Mauna Kea: The Protests to Protect Sacred Land

mauna kea

In a controversial clash between culture and science, native Hawaiians have been protesting to protect Mauna Kea – a coveted, sacred site.

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, is important for many reasons. For the indigenous people, it’s an ancient sacred place to them. In their mythology, it’s the home of Poli’hau, their snow goddess. Therefore, it holds a lot of religious importance. The summit was viewed as godly and untouchable for anyone but the high priests of indigenous groups.

Despite how the world has changed, this place still remains as a holy ground for the indigenous people of Hawaii. Because of this, they want to protect it at all costs – even by protesting and doing whatever they can to block others from abusing this piece of their culture and religion.

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Still, this doesn’t stop many scientists from viewing the peak of Mauna Kea as full of possibilities. There are already a handful of observatories set up on the mountain. The new telescope they want to build at the peak would be a thirty-meter one capable of giving astronomers an unprecedented ability to view that specific section of the sky in conditions perfect for such a telescope.

Finding good places to build telescopes as large and capable as the thirty-meter one they plan to build is pretty difficult. The conditions have to be just right for it to work out. This is why astronomers are so set on this exact position – it’s too perfect to pass up.

Of course, this issue is very controversial. Some native Hawaiians even support the telescopes, hoping that it may lead to technological advancements and offer an opportunity for education.

I find it difficult to come to a clear decision on it, myself, since I am considering astronomy as a major. A lot of people feel similarly – it’s hard to determine a clear course of action to fix the situation.

There are still plenty of people protesting the construction of the telescope. Protests include singing, chanting, and simply blocking the road to the construction site. 70,000 people across the world have signed a petition to stop the construction and avoid further arrests of protesters.

It’s gotten even more intense as a large number of indigenous elders, also known as Kupana, were arrested by Hawaiian law enforcement. Some of the law enforcement had direct relations to the elders, making it emotional and difficult to deal with.

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The good news is that Governor David Iges is trying to help by visiting the protesters and having one of his county leaders begin talks with some protesters. In spite of the tense situation, there are still people attempting to keep things generally peaceful and work things out.

Protests don’t look as though they may be stopping anytime soon. There have been protests ever since the initial decision to create the telescope back in 2009.

Beyond just physical protests, the Internet has been blowing up discussing this issue. Many celebrities, actors, and activists have posted about the issue standing in support for the protesters.

It’s hard to look at this situation and not want to do something to help. I do feel that although it’s a difficult situation, it’s important to respect all cultures and their religions. Our country is dependent on this freedom to promote our base ideals of democracy. As a nation, we are supposed to respect all types of people. I feel like it’s important that we realize just how meaningful Mauna Kea is to these protesters – otherwise, they wouldn’t be protesting.

At the same time, people have argued that there could be considerable scientific results from such a telescope. It could be super useful in astronomy research.

This issue looks as though it’s far from being resolved. It’s important to bring it to light and talk about the possible solutions to this difficult confrontation. Whether you support the protests or not, it’s necessary to spread more information on the topic. People are willing to be arrested for it, therefore it should be on everyone’s minds.

I didn’t know much about it until I saw a post by one of my favorite Instagram activists. Hopefully, you learned a bit more about the situation. I’m hoping that it may be possible to form some compromise or that a new place might open up as being even better for building this telescope. Whatever happens, this topic has definitely opened everyone’s eyes to the ways in which culture and science can clash.

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Also published on Medium.