Walter Ritte is running for the Office of Hawaii Affairs trustee at-large seat because “there’s a war being waged against the environment.” He wants to be “a loud voice at the Legislature and the capital in defense of it.”
The 67-year-old Molokai activist said “the onslaught of six or seven bills,” which had “a detrimental effect” on environmental rules already in place and allowed for “an open season on our natural resources.” It also served as “a wake-up call.”
“Environmental protection laws are being dismantled in a mass campaign to exempt development for all regulations,” he said. “Our oceans, conservation lands and rivers are being privatized. Our farmlands are being filled by development, and our government is being taken over by massive profit-driven corporations.”
Ritte raised his family by depending on natural resources, mauka to makai, and by doing odd jobs. “Access to and protecting these resources became a matter of survival,” he said.
Ritte said everyone in Hawaii has “an uncompromising kuleana (responsibility)” to take care of the environment. He added, earlier on, through stories about the gods, Hawaiians are taught to protect the haloa (the first born), which grew into kalo (taro) and became a staple food crop.
“There’s a kinship that ties Hawaiians directly to nature and places upon us a spiritual obligation to malama haloa, which is also a metaphor for all living things in Hawaii,” Ritte said. “By protecting haloa, it will take care of them and their future generations.”
Besides being a fierce protector of the environment, Ritte said his other priorities, if elected, will be bringing about unity and obtaining food sovereignty.
As for the latter, Ritte believes everyone has the right to choose what they want to feed their family, which means knowing who grows it and where, as well as having the ability to grow their own food. He is a proponent of labeling, saying it will finally allow the public to track the negative impacts of genetically modified organisms. He thinks Hawaii Island, with its bounty of land, water and kupuna systems, is critical to addressing the food security problem and can be an agricultural leader.
“I plan to access the indigenous knowledge of Hawaiians, which contains answers to today’s major problems, such as climate change and self-sufficiency, which are global problems,” he said. “One of OHA’s responsibilities to the broader state community is to share that indigenous knowledge.”
Ritte touted his organizing skills and resources of OHA to unite not only Hawaiians, but everyone in the state. He said throughout his life he’s been a community organizer. He was a member of the 1978 Constitutional Convention and supported the formation of OHA, helping author the section that codified Native Hawaiian cultural and gathering rights. He was also one of the leaders fighting for and occupying Kahoolawe in the 1970s in opposition to military bombings, which the group, known as the “Kahoolawe Nine,” was successful in halting.
“My relationship with Kahoolawe made me realize that our islands are alive and that the military was killing an entire island,” he said. “Aloha aina, the love of the land, became our battle cry, and aloha won. I want to bring my skills and experiences to help Hawaii and its people.”