• By Walter Ritte
  • Dec. 12, 2019
  • Walter Ritte is executive director of ‘Aina Momona, and a board member of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA).Walter Ritte is executive director of ‘Aina Momona, and a board member of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA).

We have to do better. Thanksgiving this year fell on Nov. 28, a day that is auspicious for Native Hawaiians because on that day in 1843, Britain and France recognized the sovereignty of Hawai‘i. La Ku‘oko‘a is a kingdom holiday that Hawaiians are increasingly rescuing from obscurity. Hawaiians still feel an allegiance to beloved Queen Lili‘uokalani, who was removed from her throne by a group of American businessmen, with the help of the U.S. government.

Many kanaka maoli refuse to vote because they believe to do so is to legitimize the illegal annexation of the islands. I understand that — but as we make our way forward, much is being lost, our food security, our environment, our civil rights, our identity.

I said exactly this recently when speaking at the Hawai‘i People’s Congress convened by the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) that brought more than 150 people from across the islands to the University of Hawai‘i William S. Richardson School of Law. We came together to discuss how we can apply indigenous wisdom, or what I like to call the “ancient” green deal to move away from extractive economies and effect a just transition, maybe even a transformation.

I was very happy to hear many communities share how they are restoring the practices of our kupuna, rooted in Aloha ‘Aina, to ensure that we can survive and thrive in the face of the climate crisis. Rivers now flow to the taro terraces and ocean, fishponds are being restored, our access rights for subsistence gathering and religious purposes enforced.

The voices of people who have been silenced are being heard. From Mauna Kea to Kahuku, to Waimanalo and beyond, people are insisting on having a say in matters that deeply affect their lives. We are in crisis. Hawaiians and their beloved nation are on the list of too many negative reports on health, early deaths, cancer, diabetes, incarcerations, homelessness, suicides, etc.

Next year Hawai‘i moves to voting by mail (VBM). If you are among those who have long voted by absentee ballot, you won’t feel a great difference. But all those accustomed to going to their local polling station should know that it will no longer be there. Do not forfeit your vote.

My hope is that in 2020, legislators will take the next step of enacting Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a logical complement to VBM that ensures that voter rolls are updated promptly every time someone applies for, renews their driving license or registers a change of address at the DMV. It will save individuals and the state money and make voting easier and more secure. Together VBM and AVR would significantly improve access to voting.

I wear a T-shirt with this website, https://olvr.hawaii.gov/, on it to encourage everyone to go and register to vote, and to look out for notifications from the Office of Elections in the mail. You should receive a ballot for both the primary election (Aug. 8) and the general election (Nov 3).

It’s time Native Hawaiians are not viewed through a lens that says “nonvoter.” An active, unified voting block can help ensure our true nation.