A Ke A' A: Strengthen the Root
Indigenous Voices Speak Out on GMOs in Hawai'i
Press Statement of Le`a Kanehe, Esq.
January 24, 2005
Just as Native Hawaiian land was taken in 1893 during the U.S.
Overthrow of our lawful government, the genetic resources that
underlie the immense biodiversity of these islands are now the
subject of a new theft as gene hunters commit biopiracy. Furthermore,
just as Hawai`i has been used as a sacrifice zone for the U.S.
military’s bombing and training, our islands and population
are now being used as guinea pigs for the development and release
of genetically modified organisms.
With 1418 field releases and 4566 field test sites, Hawai`i
has had more plantings of experimental biotech crops than anywhere
in the U.S. or the world. Furthermore, Hawai`i is second only
to Nebraska with the most field trials of biopharmaceuticals -
crops that produce dangerous drugs like vaccines, hormones, contraceptives,
and other biologically active compounds.
Regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the biotech
industry is severely under-regulated and allowed to operate in
a shroud of secrecy, while in the case of bioprospecting, the
industry is not regulated at all. Rather than passing laws to
protect the public’s safety and Native Hawaiian rights,
the legislature passes laws to protect the biotech industry, such
as one in 2001 that makes anyone found destroying GE crops liable
for damage. Furthermore, the State facilitates GMO production
through Agribusiness Corporation leases of State lands in Kekaha
to GMO giants like Syngenta and Pioneer Hi-Bred International.
In addition to the environmental and human health risks and
economic concerns raised by many anti-G.E. activists, genetic-based
research and development in Hawai`i has significant negative cultural,
political, and legal impacts for Native Hawaiians, the Indigenous
peoples of Hawai`i.
This Indigenous speaking tour on genetic engineering, `A Ke
A`a: Strengthen the Root, was designed from its inception to raise
greater awareness of concerns regarding G.E. in grass roots Native
Hawaiian communities. As the Indigenous peoples of Hawai`i, Native
Hawaiians are the first guardians of Hawai`i. Our cosmogonic genealogy
imparted in the epic Kumulipo chant tells us that all of the flora
and fauna of Hawai`i are our ancestors. Within our common genealogy
we trace back to Haloanaka, the stillborn child of Wakea and Ho`ohokukalani,
who when buried in the Earth became the kalo (taro). Our progenitor,
Haloa, is the younger sibling of the kalo and, thereby, as his
descendants, we must carry on the kuleana (responsibility and
right) that he inherited to malama (care for) the kalo and the
natural environment, of which we are a part. Kalo is already being
genetically modified by researchers at the University of Hawai`i
in collaboration with the Hawai`i Agricultural Research Center.
We must oppose further manipulation of kalo and prevent its release
into our lo`i (kalo patches).
Native Hawaiians need to be very careful about our communities’
responses to the new genetic technologies and the place, if any,
that those technologies will be given in our islands. We need
to have an understanding of how genetic engineering works, and
what kind of changes it will create between ourselves and our
environments. We need to think about how adopting genetically
engineered farming will affect the survival of our traditional
knowledge systems and the plant and animal life at their base.
We need to be evaluating genetic technologies based on our own
cultural beliefs and standards. These are the issues that this
Indigenous speaking tour will raise.
We welcome our Maori and Paiute friends who are experts working
in their own homelands and internationally to evaluate the threats
of genetic technologies from Indigenous perspectives who have
come to Hawai`i to raise their voices to strengthen the native
roots of Hawai`i.
Le`a Kanehe is a Native Hawaiian attorney whose work focuses
on Indigenous peoples’ rights, environmental law, and human
rights. She was born and raised in Honolulu, with genealogical
roots to Wainiha, Kaua`i. She currently works as a legal analyst
for the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, a non-profit
organization based in Nevada organized to monitor, evaluate, and
provide education to Indigenous peoples regarding the complex
linkages between biotechnology, intellectual property rights,
and the forces of globalization in relation to Indigenous peoples
rights and concerns.