Editor’s Note: This commentary is a presentation to the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress meeting in Honolulu over the next week.

Aloha, my name is Walter Ritte from the island of Molokai. I am a Hawaiian National of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which has been illegally occupied by the United States of America since 1898.

Hawaii is a microcosm of the world, with limited lands and resources in a vast Pacific Ocean, and Molokai is a microcosm of Hawaii, with limited lands and natural resources. On Molokai, Hawaiians are the majority of the population, and we are fiercely protective of our culture, natural resources and subsistence way of life. Molokai is known as “The last Hawaiian island” of the major islands in Hawaii.

Molokai’s south shore contains approximately 14,000 acres of contiguous reefs, called an “American Treasure” by the U.S. Geological Survey. Hawaiians were able to double the output of food on these reefs by building fishponds. Molokai’s north shore contains the highest sea cliffs in the world and four major valleys containing millions of gallons of pristine river waters, with wall-to-wall taro terraces producing tons of food products.

The author and his family, circa 1996, on their homestead in Molokai.
The author and his family, circa 1996, on their homestead in Molokai. Walter Ritte

Hunting is a matter of survival for our 7,400 residents. Hunting includes gathering food along our shorelines, in our forest and rivers, fishing on our reefs and shooting birds, deer, pigs and goats. These hunting rights for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes are protected in the Hawaii State Constitution, Article 12, Section 7.

Today, as the human population and competition for land use increases, hunting is in danger of being regulated out of existence and going extinct.

Molokai is a strong case study of how a resilient and determined community can come together to protect and enhance its cultural and traditional subsistence way of living. On the island of Molokai we have two economies: the cash economy and the subsistence economy, the latter of which provides for 33 percent of our food needs.

For the past 40 years, we have worked inside and outside the system, organizing, taking part in community meetings, doing research, undertaking public education, conducting protest rallies, producing planning and management documents, lobbying for new constitutional and legislative laws, creating special state task forces, getting arrested and filing numerous lawsuits.

Molokai is a strong case study of how a resilient and determined community can come together to protect and enhance its cultural and traditional subsistence way of living.

We have organized a community based, state-sanctioned governance body called the “Aha Kiole o Molokai,” which is founded on our traditional ahupua’a governance and management system. We have completed a Shoreline Management Plan, a partial Watershed Management Plan and are now embarking on an island-wide Molokai Hunting Management Plan.

By cutting the Department of Land and Natural Resources to 1.1 percent of the annual state budget, the State of Hawaii has shown that it has lost its political will to properly manage natural resources as a public trust and instead is looking to partner with large private corporations to manage these resources. As a viable alternative, Molokai is trying to convince the state to partner with communities to manage Hawaii’s natural resources.

Our community of Molokai is driven by its cultural heritage. We know who we are, we have always been one with the natural resources, we know Hina and Wakea, the mother and father of the child Molokai. We know Ho’ohokuokalani and Wakea, the mother and father of our eldest brother Haloa lau Kapalili, the kalo plant. We know our kuleana (responsibility), to protect and care for (malama) our eldest brother, and he will feed us forever.

If we are to survive the onslaught of the greed of corporate commercialism, which is threatening the very life of our world’s natural resources, we need to heed the proven values and customs of traditional peoples and their thousands of years of proven experience of living with nature.

Hunting is and has always been an honorable tradition, which has given me an identity and sense of worth in my community. I have the greatest respect and aloha for the animals that I need to feed my family. Hunting has allowed me to be with and be one with nature, and I have developed an intimate relationship with Molokai’s mountains, rivers, forests, valleys and shorelines.

Hunting reinforces and stabilizes our subsistence economy on Molokai and allows us to enjoy an exceptionally high quality of life.

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