Connecting the Future with the Past
Walter Ritte, known affectionately as “Uncle Walter,” is a kupuna, aloha ʻāina advocate, and new candidate for State House Representative, District 13. Uncle Walter has been a pillar of social activism in Hawaiʻi for over 40 years, working tirelessly to bring greater resiliency to Hawaiʻi’s land and people. From Kahoʻolawe to the Mauna Kea, Uncle Walter has shown an unyielding commitment to social and environmental justice, taking a grassroots approach to all his work.
Born and Maui and moved to Moloka’i at the age of 8, Uncle Walter is ready to shift the familiar narrative that repeats itself in Hawaiʻi’s rural communities; large landowners and outside developers impose land-use plans and profit models that are incompatible with community needs and detrimental to the environment. In reaction, our communities must continually advocate for the preservation of our islands’ integrity.
As a leader, environmentalist, and educator, Uncle Walter has proven to be uncompromising when it comes to the preservation of ʻāina, making countless sacrifices to ensure the land’s well-being is protected for future generations. As a director of nonprofits, activist, and community leader, his hard work has helped transform policy, protect ʻāina, advance Native Hawaiian rights, and build lasting, impactful programs for Hawaiʻi’s youth and future leaders. He has always rooted his work in an ancestral Hawaiian framework by looking to the wisdom of our kūpuna to find solutions to the issues our community face today.
Above all, Uncle Walter believes in unity and the power it has to create real, lasting change. He believes that together we can restore pono, balance, and create a future for Hawaiʻi that is just, sustainable, and empowered.
Return aloha ʻāina, and aloha for our future generations to the center of decision-making.
Walter Ritte, A Proven Force
In the early 1970’s Uncle Walter helped organize Hui Alaloa, a group of Native Hawaiian activists on Moloka‘i, to fight for access rights for Native Hawaiians to conduct their traditional subsistence practices. He led a march along the island’s north shore, trespassing from Mo‘omomi to Kawākiu under threat of arrest by Maui county police. Thanks to their efforts, access to the shore was restored.
In the mid-1970’s, Uncle Walter risked his life through a series of dangerous occupations of Kaho‘olawe in an effort to stop the U.S. Military’s bombing of the island. Thank to his sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, the military occupation of the island has ended and rehabilitation efforts have been underway for decades.
Uncle Walter was a key member at the 1978 Constitutional Convention that led to the formation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He helped author Article XII Sec. 7 of the Hawai‘i State Constitution, which codifies Native Hawaiian cultural and gathering rights. Walter also went on to be one of the first Trustees to sit on the board of OHA.
Hui Ho‘opakele ‘Āina:
A leader in the organization Hui Ho‘opakele ‘Āina, Uncle Walter joined other Moloka‘i residents in protecting water access rights from large land owners who sought to drill and pump a well that would divert millions of gallons away from Hawaiian homesteaders and Moloka‘i’s south shore fisheries.
In the 1990’s Uncle Walter took lead on the restoration of ancient Hawaiian fishponds on Moloka‘i in an effort to reclaim food sustainability. For the first time in over 100-years large fishponds were being restored and Uncle Walter lead the effort to rediscover the ancient knowledge and science used to operate these complex aquaculture systems.
At Keawanui fishpond, Uncle Walter established a Native Hawaiian learning center to teach future generations about traditional aquaculture, the ancient ahupua’a land use system, and the principle of aloha ʻāina as the basis for teaching ancient knowledge. The center continues to flourish today and is a shining example of culturally informed place-based learning.
Uncle Walter fought Maui County and DHHL in court for the right to build a home on his family’s homestead using traditional design and modern materials, without a county building permit. He and his family have been living in the home for the past 20 years, and countless other families have been able to do the same thanks to his efforts.
In the early 2000’s Uncle Walter lead the charge to prevent the cruise line industry from making Moloka‘i’s Kaunakakai harbor a landing port. Uncle Walter and his group of activists researched the destructive impacts of the cruise ship industry and determined that it would be a detriment to Moloka‘i’s fragile reef system as well as a strain on the small local community.
In the mid-2000’s Uncle Walter took the lead in organizing thousands of community members against the Lāʻau Point Development Project and eventually forced the developers to take the project off the table, ending what would have been the longest shoreline development in the state of Hawai‘i.
Uncle Walter has also been heavily active in the statewide push against the GMO biotech industry and the call for greater oversight and transparency surrounding the industry. He helped establish “Label It Hawai‘i” and “Hawaii SEED,” two groups that work to raise awareness surrounding GMO’s in Hawai‘i. He is a staunch supporter of sustainable agriculture.
Most recently Uncle Walter has been helping to lead the protests against the Three Meter Telescope on Maunakea. One of thirty-seven kupuna arrested on the mauna, Uncle Walter was also one of seven kiaʻi to chain himself to the cattle guard for eleven hours, successfully preventing construction crews from moving forward.