HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three anti-TMT protesters who call themselves protectors of Mauna Kea drew a packed ballroom at the Hawaii Convention Center on Monday.
More than 800 people gathered in a ballroom at the Hawaii Convention Center to hear from protest leaders Kahookahi Kanuha, Lanakila Mangauil and Noe Noe Wong-Wilson as part of a panel discussion on Mauna Kea.
The event was part of an annual conference organized by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
"In the end, I know and I believe with all my heart, TMT will not be built on Mauna Kea and our people will be in a much better position than we've been in over 100 years," said Kanuha.
Their speeches brought people to their feet and spontaneously singing, Ku Haaheo E Huu Hawaii, what's become an anthem for Mauna Kea.
The protest has lasted more than 70 days, and no resolution is in sight. Leaders say the grassroots effort is empowered by everyday Hawaiians, celebrities, social media, and similar global issues.
"It's the same conversation that people are having about climate change, destruction of environment, the continued degradation of the rights of indigenous people. It's a global conversation that's happening," said Mangauil.
Long-time activist Walter Ritte says efforts to unify the Hawaiian community have gone on “forever” and he credits a younger generation of leaders who’ve grown up with a Hawaiian-based education.
"Now we have leadership that's gone through that system and they're capable of unifying the Hawaiians and that's exactly what is happening," he said.
Others, like TMT supporter Richard Ha, say these leaders are inspirational, but he’s worried about jobs if TMT is not built in Hawaii.
"I'm very concerned yes. I'm a strong supporter and I've been a strong supporter for more than 10 years," Ha said.
"If we can agree to support the Thirty Meter Telescope, in our case the cultural center above the clouds, we can elevate ourselves to the highest in science," he added.
Conference organizers say now that Hawaiians are becoming unified, the big question is what's next?
“I think Mauna Kea has provided us something that we have never seen at least not in my time and now it’s how do we advance our Hawaiian people so that they are sustainable,” said Kuhio Lewis, CEO for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.