Decolonizing Indigeneity

Hawaiian Sovereignty, U.S. Occupation and the Politics of Settler Colonialism

By: J. Kēhaulani Kauanui

This lecture focuses on decolonization in the Hawaiian context. In the sovereignty movement, over the last twenty years, there has been perplexing shift in political discourse, in which some pro-independence leaders have increasingly denied that the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) ever historically experienced colonialism because, as the logic goes, the Hawaiian Kingdom is an independent state that is merely occupied (illegally) by the United States. What can decolonization mean if there is no acknowledgment of colonization? The crux of the debate is based on the notion that occupation and colonialism are mutually exclusive. To tackle this predicament, it is imperative to understand the hybrid status of the Hawaiian case study as there is a legal genealogy of independent statehood, which differs from the U.S. state and its subsidiary (the so-called “50th state”). The talk examines why some Hawaiians oppose any acknowledgment, let alone critical analysis, of colonialism, and clarifies what the stakes seem to be. Kauanui insists on engagement with settler colonialism as an analytic while also drawing on normative frameworks of international law in order to expose the limits of de-occupation, decolonization, and indigenous rights in the context of rampant U.S. militarism.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui is Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University, where she the current Chair of American Studies and Director of the Center for the Americas. Her first book is Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Duke University Press in 2008). Her second book, Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty: Land, Sex, and the Colonial Politics of State Nationalism, is forthcoming from Duke University Press (September 2018). Kauanui currently serves as a co-producer for an anarchist politics show called, “Anarchy on Air.”

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