Utahns gather in ‘sacred’ ghost town to support protest in Hawaii

IOSEPA, Utah — More than 150 people made a pilgrimage of sorts to a tiny ghost town in the Skull Valley Saturday evening, to stand with a days-long demonstration happening on one of the tallest mountains in Hawaii.

People traveled from all over Utah, and even flew into the state to head out to Iosepa, north of Dugway.

A bright blue sign with a palm tree sits on Highway 196, in the middle of nowhere.

The dirt road leads people to a spot that doesn't seem like much at first, until one learns the history and feels the connection. To Utah's Hawaiian and Polynesian community, it's a sacred and spiritual spot.

"This land was given to our ancestral Hawaiian people," said Ailani Costa. She said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints gave the land to Hawaiians who moved to Utah in the late 1800s.

The history isn't entirely happy. Susan and Jay Serrao said that Jay's ancestors are buried in the cemetery-- one of the only remaining signs of the former town.

The couple lives in Hawaii, and they're visiting Utah. With the land in the middle of the desert, they said they feel sadness when visiting because their ancestors were "put out so far away."

But today, they have all the reason to be in good spirits.

"We gotta go, we gotta go! We gotta support!" Susan said, of when she and Jay learned people would be gathering in Iosepa.

Dozens drove in, with flags waving off the back of their cars and trucks.

Families walked along the cemetery, and took pictures. Eventually, the crowd gathered in a pavilion.

They support demonstrators in Hawaii, who have been peacefully protesting on the road to Mauna Kea in order to halt construction on a massive telescope.

"Right now our mountain Mauna Kea is being jeopardized. It's being up for sale," Ailani said.

Scientists consider the Thirty Meter Telescope project crucial to future space discoveries.

Native Hawaiians consider Mauna Kea to be a sacred place, and have said their ancestors are buried there.

Hawaiians in Utah feel the same about Iosepa.

Across desert and ocean, the group sent a message of love.

"Let those people, let our people know that we're here for them," Ailani said.

People held up signs with phrases like, "Protect Mauna Kea," and "Preserve our culture, protect our Mauna."

What the signs really said: Ohana. Which means, family.

"Times like these, you need to band together and just hold strong with ohana," Susan said.

"It lets you know that oppression... oppression can unify people and it can be lifted by people," Ailani said, getting choked up as she spoke. "I don't know a lot of these people, but I am so grateful for their presence here."

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