Issue 13.2 | Spring 2016 / Guest edited by Soniya Munshi and Craig Willse

Sovereignty Will Not Be Funded: “Good” Indigenous Citizenship in Hawai‘i’s Nonprofit-Industrial Complex

This essay investigates the role of the nonprofit-industrial complex in contemporary Native Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli[1] political movements. There is no simple way to characterize the many political directions Native Hawaiians move in today—some participate in the highest levels of the United States legislature, and others stake out their own claims to sovereignty, territory, and independence as definitively separate from the United States. Thus, from the outset of this essay, it is important to note the desires of many Native Hawaiians to obtain both some level of socioeconomic equality with the middle-class majority of white and Asian Americans in Hawai‘i and recognition of their unique rights to self-determination as an indigenous people. For many, these two different desires are not mutually exclusive. Yet, at times, working to secure Native Hawaiians’ so-called place at the table within the society and economy of both Hawai‘i and the United States—a goal of many Native Hawaiian nonprofits today—risks jeopardizing the efforts of Native Hawaiians who imagine and work toward a different future beyond the structures of the US settler nation-state, capitalism, and imperialism.

This essay analyzes precisely the costs of obtaining a “place at the table” through a focus on the discourses and practices of one of the most recognized Native Hawaiian nonprofits today, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA). I pursue this analysis through discourse analysis and ethnographic engagement with CNHA’s 2007 and 2008 annual “Native Hawaiian Convention,” which I argue illustrates some of the key ways CNHA has worked to transform ideas of Native Hawaiian subjecthood.[2] The particular target of my analysis is their production of a certain ideal Native Hawaiian subjecthood, which I describe as “good” indigenous citizenship. As advocated by CNHA and others like Native Hawaiian US Senator Daniel Akaka, good indigenous citizenship is premised on the idea that Native Hawaiians can achieve social and economic equality with other Americans if they align their own interests with the interests of the state. I argue that CNHA’s promotion of the good indigenous citizenship model furthers the legitimacy of US claims to Hawai‘i as well as bolsters neoliberal capitalism’s hold on Hawai‘i’s economy. For example, CNHA encourages Native Hawaiians to start their own small businesses and contract their services out to the government or military. CNHA’s good citizen also renders other Native Hawaiians, who pursue different political and socioeconomic avenues, as essentially bad or undeserving, citizens who wrongly expect to receive special benefits as indigenous peoples for “free.”

The essay begins by showing how this idea of good indigenous citizenship is developed within the space of CNHA’s conventions. Using my own experience in attending CNHA’s conventions in 2007 and 2008, I analyze the politics embedded in CNHA’s oft-used keywords: community, development, and responsibility. I position CNHA within a brief sketch of the history of nonprofit institutions focused on serving the Native Hawaiian community, and further situate CNHA’s language and purported mission within the global rise of the nonprofit-industrial complex under neoliberalism. Specifically, I analyze how CNHA seeks to model a future Native Hawaiian “governing entity” after the Alaskan Federation of Natives, an outcome that CNHA leaders have long campaigned for under the rubric of federal recognition, including under the embattled federal Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (popularly known as the “Akaka Bill”) and more recently through state recognition and an administrative rule change under the Department of Interior.[3]

The essay’s last section adds a further dimension to the total picture of CNHA’s model indigenous citizen by considering more specifically how CNHA’s mode of indigenous citizenship splits the Native Hawaiian community into those who have “advanced,” and those who are in need of “advancement.” I draw on my participant-observation of CNHA’s 2008 convention to illustrate this point, focusing on an award ceremony I witnessed there, where CNHA gave its 2008 community award to Puhipau, a Kanaka Maoli filmmaker and activist. Puhipau’s remarkable acceptance speech strongly critiqued CNHA’s good indigenous citizenship model. While I largely do not focus on the important work of Kanaka Maoli sovereignty activists like Puhipau in this essay, my overall aim is to show how such activists are written out of mainstream representations of Native Hawaiians and their politics. In other words, by exposing some of the mechanisms of CNHA’s growing power and success in presenting its own perspectives as the most reasonable and representative of all Native Hawaiians, this essay attempts to demonstrate why many more “radical” Kanaka Maoli political projects are unsuccessful in securing funding from a number of federal, state, and private institutions that provide grants to Native Hawaiian community organizations. Beyond the material effects of lacking funds, certain Kanaka Maoli are increasingly being pushed out of new definitions of Native Hawaiian community altogether.

