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Ilima-Lei MacFarlane champions Thirty Meter Telescope protesters at Bellator 236

Ilima-Lei MacFarlane is fighting for more than a world title at Bellator 236, she is fighting for a nation of people standing against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Ilima-Lei MacFarlane Bellator 236 Hawaii Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ilima-Lei MacFarlane lives and breathes Hawaii, and she is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her brothers and sisters protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

“Yesterday was day 150 that the protesters have been up there,” she told Bloody Elbow ahead of her headlining bout at Bellator 236. “I’ve made two trips to the big island since day one and I’m going to go up again after my fight. I’m still very passionate about it. In fact, my walkout is going to be dedicated to what’s happening up on the the Mauna. It feels like I’m fighting for a lot more than a world title. I’m fighting for an entire nation of my people, of native Hawaiians.”

“Mauna Kea is actually the most sacred mountain to the native Hawaiian people. Not only is it considered desecration that they are building the world’s largest telescope atop that mountain, even though we’ve resisted them at every step of the way, but that land is legally supposed to be used for the betterment of the Hawaiian people. It has not,” she exclaimed. “It has been mismanaged over decades and decades of audits. It’s degraded the environment up there. Mauna Kea is connected to the island’s aquasystem. The island’s water supply is in that mountain.”

“It’s a sacred place for Hawaiian people. If you know Hawaii’s history, it’s not just about a mountain. It’s not about science vs. culture. It’s about centuries of oppression and native Hawaiian lands being stolen,” MacFarlane continued. “Our queen being illegally overthrown and being an illegally occupied state. It’s not just about a telescope anymore. Hawaiians are rising up right now and we’re saying everything else. We live on an island with finite resources and we keep having everything taken away from us.”

MacFarlane has been a key figure in Bellator’s expansion into Hawaii. In fact, since Max Holloway lost the UFC featherweight title at UFC 245, MacFarlane has cemented her place as the island state’s most coveted active champion.

“I’m totally happy being in the background of it,” she said of the attention she brings to Hawaii. “It’s really cool. Everybody’s very appreciative. When other fighters thank me, I’m like, ‘Don’t even worry about it. It would’ve happened anyway.’ Thank Bellator, thank Uncle Scott for wanting to do it.”

MacFarlane (10-0) defends her women’s flyweight title against Kate Jackson (11-3-1) at Bellator 236 in Honolulu, Hawaii on Saturday, Dec. 21.