Finding the Source
Cultural leaders discuss resource rights
By Jennifer Smith
A powerhouse of indigenous leaders came together to trade ideas at a roundtable discussion this past Saturday. Knowing where our food comes from and having a say in how it is grown topped the list of discussions.
‘Aha Kiole advisory member Vanda Hanakahi, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Collette Machado, and Hawaiian Rights activist Walter Ritte, represented local concerns.
“Resources are almost gone,” began Ritte. As such he said the focus of the discussion should be on, “How to make resources stay alive for future generations.”
Visitor Winona LaDuke, a former Vice Presidential candidate from Minnesota, and Louie Hena, a permaculture design consultant from New Mexico, provided a Native American perspective to the talk.
“We need to educate everybody,” Hena said.
Hena teaches permaculture design, a method for building human settlements reflecting structures found in the natural environment. He comes from a sustainable community.
Hena, who is also a member of the tribal council for Tesuque Pueblo in New Mexico, has been extremely active in organizing the efforts of indigenous people to protect their crops against major corporate interests.
Observing several similarities between Hawaiian and Native American culture, Hena said “Hawaiians have akua, we have okua.” And while Hawaiians have Taro, for his people, corn is the major staple. Both cultures trace their ancestral lineages to their respective food staples.
Hena said that corporations fail to appreciate the richness of surrounding landscapes for more than what kind of financial return they can bring in.
“To these corporate people there is no value to the tree, to the bird singing, to the waves crashing…all they see is a dollar sign,” Hena said.
From what I understand your community has been put, “through the regulatory arena,” Hena said. As a result he recommended the community unite as one, because “(corporate interests are) going to make you fight against each other.”
It is about, “us overcoming those barriers in order to take control of these resources-those sources that gave us life in order to have them for future generations,” Hanakahi said.
“Government laws do not allow us to do that,” Hanakahi said. She mentioned the possible need for a bit of “civil disobedience” in regaining control of resources in order to ensure future generations have access to them.
“It’s not just the legal arena,” you’ve got to work on the political and economic level as well LaDuke said.
She recommended taking control of areas in which a difference can be made. LaDuke has worked to take control of a school lunch program in her community in order to fortify students’ meals.
She advocates working towards food and energy sovereignty, as they are two things we will always need and of which the prices continually go up on. By establishing renewable food and energy sources within your own community outside market prices have less devastating effects.
“You’ve got to have a strong core,” LaDuke said. “Strengthen your alternative community,” she said suggesting alternative energies such as wind, while weaning off of a dependence on petroleum.
“Saying it’s alternative diminishes it – saying it’s the ‘way’ strengthens it,” LaDuke added.
LaDuke recommends enlisting allies, even ones who might not initially be considered allies. “Some people want to do the right thing, if you give them a way,” LaDuke said.
“These things do happen if you have political will,” Machado said.
“Sometimes you have to stick it out there,” she said in praising the efforts of Walter Ritte and “the boys” in fighting for Taro.
Hanakahi recognized other important community efforts where “pockets” of success can be seen, such as Mo`omomi.
Acknowledging Molokai’s successes, Ritte still said, “Everything has been stacked up against us so bad.” Looking at an odds game he wondered what could be done to prepare the community for future battles.
“Our people are not liberated in their minds,” LaDuke said. Having fought so many battles, even some with each other people inevitably become weary.
“Every time you give a little push it liberates your people a little,” LaDuke said.
A push could mean anything from organizing a community meeting to raise awareness, to writing your legislature with concerns, to supporting the local farmers in your area.