FOUNDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Raised on Moloka‘i, Uncle Walter Ritte has been a pillar of social activism in Hawaii for over 40 years. He was recruited into activism at an early age by cultural icons like Uncle Charlie Maxwell and Aunty Frenchy DeSoto, who saw in a young Ritte natural leadership and dedication to his people and culture.
Uncle Walter solidified his place in Hawaiʻi’s history when he and eight others defied the U.S. Military to return to the Hawaiian ‘āina of Kahoʻolawe, an island which had long been seized and occupied by the U.S. Navy for military testing and target practice. In an unprecedented act of courage, “the Kaho‘olawe Nine” became the first Native Hawaiians to step foot on the beaten and ravaged island without military permission in decades. Most of the group was shortly therefore captured by military officials, but Uncle Walter and one other evaded capture for two days.
Later, Uncle Walter would return to the island, and on one such occasion he and Richard Sawyer evaded capture by the U.S. Navy for 35 days. Upon being captured, they were arrested and found guilty of trespassing. Despite the seemingly minor infraction, a federal judge had the two remanded to a maximum-security prison for the duration of their sentence.
During this time, Uncle Walter’s activist wife Aunty Loretta Ritte, worked with others in the Hawaiian community to influence legislature and create a movement that would successfully lead to the end of bombing on Kahoʻolawe. Uncle Walter and Aunty Loretta’s dogged-determination and persistence ultimately paid off, and Kahoʻolawe was eventually returned to the Hawaiian people. The victory remains a beacon of hope for indigenous and environmental activists around the world today.
Uncle Walter and Aunty Loretta have subsequently dedicated their lives to the protection of Hawaiian rights and the preservation of natural resources. Uncle Walter is a master fishpond practitioner, and is largely credited for invigorating the revival of traditional fishpond restoration activities in Hawaiʻi through his work with fishponds on Moloka‘i and the foundation of Hui o Kuapā in 1989, the first community organization exclusively dedicated to fishpond restoration, education and research.
Uncle Walter has also dedicated much of his time and attention to issues surrounding food sovereignty and environmental health. He has been instrumental in the anti-GMO and anti-pesticides movements in Hawai‘i. Uncle Walter and Aunty Loretta continue to serve as lead activists across Hawaii, remaining important strongholds in our community’s purist for self-determination.