Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson returned to his home state of Hawaii on Wednesday to support Native Hawaiian activists who are peacefully protesting a massive $1.4 billion telescope project on the peak of Mauna Kea.
The “Jumanji” actor, who is part Samoan and briefly attended high school on Oahu, joined activists on the mountain as they performed hula and chanted in a ceremony on the 10th day of the protest.
“What I realized today … it’s bigger than the telescope,” Johnson said of the protest while talking to the press.
“It’s humanity. It’s the culture,” he added. “It’s our people, Polynesian people, who are willing to die here to protect this land … this very sacred land that they believe in so powerfully.”
The protests began on the high slopes of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii on July 15, the day that construction was scheduled to begin on the so-called Thirty Meter Telescope. Native Hawaiian activists and allies blocked the road that leads to the summit and chained themselves to a cattle grate, preventing workers and equipment from accessing the construction site.
In the days that followed, hundreds of more activists joined the demonstration on Mauna Kea, keeping construction at a standstill.
More than 30 activists, most of them elderly Native Hawaiians, were arrested by law enforcement deployed by the state in the first few days of the protest.
Johnson urged state officials to pay attention to the growing number of people who are joining the protest.
“When things escalate to that emotional apex, that is a sign that something has to be done,” he said. “To full charge ahead isn’t the way to do it.”
The Thirty Meter Telescope project is funded by a combination of private companies and public universities around the world, including institutions in California, Canada, Japan, India and China. The telescope’s supporters say the new observatory, placed on the state’s highest peak, will give astronomers unprecedented insight into the universe.
Those who oppose it say the massive endeavor, which would be 18 stories tall and span 1.44 acres, is a desecration of sacred land on the dormant volcano, which is also a conservation district.
Johnson called for better leadership from the state to come forward and work with the activists.
“A greater leadership has to step in. There needs to be leadership with empathy,” the actor said. “The whole idea about this [protest] is not about stopping progress. It’s not about stopping science. It’s about respecting a culture and respecting people and doing things the right way.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Dwayne Johnson was born in Hawaii. He was born in Hayward, California, but briefly attended high school in Honolulu.