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Protesters Block Yang’s Giant Telescope

UCSB Chancellor in Middle of Standoff Between Native Hawaiians and Builders of Thirty Meter Telescope

Henry Yang | Credit: Paul Wellman File

The standoff continues between native Hawaiians and builders of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) since the start of construction atop the state’s tallest volcano, Mauna Kea, was announced two weeks ago. Activists protesting the desecration of what they view as sacred land have blocked trucks from accessing the site, prompting dozens of arrests and a renewed spotlight on the $1.4 billion project more than a decade in the making.

Stuck somewhere in the middle of the stalemate is UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, chair of TMT’s Board of Governors. While he’s kept a characteristically low profile during the weeks of protests, even as UCSB students circulated an open letter demanding his resignation from the board, his office did offer a prepared statement as Hawai’i Governor David Ige fired the starting gun.

“After being given all the necessary clearances by the State of Hawaii and respectfully reaching out to the community, we are ready to begin work on this important and historic project,” Yang said. “We have learned much over the last 10-plus years on the unique importance of Mauna Kea to all, and we remain committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community. Hawaii is a special place that has long pioneered and honored the art and science of astronomy and navigation. We are deeply committed to integrating science and culture on Mauna Kea and in Hawaii, and to enriching educational opportunities and the local economy.” The UC system has pledged $300 million toward the project.

On Sunday, University of Hawai’i President David Lassner visited the protest camp. He met with elders, called kupuna, telling them, “I came here because I wanted to see you. I wanted to feel your spirit. I wanted to witness for myself firsthand what is happening here.” Protestors also received visits from actor Dwayne Johnson and reggae recording artist Damian Marley.

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