Developing “Good” Indigenous Citizenship

The extensive landscape of nonprofits focused on serving Native Hawaiians in Hawai‘i has arisen over the last few decades in part due to the availability of federal funding through two pieces of legislation passed in Congress in 1988: the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act. These acts were significant, hard-won responses to calls for socioeconomic justice for Native Hawaiians that began with political organizing in the 1970s. The Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act, more specifically, grew out of the E Ola Mau reports of 1985, the first studies in which Native Hawaiian researchers extensively documented severe disparities between the health of Native Hawaiians and other ethnic groups in Hawai‘i.[4] These acts created important and enduring community programs from Hawaiian language immersion programs to the Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems, which provide culturally competent health services to Native Hawaiian communities across the state.[5] Taken together, these programs slowly built up a nonprofit sector focused on serving Native Hawaiians, providing both much-needed services and jobs.

Yet, this federal funding has also come with significant vagary. Though these acts have been successfully reauthorized over the years, as the US economy and political control of Congress have fluctuated, nonprofits funded under the acts have often faced worries about losing their funding altogether, as Native Hawaiian social welfare programs may fall very low on the list of national federal funding priorities. Another worry accompanying federal funding in recent years stems from lawsuits filed against Native Hawaiian programs by non-native Hawaiians eager to claim “reverse discrimination.” The most notorious such case, Rice v. Cayetano (2000), involved the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a “semi-autonomous, self-governing body” that manages a number of Native Hawaiian community programs.[6] Harold Rice, a white, longtime resident of Hawai‘i, sued the state under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments for racial discrimination in voting for the Board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which had traditionally been limited to Native Hawaiians. Ignoring the historical distinction of Kanaka Maoli as an indigenous people, the case flattened Kanaka Maoli into a racial constituency without any special claims or rights to self-determination.[7] The Supreme Court ruled in Rice’s favor in 2000, providing fuel for lawsuits against other Native Hawaiian institutions and programs, including Kamehameha Schools.[8]

Amid this politically complicated landscape for Native Hawaiian nonprofits, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA)’s annual Native Hawaiian Convention seems to offer a safe haven for Native Hawaiian nonprofit professionals. The convention is billed as a place to network with other Native Hawaiian nonprofits, share strategies about grant-writing and community outreach, and discuss “big picture” problems with colleagues equally concerned about the future of federal funding to Native Hawaiian programs. The primary attendees of the convention include the white-collar office workers as well as the more “hands-on” community outreach staff of many Native Hawaiian education and health nonprofits established under the 1988 federal acts, along with other Native Hawaiian leaders who come for a chance to network about important issues in their communities.

For many years, I worked as a volunteer and employee for various Native Hawaiian and/or Asian and Pacific Islander nonprofits, and it was precisely through this community work that I came to know the Native Hawaiian Convention, which has been held annually since 2001. At first glance, the mission statement of CNHA hardly seemed controversial to me: “Our mission is to enhance the cultural, economic and community development of Native Hawaiians and to support the capacity of community-based organizations that contribute to the well-being of the Hawaiian islands and its people.”[9] The repetition of the word community seems nothing but natural here. Yet, the message is not transparent, even (or especially) to those who are Native Hawaiian. Exactly which Native Hawaiians are being referred to here? Who is in need of development, and why do some of us (or them?) need CNHA’s help to “develop”?

When I first attended CNHA’s convention as a registered participant in 2007, I was struck by the opening of one panel session. “This is your convention center. We are so glad to welcome you home,” a white, middle-aged male speaker, wearing a patterned aloha shirt and purple lei, greeted the audience. A representative from the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), this man faced a largely Native Hawaiian audience, many of us also wearing aloha shirt styles and leis. I remember this scenario so well perhaps because it was a scene not unlike those interrogated by Native American scholar Phillip Deloria in his book Indians in Unexpected Places.[10] Deloria interrogates how and why American Indians appear strikingly out of place in most “modern” places (e.g., riding in cars, getting a manicure, competing in sporting events). In a similar sense, a largely white-collar convention audience of Native Hawaiians was an anomalous presence in this convention center, usually booked by visiting mainland organizations.

