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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

Hawaiians protest UH taro patents

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

About 40 Native Hawaiian demonstrators chained and locked three of the main entrances to the University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kaka'ako yesterday morning in protest of patents the university holds on new strains of taro.

The doors were chained at about 8:45 a.m., just 15 minutes before the monthly UH Board of Regents meeting was scheduled to begin at the medical school. Walter Ritte of Moloka'i led the protest and stationed men dressed in white and yellow malos at the entrances, symbolically placing a kapu on the building.

Ritte demanded that the university drop the patents it holds on three separate strains of taro.

"Haloa is our ancestor. You cannot patent haloa," Ritte said.

As Board of Regents chairwoman Kitty Lagareta attempted to enter the blocked building, she was confronted by Ritte and several other protesters.

She told Ritte that the regents do not have the authority to hear the taro issue since neither a policy decision is being made nor a solution being voted on.

"I don't know when the patent was done, but (the university) is certainly willing to talk about undoing it," Lagareta said.

Ritte ended the peaceful protest at about 9:35 a.m. by unlocking the entrances.

The university is investigating a way for Manoa to make an exception to the process relating to patenting and licensing of taro, said Gary Ostrander, vice chancellor of research at UH-Manoa.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.