What Are the Mauna Kea Protests?

"There is a particularly special connection between the Native Hawaiian people and this site." Brut spoke to an activist about protesting the construction of a giant telescope on Mauna Kea — a mountain considered sacred to many Native Hawaiians.

For native Hawaiians, social and environmental activism go hand in hand

Activists are protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea — the highest peak in Hawaii and a sacred site to Native Hawaiians. After a series of court rulings, Hawaii's governor announced authorized construction of the telescope in July 2019. To activists, it’s not about a telescope: it’s about reclaiming their identity and agency.

“They have torn down religious sites just in the last couple of weeks, they've arrested people in their wheelchairs. Things are very tense right now and there's a lot of concern that law enforcement will become aggressive again. Mauna Kea has been mismanaged by the state for 50 years. It's on what are called Crown lands that were effectively taken from the Hawaiian Kingdom and then placed in trust with the state of Hawaii for the Native Hawaiian people. So, there is a particularly special connection between the native Hawaiian people and this site. it's not a new situation in that the issues of injustice and land rights are a common theme over the last one hundred and twenty-six years. We didn't believe in creating permanent damage to natural resources. So, I think that's really the dialogue for us is how do we innovate even in these modern times without causing permanent environmental or cultural damage. And that's where we feel like TMT has not taken those ethics into consideration," Kehaulani Watson tells Brut.

The activist movement evolved in Hawaii after a 1977 lawsuit to stop the U.S. Navy from using Kahoolawe Island as a weapons testing facility. For native Hawaiians, social and environmental activism go hand in hand. Watson says the Mauna Kea protests are benefiting from global conversations about the rights of indigenous people. High profile celebrities such as Jason Momoa and Dwayne Johnson have stood in solidarity with the protestors. Watson says that technology isn't the enemy, and that it has a role to play in the fight.