The islands of Hawaii are the world’s epicenter for GMO testing, and candidates for Maui’s County Council like Alika Atay the thunderous-voiced leader of Hawaii’s emerging Aina Protectors United movement, an organic farmer and an outspoken Native Hawaiian, are fighting back. He is one of nine members of the reformist Maui Ohana slate running to create a people-powered Council that is committed to bringing environmental and economic justice to the land of his ancestors. “I am speaking for the land, for the water, for the children,” Atay explains.
In 2014, the Maui County government refused to implement a new law—the GMO Moratorium ballot initiative—passed to regulate GMO and pesticide test farms in Maui. Instead, the Maui County attorney working alongside agrochemical industry lawyers, was authorized to strike a deal that invalidated the public health-focused GMO Moratorium. A deal that then was converted into a “order” from a Federal Judge – giving everyone involved politically the desired result, as well as needed political cover.
“Given our responsibility under Aloha Aina, we must stand up and protect,” says Atay. “We have to look at the damage heavy chemical pesticides are doing to the soil and the aquifer. Not only what affects us now but more so the long-term future concerns. What kind of water will our future generations have to drink?”
“The County Administration chose to get in bed with the agrochemical industry. They are corporate puppets, to me, because they violated the County Charter. They are mandated to uphold the public trust doctrine. By choosing to ignore the vote of the people and the damage to the environment, they are in violation of upholding the public trust doctrine. There are laws that they are choosing to ignore.”
For the past 20 years, the agrochemical conglomerates that sell both GMO seeds and the pesticides they are bred to resist have managed to control local and state politicians and agencies through lavish campaign contributions, a dedicated army of lobbyists, and the argument that their jobs benefit local economies, even if their work results in the poisoning of the environment and nearby people.
Atay says that the invalidation of the moratorium shattered the already fragile faith in American democracy that many Native Hawaiians had. “Two years ago, on the night of the victory of the GMO Moratorium here in Maui, after they announced that we had won, a native Hawaiian couple in their eighties told me that this was the first time they had voted in 42 years. I asked why, and they told me that nothing mattered until this. At that moment I realized as a Native Hawaiian that this was not just a vote about GMO and chemical pesticides polluting our water and soil, but about four generations of oppression over the Hawaiian people.”