Native Hawaiians score a victory in the fight to stop a telescope being built on sacred land

Things could be looking up for these protesters.
Things could be looking up for these protesters.
Image: Craig T. Kojima/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP, Pool
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The show will go on in a passionate dispute between scientists and indigenous Hawaiian people over the use of sacred land.

A circuit judge invalidated a rule designed to block the ongoing protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a massive telescope currently under construction atop the Big Island mountain of Mauna Kea. Once completed, TMT will be one of the world’s largest telescopes, reports to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Native Hawaiians have taken issue with the proposed construction site because Mauna Kea’s peak is central to the creation myth of the Native Hawaiian people. Protesters have been camping at the construction site, blocking roads, and engaging in other actions to block the TMT for months. Tensions boiled over in July, when the Hawaii State Board of Land and Natural Resources passed an emergency rule restricting access to Mauna Kea’s peak in response to the protests.

Colleges from the US, China, Canada, Japan, and India are partnering on the development of TMT in the hopes of attaining better views of the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies. There are already several telescopes currently on the mountain’s peak, although the TMT would be far larger than previous projects.

Actor and Native Hawaiian Jason Momoa, who has been vocal in his criticism of the telescope’s construction, posted this Instagram photo in support of the protesters on Oct. 9.

It’s not yet clear how state officials will react to the judgement, although state attorney general Douglas Chin and Board of Land and Natural Resources chair Suzanne Case warned protesters not to block roads on the mountain.

Still, protesters seem encouraged by the ruling. “The court recognized that the state did not follow the rule of law in creating these emergency rules,” David Kauila Kopper, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, said in a statement reported by Hawaii News Now. “The state can no longer arrest innocent people who are on Mauna Kea at night for cultural or spiritual reasons.”