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Standing for the Mauna

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

“Ku Kia’i Mauna!” chanted about 1,000 Molokai residents gathered at Kaunakakai Ball Park last Friday evening, standing in support of Mauna Kea, opposing construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Hawaii Island. Carrying hand painted signs and upside-down Hawaii flags, keiki to kupuna, primarily of Native Hawaiian descent, stood together in a show of solidarity. Gathering leaders encouraged aloha and positivity, reminding the crowd of the historical importance of the moment.

“We are making history,” said resident Zhantell Lindo, who led the event. “Hawaii will never be the same because of what we did today.”

“Kia’i,” or “protectors,” as those who oppose TMT call themselves, formed a huge mountain-shaped triangle on the ball field.

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

“Today we stand together as Molokai, as a legacy of Molokai Pule O’o, to offer up our powerful prayer for our ohana and kupuna at Mauna Kea, for the rights to determine our future, for the love and aloha in respect and dignity for the kupuna who stand there and who have been standing there for generations,” Lindo told the crowd. “We are here to offer up that prayer and we are so proud to be part of an ohana and a community that will come out to support our ohana in Mauna Kea.”

Residents poured on foot out of the park gate and marched down Kaunakakai’s main street, temporarily closing it to traffic.

“This hurt me from the very beginning when they first started [TMT], I didn’t want this to happen,” said kupuna Zaidarene Kalipi. “It hurts me to see our islands being destroyed by all this… there’s other places to do that, not Hawaii. They never get our permission, this is still our kingdom. Why are they trying to tell us what they want, and not what we want? It hurts me…. It affects me because we are all one…. We all love what we have, we don’t want it destroyed.”

The $1.4 billion telescope is slated for construction on the sacred ground of Mauna Kea’s peak. The telescope would offer scientists an unprecedented look at yet-unknown galaxies but many have denounced the more than decade-long process as “mismanagement” and a desecration of Hawaiian rights.

Afterward, the march, the crowd gathered at the ball park again, joining arms in an enormous circle that encompassed the entire field. They stood in prayer, and closed with more chants of “Ku Kia’i Mauna!” and singing “Hawaii Aloha.”

“For the past week we couldn’t sleep,” said Molokai resident U’i Lima. “We are not separate from our aina, we are one and the same. On that mauna, when our kupuna are standing, we stand with them… that pule is potent when it comes from this aina. From way back, we stand here in front of you now, because our parents, our aunties, our uncles, our kupuna stand for Kahoolawe, they stand for our Hawaiian people back then, and it is now our turn. And this time, our kids are with us… Our kupuna do not sit in the back… they always led the fight, because they taught us how to. And that is the kind of stock that Molokai comes from.”

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

Hundreds have gathered at the base of Mauna Kea in protest since Governor Ige announced construction on TMT was scheduled to begin July 15. Molokai activist Walter Ritte was among those who chained themselves to a cattle gate across the road last week. He and 33 other kupuna were arrested during the protest.

“We’re at the top of the mountain because they took our ocean and took all the fish out, left all the tourists on our coastline, they’re poisoning all our farm lands, and now they want to take our most sacred mountain,” said Ritte in a video as he lay on the road. “We cannot do this alone, it’s time to rise up.”

For many Native Hawaiians opposed to TMT, the telescope’s construction brings to a head hundreds of years of oppression and illegal take-over by the government. The older generation of activists, like Ritte, are now passing the torch to younger leaders.

“We were just reflecting about the feeling and the energy and the power of the people that are gathered here today and how we can look at the generation that is coming up now and see it them a power that was generated because of the things that was done in the past,” Molokai’s Loretta Ritte told Molokai resident and filmmaker Matt Yamashita in a video clip. “The knowledge of the language, the knowledge of the truth. Our nation is on the rise.”

Yamashita posted on his company’s, Quazifilms Hawaii, Facebook page about his experience on the mauna.

“What I witnessed is a true commitment to peaceful protest grounded in love,” he wrote. “The protectors have clear and rational reasoning behind their opposition to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The hundreds of Kia’i Mauna participating represent a wide cross section of the Hawaiian community… business owners, artists, farmers, professors, lawyers, educators, mothers, fathers, children and elders. They conduct themselves with absolute dignity and deserve respect for their commitment and thoughtfulness.”

Last week, Gov. Ige issued an emergency proclamation to give “more flexibility” to law enforcement and allow authorities to “manage access to the site in a better way.” The National Guard was called, though the governor later said additional wouldn’t be sent to Mauna Kea.

The nonprofit Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation has sued Ige over the emergency proclamation, claiming it could restrict the rights of free speech, assembly and religion for those gathered to oppose construction.

TMT got a building permit to construct the telescope on conservation land in 2011, and last year, the state Supreme Court ruled to uphold the construction permit. Protests began during the 2014 groundbreaking and have continued on and off since then.

The telescope would be three times as wide, with nine times more area, than the largest currently existing visible-light telescope in the world, allowing astronomers an unprecedented glimpse into stars and galaxies dating back as long as 13 billion years. TMT gets its name from the size of the telescope’s mirror, which would be 30 meters (98 feet) in diameter. Mauna Kea is also home to 13 other telescopes.

The international collaboration of universities and national observatories behind TMT have already selected Spain’s Canary Islands as a backup site.

Meanwhile, groups around the world, including a group of astronomers, have joined the opposition to TMT’s Mauna Kea location.

“We offer our pule for our ohana on the mauna, we offer up our pule our ohana worldwide who are standing in unity and aloha for what is right,” said Lindo at the Molokai gathering. “We stand, Molokai for the mauna.”

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