The university and others attempted to engage with those believed to be
responsible for building the unauthorized structures in hopes of reaching an agreement on the future of the ahu. Those efforts were not successful.
“UH cooperated with state agencies in removal of the ahu so that the Conservation District Use Permit CDUP for construction and operation of TMT can be acted upon safely. The ahu were removed in a manner consistent with guidance from Kahu Ku Mauna, the cultural advisers to the Maunakea Management Board and UH.
“It is important to remember that the Hawaii Supreme Court specifically affirmed BLNR’s conclusion that these two ahu that were constructed on the TMT Access Way in 2015 as protests against TMT are not protected as Native Hawaiian traditional or customary rights.”
Speakers on Friday countered that while the ahu might not be historical, they are culturally significant because they were built in a ceremony to honor the sacred mountain and to serve as sites of religious observance and practice for Native Hawaiians.
They also said the university made only halfhearted attempts to contact them regarding the removal, if at all.
Pisciotta said the protectors will continue to protest without resorting to violence.
“Make no mistake, we have not been violent, and we have no intention of being violent. But we have intention to continue to protect and stand for our mauna,” she said.
“Aloha is the greatest power in the universe,” she added. “We are not powerless — we are powerful, and that is why the state is trying to trigger us all to be violent, to give them justification to be violent.”
Fujikane suggested an
alternative for preventing further friction.
“The Canary Islands government has said they are happy to have the TMT. There is a peaceful resolution to this conflict. There does not need to be a confrontation on Mauna Kea,” she said.
TMT officials have maintained that a mountain on La Palma in the Canary Islands is their second choice.