Deaf Protectors opposed to new telescope on Mauna Kea

There is a large protest going on top of Mauna Kea (MK) on Hawai'i, the Big Island.

A group of astronomers want to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), which they say will be one of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes. The TMT project costs $1.4 billion and was made possible by private donors.

The proposed site on Mauna Kea for the TMT is also considered as the most sacred place to Native Hawaiians. They believe that it is the genesis of Hawaiians and that it is a burial ground for their reverent ancestors. To scientists, they see that site as the best location in the world to observe the stars and study the origins of our universe.

From the base of the ocean floor to above sea level, Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the world by 33,000 ft. This mountain is a dormant volcano.

There are already 13 working telescopes from 11 different countries on top of that mountain. TMT will be significantly larger than the others that are already built there.

The construction for the TMT was supposed to start in July, but has been halted because of the protest.

The group of people who are stopping this construction prefer to be called protectors, not protestors. One protector said in a CNN article that they are not against science or the idea of this project. They are just against where it will be built.

This protest has been going on for a while. It started in 2014, but the recent demonstration was the biggest one of them all. About 2,000 people are on Mauna Kea right now.

The Daily Moth learned that there was a group of deaf people that call themselves, Nā Kia'i Kuli, which means “The Deaf Protectors”, who went to visit for a day. They performed a section of a Hawaiian song in ASL in front of the hearing protectors. This video was when they were practicing.

VIDEO, Credit: Yvette Ibarra-Keohuloa

We reached out to Joy Enos, one of the leaders of the deaf protectors, for an interview about the experience there and how the group of deaf people were able to get involved.


I really enjoyed the rich experience I had there. The weather is unpredictable there. There could be rain, cold, hot, then cold again. I didn’t really prepare for the unpredictable weather. The school there is beautiful. They also had kids who did homeschooling. There was plenty of food for the kupuna (the elderly people), and they are the ones who stay in the front lines and would get arrested so they are in the red group. We were informed that our group of deaf people visiting Mauna Kea would not get arrested so we were in the green group. When the group arrived, we got to learn through the school. We have what’s called mana wahine, who were two Hawai’ian women who shared stories about their experiences and about protecting the Mauna Kea and why they were arrested. It was a really rich experience. They provided two interpreters. I really learned a lot and I feel like the Mauna Kea is an inspiration for me. It reminds me of my grandmother. My dad was a Hawai’ian and so was my grandmother. There’s a lot of history there of worshipping spirits, through aumakua which means worship of the spirits, lands, the mountains, oceans and animals. I feel that it’s already a part of me. I felt it was important to be there.


We asked if Joy would know how long the protectors will stay on Mauna Kea.


It depends on how long. If you want the court’s approval with the proper paperwork that they are not going to build the TMT, the telescope. Then they would achieve a peace of mind. If they’re just talking and two years pass without action, then they’re going to stay put and continue blocking the road. They do this because people can bring in the TMT supplies from the trucks which is why we’re blocking that road.


We asked Joy to explain a little bit about what they taught the hearing protectors on Mauna Kea.


Another thing we did was teach through a performance, the kupuna, about the gift of ASL. We did the eo ea and the Kapu Aloha.

*Sings ‘Kapu Aloha’*

Doing this, we’re showing aloha, respect and kindness. Ingesting alcohol and drugs were forbidden within the group. It was about respect and celebrating. It was a really beautiful sight there.

Some of the hearing people yelled out ‘kapu aloha!’ while some of them clapped 3 times.

Clap, clap, clap, eo!

That means ‘yes’!

We’re deaf so how can we hear? We can see them clapping, but we were initially unsure why they did it. So the interpreters came up with an idea of waving our hands 3 times then pounding a fist into the air.

Wave, wave, wave, eo!

We created our own version and taught it to hearing people. They really liked it too!


Thank you, Joy for sharing your experience. You will also notice in the photos of this sign (shows sign), the deaf protectors chose this sign to symbolize Mauna Kea.

We reached out to Gerald Farm, the one who made it possible for the group of deaf people to join in for the day at Mauna Kea. We asked him to share a statement.

“Mauna a Wakea, or more popularly known as Mauna Kea. Home to Poli’ahu (Goddess of the Snow, Lilinoe (Goddess of Mist) and Waiau (Goddess of Lake Waiau). A very sacred mountain to the Hawaiian culture. This is why we protect and stand firmly for our sacred Mauna.

After much thought and prayer I arranged for an unforgettable day for our deaf brothers and sisters...At 6pm, the moment captured on video (gone viral) showed a special moment of acceptance of nā kia’i kuli (The Deaf Protectors) on the Mauna...That moment was so touching and I was told there was not a dry eye in the audience.” -- Gerald Farm


We also reached out to Torrey Mahealani Ho-Ching, one of the volunteer interpreters who flew in from Maui to share her experience.


“To go through the raw emotions of a Kānaka Maoli is one thing, but when I can bring my culture, heritage and way of life to the Kuli Kānaka community and witness them with tears streaming from their eyes as mine do. I know that I have helped to impact their lives on such a deep, rich level that they can make the connection to their ancestors that are there to embrace and uplift them as humans it is completely humbling and warming to my na’au my soul.” -- Torrey Mahealani Ho-Ching

RENCA: Joy mentioned that you could make a donation of things, medicine, food, or money. If you are interested, an article by MTV lists out all the various ways of how you can support the Native Hawaiians. Link is in the transcript.

To keep yourself updated with The Deaf Protectors, you can check out their Facebook page.

Famous celebrities such as Jason Momoa and Dwayne Johnson are involved with this protest. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren expressed support to stand against TMT.

The University of Hawaii supports the building of the TMT because they said it is a higher pursuit of knowledge and advancement in the field of astronomy.

Photo of Deaf Protectors Credit: Yvette Ibarra-Keohuloa