Demonstrators on Maunakea Prep for Weather

November 17, 2019, 7:30 AM HST (Updated November 17, 2019, 10:36 AM)
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Solomon Aikau, 71, of Waimea, has participated in the demonstration against the construction of TMT for 100 days. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)

An encampment at the base of Maunakea Access Road was quiet Wednesday morning. At an elevation of 6,000 feet, the sky was clear and there was a slight breeze.

Strumming an ukulele, Solomon Aikau, 71, of Waimea was greeting people to the kūpuna tent with a smile. Wearing a long-sleeve gray thermal, pants and slippers, he said he’s been at the camp for about 100 days.

“We’re here to protect the mountain,” he explained.

For more than four months, demonstrators, who also call themselves kia‘i (protectors) have been blocking the road to Maunakea in an effort to prevent the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which would be the 14th telescope on the summit. The kia‘i have said to add another telescope to the sacred mauna would be further desecration of the ‘aina.

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So far, their demonstration has been peaceful. The numbers of protesters have ranged from hundreds to thousands.

As the months drag on and cooler temperatures come back to the island, their resolve remains the same. For the past month, people on the mauna have been preparing for the cold.

“I myself have a heater, but it can also heat up a pot of water,” Aikau explained, adding someone donated thermal shirts to everyone at the camp.

So far, demonstrators have reported temperatures dropping to below freezing. Medic Kalamaokaaina Niheu said according the temperature gauges in vehicles, they have seen it as low as 25 degrees.

“There’s been ice in the morning,” Niheu recalled.

While temperatures are to remain between the 50s and 60s this week, the National Weather Service in Honolulu is forecasting rain for the encampment.

Ian Morrison, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said over the next week there won’t be deep drops in temperature. However, there is moisture pushing through bringing rainy conditions.

“It should get somewhat colder Sunday and Monday, but it will be more wet with rain than anything else,” Morrison said.

There will be some wind, which will make it feel colder. Morrison said there might be some flurries Sunday or Monday on the summit.

Niheu said people at the encampment have gotten acclimated to the conditions, but medics are always walking around doing welfare checks. People on the mountain also winterizing tents and conducting clothing drives.

“Our community up there is very robust,” she said. “We’ve adapted to the conditions and we’re here for the long haul.”

Mauna medic Keomailani VonGogh said people have donated space heaters. Huge donations from Michigan came in with winter clothing.

“It touches people that there’s so much love and support and caring for the protectors,” VanGogh said.

While the camp is preparing for the conditions, medics are also proactive in preventive care. Protecting the health and wellness for those standing for Maunakea is paramount for the medics.

If anyone has an infectious disease, Niheu said, they have to leave the mauna.

“We’ve been doing that from the very beginning,” said.

VanGogh, who’s been at the medic tent once a week since the demonstrations began, said medic have mostly treated people for altitude sickness and sunburns.

Aikau explained he has suffered from pneumonia and bronchitis. But he gets off the mountain, lets it pass, then comes back up.

“Everyone is determined to stop this,” he said.

The kia‘i plan to stay on the mountain for as long as it takes — until TMT is no longer “a threat to Maunakea.” Mayor Harry Kim was put in charge of finding a resolution to the situation by Gov. David Ige.

Kim has always believed a peaceful compromise can be made between the demonstrators and the state. In October, he put out a booklet titled “Maunakea – A Way Forward.”

The document doesn’t push support of or against the construction of TMT atop Maunakea, but rather is “…about asking Hawai‘i’s people to come together and finding a path to go forward in a good way.”

“This is not just about science,” Kim stated. “It is about combining culture and science. It is about respect and caring. It is about a quest for knowledge that will make us a better people and better stewards of this world.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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