About 80 protesters gathered at a UC Board of Regents meeting Thursday to demand that the UC system divests from the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, project on Mauna Kea — a mountain that is sacred to Native Hawaiians.
These protesters consisted of the Mauna Kea Protectors, students from various schools within the UC system, Bay Area residents and some Native Hawaiians from the state itself, according to UC Santa Cruz Mauna Kea Protectors member Karli DeRego. The group gathered around 8 a.m. and spoke at the meeting to express its concerns about the UC system investing in TMT, according to Mauna Kea Protectors at UC Berkeley organizer Sarah Bancroft.
“We’re here to inform you that the people of Hawaii will not accept this anymore,” said Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, an organizer of the protest. “I ask this body to reinstill that money … and take care of your own students.”
The TMT International Observatory is a partnership between the UC system and the California Institute of Technology, as well as other organizations from Japan, China, India and Canada. Mangauil alleged that India, one of the partners in the project, said it wanted the TMT project moved away from Mauna Kea.
The protesters then went outside to hold a press conference and read a letter written by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. DeRego, along with Ashley Garelick from Intersectional Feminists at UC Santa Barbara and Angeli Noelle Cabrera from the UC Santa Barbara Pacific Islander Student Association, read excerpts from the letter aloud.
“Accordingly, the committee requests the state party to provide information on the steps taken to … ensure the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent to Native Hawaiians affected by projects on or near their ancestral lands and territories,” stated the letter. “Consider the suspension of the Thirty Meter Telescope project. … Consider adopting concrete measures to effectively protect the sacred sites of indigenous peoples.”
Mangauil then led the group in an “aha” protocol, a traditional Native Hawaiian ritual practice, after a member of a local indigenous community spoke and prayed for the success of the Mauna Kea protesters. For the next hour, Mangauil played a massive drum and chanted while the other protesters repeated his chants and danced traditional dances. Some bystanders joined in the dancing, and some protesters took their shoes off.
At the end of the rally, Mangauil spoke to the crowd and explained the purpose of them demonstrating for Mauna Kea. He spoke of transforming systems that are “not serving” the people and of the importance of fighting for one’s community.
“Call that mana,” Mangauil said. “Face that fire.” Then, with a closing song, the protest concluded.
TMT would be one of the world’s most powerful telescopes and would be able to provide images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope, according to UC Office of the President spokesperson Stett Holbrook.
TMT has collaborated with the Hawaiian community for more than 10 years to address cultural, environmental, educational and economic issues, Holbrook said in an email. Holbrook added that UC Board of Regents chair John Pérez wanted the discussion of the TMT project to come before the full board.
“The TIO and its individual partners have a longstanding history of advancing astronomy on Hawaii Island and have worked diligently for more than a decade to engage community members, the local business community and the state in finding a peaceful path forward on Maunakea,” Holbrook said in the email. “TMT remains committed to integrating science and culture, providing the best possible stewardship, enriching the local economy and supporting educational opportunities as it enables this global scientific endeavor.”