Building a Maka’ainana Nation
Born and raised on Molokai, sixty-two year old Walter Ritte Jr. has been laying the foundation, awakening Hawaiian activism, and building a new Hawaiian nation one person at a time. Walter got involved with Hawaiian rights issues and started taking a stand in 1975. Being an avid hunter and fisherman since his childhood, it was only natural that he would begin his journey of Hawaiian activism by forming a group of Hawaiians, young and old alike that began to question access, boundaries, and issues of trespassing. The marches and protesting worked, land owners opened roads and access to the north and south side of Moloka’i that had been closed, fenced, or blocked off for the past 100 years. Walter and the group called Hui Alaloa “group of the long trail” kindled the blaze of fires concerning Hawaiian rights issues to follow. “This started a whole trend, statewide, that had a major impact on Hawaiians. Everybody started asking, ‘What the hell is this Hawaiian rights stuff?’” As quoted by Walter Ritte. (qtd. in Sanburn 66).
For the past thirty years Walter has been defending a subsistence fishing/farming/hunting lifestyle, a true maka’ainana. He has stood up against the United States Government regarding bombing on Kaho’olawe. Walter has been an advocate and leader in taking a stand and spreading awareness concerning the University of Hawaii’s research and on genetically modified organisms with taro and other crops. He is an active defender of the land against big developers and politicians in efforts to save La’au Point on Moloka’i, as well as other development issues on the friendly Isl.
Forming Hui Alaloa was just the beginning for Ritte’s crusade in Hawaiian activism. Next, Walter at age thirty was caught trespassing on Kaho’olawe in January of 1976. In an effort to stop the bombing, Walter occupied Kaho’olawe four times and landed in prison, dominating the local news. He used his high profile status to campaign for the “Hawaiian package” of amendments to the Hawaii state Constitution in 1978, which affirmed traditional native Hawaiian religious, gathering and access rights, and created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (Sanburn 71). Walter was involved with a string of legal and political issues for years to come.
Reviving the Hawaiian way of life and restoring ancient fish ponds on Moloka’i has been a focus for Walter for the past ten years. His re-emergence to the political arena and Hawaiian activism has progressed in stages. In 2003, Ritte led a successful campaign to stop the big cruise ships from landing on Moloka’i. Walter’s current projects include saving La’au Point on the south end of Moloka’i and halting the research and patent of genetically modified organisms relating to taro.
Walter became involved with spreading awareness on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in 2005, by leading protest demonstrations against Monsanto Hawaiian Research located on Moloka’i, this according to the Maui News article “GMO activists march at meeting site.” In the spring of 2006, Ritte, and hundreds of fellow demonstrators got into a confrontation with the University of Hawaii; they were protesting work on the genetic modification and patenting of taro. Hawaiians won and the University of Hawaii dropped their patent. Taro or Haloa is the first ancestor of all Hawaiian people in the Hawaiian cosmogony. “Basically, we contributed to the global debate about owning life forms,” Ritte says. “We just gave the argument an understandable Hawaiian vision, to make it clearer. The Kaona of the taro fight is that you can’t own life forms, because you’re not God. If you understand the Hawaiian point of view, then maybe you understand why life forms can’t be owned.” (qtd. in Sanburn 72). Now, one year later, farmers, students, and native Hawaiian activists are still protesting at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to hold a hearing on a Senate bill that would ban research and cultivation of genetically engineered taro. In a heated discussion in the Capitol courtyard, activist Walter Ritte, yelled “This is not about research. This is about changing the genes of our ancestors. That’s what this is about.” (qtd. in Bernardo).These quotes were taken from the Honolulu Start Bulletin article “Critics raise voices for the bill to be heard.” By Rosemary Bernardo.
“In order for the activists to come to a split,” Ritte told a Maui newspaper, “people have to be tired of fighting. I’m tired of fighting, too, but you cannot give up your heart and soul because you are tired.” (qtd. in Sanburn 70). What’s next for Walter Ritte? “I’m going to build our nation,” he says firmly. “We have to build it one person at a time.” (qtd. in Sanburn 73).
This was a paper that I did to help back up my stand against GMO in Hawaii. Mahalo Annjulie
Bernardo, Rosemary. “Critics raise voices for bill to be heard.” Starbulletin.com 31 Mar. 2007. 5 Apr.
“GMO activists march at meeting site.” The Maui News 4 Nov. 2005. 3 Apr. 2007 http://homepage.mac.com/juanwilson/islandbreath/%20Year%202005/a05-19-farming/0519....
Sanburn, Curt “A Road Less Taken.” Hana Hou: The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines
Feb/Mar. 2007: 64-73.