Pacific Media Watch

12 August 2015

HAWAI'I: Thousands march to protect their sacred mountain Mauna Kea

Hero image
Aloha Aina Unity marchers waving the Hawai'i state flag. Image: Cory Lum/ HCB

Jessica Terrell
HONOLULU, HAWAI'I (Honolulu Civil Beat/ Pacific Media Watch): Thousands of native Hawai'ians and other residents have mobilised in Waikiki, Hawai'i, for the “Aloha Aina Unity March” (Love of the Land), a massive show of strength that organisers hope to translate into ongoing political actions.

Organiser of the event Tiare Lawrence said the march was about political pressure.

“I think next year a lot of people’s seats are going to be up for grabs. This is about getting people into office who are committed to protecting our land and sacred spaces", she said.

The march was by far the largest in Hawai'i since protests erupted across the state last spring over construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, considered by Hawai'ians to be sacred land.

The arrests of protesters on the mountain served as a lightning rod for many Native Hawaiians, said Kuhio Lewis, who helped organize the march.

“Hawaiians, I have always felt, are a sleeping giant,” Lewis said. “I think Mauna Kea has awakened Hawaiians.”

United causes
But participants said the march was more than just about the telescope.Thousands of people walk down Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu during Sunday’s Aloha Aina Unity March. Image: Cory Lum/ HCB

The march brought together representatives from more than 30 groups concerned with a range of land preservation issues, from telescopes on Haleakala (East Maui volcano) to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“This is something we’ve been hoping to see for a long time,” said Jeri DiPietro, president of the anti-GMO nonprofit Hawaii SEED.

“Bringing together the aloha aina issues will help define them and make our messaging clearer to the masses.”

Though the full size and scope of the march was difficult to ascertain, marchers clearly numbered in the thousands.

Some event organizers and a police officer along the route estimated the crowd to be as large as 10,000 to 11,000 people.

“People are rising up and coming together to have a stronger voice,” said Lori Halemano, who was one of the protesters arrested atop Mauna Kea in June.

The blowing of conch shells could be heard up and down the street, along with shouts of “ku kiai mauna” or “guardians of the mountain.”

Along the way, marchers were greeted with occasional honks of support from passing drivers and a few words of encouragement.

“This is working,” one man called out as he drove by in a white van. “Stay strong.”

Astronomer's conference
The event was planned for Sunday because it was a day off for the International Astronomical Union’s triennial conference, held this year at the Hawaii Convention Center.

At a press conference last week, protesters had issued an invitation to the visiting astronomers to join them at the march to learn about the land hosting the conference and multiple telescopes.

It was unclear how many astronomers showed up, but the event was hard to miss for thousands of tourists in Waikiki.

But a few told protesters that their hotels had warned them about the march, and advised them to stay away.

Tourist's opinions
Dina Marra, a 26-year-old from Florida, said she was unaware of the issues surrounding Mauna Kea and TMT before arriving in Hawai'i for her vacation.

Talking to one of the marchers gave her a respect for the people of Hawaii, she said.

“The reason we came here is because it’s beautiful and sacred,” she said.

“Protecting the environment is important.”A masked Aloha Aina Unity March demonstrator. Image: cory Lum/ HCB

University of Hawai'i Professor Jonathan Osorio thinks the march will make state agencies much more careful with their public trust lands.

“I think what comes out of this is many more people going to public meetings and speaking up, and a much more active citizenry," he said.

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