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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.

Contact Information:
Work: 775-574-0248