The first tweet came from Notre Dame graduate assistant Keli’i Moanauli Kekuewa.

Kekuewa, who assists Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston, shared a photo of the Notre Dame football team with a sign that read “Ku Kia’i Mauna.”

The phrase has become the rallying cry for protesters in Hawaii hoping to protect Mauna Kea, a mountain on the Hawaii Island that Native Hawaiians hold sacred. Years of legal battles and protests have prevented the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. But in July, with the permission of Gov. David Ige, construction was finally set to begin.

That triggered the latest rounds of protests in Hawaii, which has since drawn national attention and backing from celebrities like Dwyane Johnson and Jason Momoa.

More than 4,000 miles away, Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman wanted to show support for his culture. He helped organize the photo taken on July 22. But before he could even post the photo to Instagram and Twitter, a handful of teammates had already shared it too.

“If you understand pain you will always fight for what’s right!” Gilman tweeted. “Grateful for my brothers here at ND for standing with me in this fight to protect Mauna Kea and Hawaiian Culture! A’ole TMT! Ku Kia’i Mauna!”

The final two exclamations in Gilman’s tweet roughly translate to “No to Thirty Meter Telescope!” and “Stand guard over the mountain!”

The fact his teammates were willing to pose for the photo and several of them would share it on their social media account meant a lot to Gilman.

“It was great … to see them ignite the same passion that I have for my culture and being able to share the same love that I have for my culture as well as for others around me,” Gilman said. “That’s the biggest thing in Hawaiian culture, just to share with others our love. It’s a simple concept, but it impacts a lot. You saw it by our team showing that support.”

As a Native Hawaiian, the cause couldn’t be more personal for Gilman. Two of his sisters actually spent time at Mauna Kea during recent protests.

“They’ve come back with a soft heart and being able to learn from that experience,” Gilman said. “It was really cool to see. I’ve learned from those experiences and learned from them from what they’ve shared with me.”

Their father, Asai Gilman, is proud of the support his children have shown for their culture.

Asai Gilman, who lives in Laie on the island of Oahu, said he’s watched the Mauna Kea protests from afar for years now. While the topic has been divisive in Hawaii, Asai Gilman stressed that Native Hawaiians aren’t anti-science.

Mauna Kea has been a desired location for astronomers with its clear view of the night sky. The mountain, which has the highest peak in Hawaii, already includes 13 observatories. The Thirty Meter Telescope prime mirror would measure 98 feet in diameter, which would be three times wider than the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world.

Asai Gilman believes the protests are about more than the mountain and a proposed telescope.

“That whole concept of Ku Kia’i Mauna is about standing to protect in our minds what our ancestors and God have given us,” Asai Gilman said. “No matter if it’s a mauna, which is a mountain, or standing to protect your family, standing to protect your rights, standing to protect your interest.

“From a culture perspective, that whole concept of Ku Kia’i Mauna is about honoring our culture, honoring our ancestors, honoring those that came before us. That’s what the mauna means. The particular location is one thing of what the protest is about, but it’s bigger than that.”

Notre Dame defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s grew up in Ewa Beach on the island of Oahu, but he’s not a Native Hawaiian. The distinction matters in Hawaii. Yet he still wanted to promote the Ku Kia’i Mauna movement.

“You don’t have to be Hawaiian to support the cause,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “Having friends and family members and seeing the emotion that they take out of it, it impacts me. If it’s something that means so much to them, then it obviously means a lot to me. With everything going on with Mauna Kea, we definitely want to raise awareness.”

With members of Notre Dame’s football program sharing posts on social media, the words and photos have crossed the timelines of thousands of Irish football fans. The protests have continued in Hawaii with support continuing to be voiced in different parts of the country.

Regardless of the outcome of the Ku Kia’i Mauna movement, members of Notre Dame’s football team showed they were willing to stand up for something. Asai Gilman, who has coached football at the college and high school levels, thinks that has value on and off the field.

“To have the Notre Dame team support Alohi and his beliefs to stand and protect, I would think it helps Notre Dame’s team to stand and protect what they believe is sacred,” Asai Gilman said. “That is really the transfer of something that they can live by. That they stand and protect something special, which is their team, which is their house, their family, their future. That’s what the concept is about.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

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