‘Aquaman’ star meets with TMT opponents; camp, telescopes prep for approaching storms

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Jason Momoa arrives Wednesday on the Maunakea Access Road.

  • Jason Momoa takes a selfie with Kahookahi Kanuha, center, and other TMT opponents Wednesday during a press conference on the Maunakea Access Road.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Jason Momoa holds the hands of children, Nakoa-Wolf Momoa (left) and Lola Momoa (right) Wednesday as he is welcomed with hula on the Maunakea Access Road.

Four years after appearing at previous protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope, Hollywood star Jason Momoa returned to Maunakea on Wednesday to show support for TMT opponents.

Momoa, star of “Aquaman” and “Game of Thrones,” appeared at the Maunakea Access Road to meet with protesters and hear their stories and perspectives.

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“I wanted to come up today because I wanted to firsthand be here to stand with our protectors,” Momoa said. “And I wanted to bring my team to come up here and interview everyone I could so that I can spread my awareness around the world.”

After Momoa arrived, protesters — who call themselves protectors of Maunakea — formally greeted him with hula performances on the access road, drums and chants. Momoa watched, despite cold winds and driving rain, and addressed the crowd.

“Sorry it took me so long,” Momoa said. “I’ve been very busy.”

Momoa, who was born in Honolulu, previously appeared at demonstrations opposing TMT in 2015 and has been vocal on social media about his support for the rights of Hawaiians to protect their land. Many view Maunakea as sacred.

Momoa was not the first high-profile visitor to the demonstrations. Earlier this week, singer-songwriter Jack Johnson visited the site; Damien Marley, son of the legendary Bob Marley, visited last weekend; and Momoa’s fellow actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson visited last week.

Momoa’s visit coincided with La Ho‘iho‘i Ea, or Hawaiian Sovereignty Restoration Day, which marks the date Great Britain ceded sovereignty back to the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1843. Demonstrators celebrated the day, the 18th day since they began blocking the road, with speeches by cultural practitioners and kupuna.

Wednesday saw increasingly poor weather at the Maunakea Access Road, but worse weather is expected before the week’s end as Hurricane Erick is forecast to pass south of the Big Island. The island is expected to see heavy rains and wind from the storm, posing a possible danger to the amassed protesters.

Many structures within the Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘u Huluhulu — the camp set up by demonstrators across from the access road — showed signs of attempts at weatherproofing, with tents lashed to stacked boulders and other structures securely staked to the ground.

Protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha said he and his fellow protectors are prepared to dismantle the camp and evacuate the area should the need arise. However, he vowed that certain people would remain behind to occupy the access road and ensure TMT opponents can return when the weather clears.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Kanuha said, echoing an earlier statement from Momoa.

Early Wednesday, vehicles from eight telescopes atop Maunakea ascended the mountain to secure the observatories against the storm.

Ivan Look, operations manager at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, said that, among other problems, an external door at the observatory was swinging open in the wind and some instruments had to be serviced.

Look said he feels comfortable with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope’s ability to withstand the storms, as the observatory has a backup diesel generator to maintain power through an outage, while the telescope’s instruments can be restarted remotely if necessary.

The technicians’ access to the mountain was briefly delayed by the demonstrators’ morning prayers, but otherwise unimpeded. Since staff were removed from the mountain two weeks ago, access has been negotiated by observatory directors, who inform law enforcement and the Office of Maunakea Management, who then discuss the matter with demonstrators.

Kanuha also said Wednesday he was pleased about Gov. David Ige’s announcement Tuesday that he would extend the deadline to start construction of TMT until 2021, saying it proves the impact the demonstrations are having.

“They never expected this many people,” Kanuha said. “They never expected this kind of resistance … they’re not doing this because they want to take their time. They’ve granted this extension because we have forced them into this position. Our unity, our organization, our commitment to Kapu Aloha has put them into a position where they recognize they ain’t getting up that mountain anytime soon.”

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Protest leaders also advised the assembled demonstrators that the University of Hawaii Board of Regents will meet Friday morning in Honolulu and will address, among other things, the appointment of a “permitted interaction group to investigate issues and make recommendations related to Maunakea governance.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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