HONOLULU, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Plans to build the world's largest telescope atop the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea were delayed Tuesday when a groundbreaking ceremony was thwarted by protestors. For native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea and the surrounding peaks are sacred.
Several dozens protestors blocked the only road to the summit of Mauna Kea, or "sacred mountain." Vans carrying attendees to the groundbreaking ceremony were not able to pass. Protests were echoed across the Atlantic in Palo Alto, as well as nearby, in and among the dorms of University of Hawaii students.
Hawaiian activists have been fighting the Thirty Meter Telescope for the last four years in court, but have so far been unsuccessful in stalling plans in any meaningful way. Opponents of the $1.4 billion multinational project say the construction will desecrate a place many native Hawaiians use for burials, the interment of umbilical cords (called "piko"), as well as traditional celestial observation ceremonies.
"As much as I'm standing for the mauna (mountain) and all the people, today is personal for me," Kauʻi Peralto, a Hawaiian cultural educator at Standford University, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We take our piko to sacred places, so I'm standing for all my family and friends who have piko on that mountain. And when the groundbreaking starts, we don't know how many will be dug up, because we bury them in secret."
As Peralto organized protestors in California, her former mentor and teacher, Pua Case, led the protest on Hawaii's Big Island. Case's fight -- including Tuesday's protest -- has been assisted by a number of Hawaiian cultural practitioners and educators, including Kamahana Kealoha.
"The TMT is an atrocity the size of Aloha Stadium," Kealoha said in a statement. "It's 19 stories tall, which is like building a sky-scraper on top of the mountain, a place that is being violated in many ways culturally, environmentally and spiritually."
Students at the University of Hawaii also voiced their concerns over the impending construction.
"This has been an issue for us because the momentum of their decision has been in full force, but they haven't made the information public for a dialogue," Pulama Long, a Hawaiian Studies major, told the university's student paper Kaleo. "It's a huge decision that affects a lot of people made by a small group."
Universities and organizations from Japan, the United States, China, Canada and India are all contributing funding to the project. Despite the protest, construction is still expected to begin in April of 2015; the telescope is set to be completed by 2022.