Many Native Hawaiians have been protesting the construction of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope atop sacred Mauna Kea for months. They scored a victory on Thursday when Hawaii Governor David Ige announced that construction efforts were hitting pause.
The governor also announced the state will be pulling state troopers from the site until further notice, though protestors said they were told to clear out or face arrest. But even with no clear timeline for when construction would begin on the mountain’s sacred slopes, protestors have said they have every intent of continuing to protect the dormant volcano.
“One thing is clear, no matter the state’s plans, we will be here to protect the Mauna,” Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu, the group camping at the access road to Mauna Kea, wrote on Twitter.
While Ige and the Thirty Meter Telescope have both said that plans for construction are stalled indefinitely, the state’s plans for dealing with the encampment at the base of Mauna Kea blocking the access road have been a source of confusion. Protestors said that after Ige’s announcement, officers told them they had until December 26 to clear the road or they’d be arrested.
“After spending $15 million dollars on law enforcement operations since July, the state has decided they will continue to incur more by threatening a sweep if Kiaʻi [protectors] remain till the 26th,” the group went on via Twitter.
Given the months-long protest to get to this point, it’s unlikely Native Hawaiians will back down. The fight for Mauna Kea is the latest front in a fight over Native Hawaiian land rights and the way state-sanction institutions have dispossessed people without informed consent.
Partners on the project have been trying for years to secure its development, but opponents won’t let up. As a result, those partners—which include California Institute of Technology and National Astronomical Observatory of Japan—have secured permits for a site on one of the Spanish Canary Islands and are considering whether to move construction there. The group says Mauna Kea would be a superior site to view the cosmos, and the team is still dedicated to building the telescope here. But as the protests have been drawn out, they’ve had to prepare for an alternative if construction becomes impossible.
The telescope has opened up divisions in the scientific community. Hundreds of astronomers have sided with the protestors, noting that science is not more important than human rights. Sure, this telescope would create the ability to gaze ever deep into the universe, but at what cost to people on Earth and the places they hold sacred?
I wanna learn about the universe’s creation just as much as the next person, but when a community pushes back, the scientific community needs to listen. For many of these opponents, Mauna Kea isn’t just a mountain. She’s a relative. She’s family. She’s the burial grounds of other ancestors, and, the way they see it, she deserves to be seen as more than a construction site.