The HTA was in fact established in 1998 in large part to manage and market the newly opened convention center, and “attract the kind of business meetings that contribute to revenue growth for the state.”[11] While the state funded the $200 million construction of the convention center, hundreds of other public employees’ jobs were cut and public services were scaled back or privatized.[12] Efforts to incorporate Hawaiian culture seemed superficial and often mistaken, such as the incorrect use of apostrophes instead of ʻokina (glottal stops in the Hawaiian language).[13] Thus, though the convention center is a public, state-owned space, it is not a space that Native Hawaiians or other local residents necessarily feel comfortable in, and it has a reputation for being a white elephant (a useless building constructed at ridiculously high cost, with little promise of generating meaningful profits to local residents).[14] For myself and for many of the participants I attended the convention with, it was our first time inside the imposing convention center. At somewhat of a crossroads between the downtown business district of Honolulu and the hotels of Waikīkī, the center blends in well with the ritzy sheen of both areas. Its façade is framed by palm trees, sheets of glass stretching several stories, and giant stone sculptures that make up part of its two-million-dollar art collection. It is precisely this spectacular wealth that makes the center, for many local residents, a devastating symbol of the trickle-down economic policies that persist in Hawaiʻi today.

Read symbolically, the HTA representative’s welcome of Native Hawaiians to the convention center was a subtle admission of damaging colonial power, obliquely referencing the multiple ways Native Hawaiians have been made homeless or houseless in their own homeland. The HTA representative marked his ownership of Hawaiʻi, and particularly the wealth of the Waikīkī-located convention center, by feeling the need to welcome Native Hawaiians into it. Further, the subtext of the HTA representative’s welcome is that by many past and present accounts, Native Hawaiians are not supposed to be the business managers, executive directors, bankers, or wind-energy engineers that they showed themselves to be at this convention. Colonial and contemporary neocolonial powers have long represented Native Hawaiians as backwards, lazy, and dying out. Native Hawaiians who did achieve some success within American society disproved little in the face of such racial discourse because their success was taken as a sign of assimilation, or “rehabilitation,” therefore voiding their native identities.[15]

What and whom the welcome from the HTA representative did not encompass were the many Native Hawaiians who are other kinds of leaders and revered cultural practitioners who reject not only the politics of CNHA, but also, more fundamentally, capitalism and the settler state of Hawaiʻi. Though CNHA and the HTA operate on the assumption that tourism and the US military are the bedrock economies of Hawaiʻi, Kanaka Maoli are increasingly looking to other cultural and economic models of living, often following in the footsteps of ancestral knowledge. For example, as Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻopua beautifully documents in her 2013 book, The Seeds We Planted, Hawaiian charter schools are seeking to educate youth in sustainable practices of living that include restoration of loʻi kalo, the terraced farms of kalo (taro), traditionally a staple food in Hawaiʻi.[16] In Kanaka Maoli genealogy and epistemology, kalo (also known as Hāloa in its godly form) is the elder sibling of kānaka, the people. Understood this way, kalo and kānaka have a mutual responsbility to care for and sustain each other. Learning how to reestablish this kind of structure is important to schools like Hālau Kū Māna in large part because it could provide a real alternative to US capitalist and colonial structures. As Goodyear-Kaʻopua notes from an interview with teacher Kumu Consuelo Gouveia about her childhood on Lānai, “living off the ʻāina [land] enabled her family and others a certain level of autonomy because it made them less dependent on what she called ‘the corporation.’”[17] What Goodyear-Kaʻopua and Kumu Gouveia point to here is a reevaluation of settler notions of wealth, and a regrounding in Kanaka Maoli values and genealogies—a very different kind of wealth than that showcased in the Honolulu convention center, but one that is potentially more equitable and sustainable for all.

Instead of pursuing such alternative forms of wealth, the Native Hawaiian Convention I observed in 2007 invited white-collar Native Hawaiians to be not only the objects of the colonial-tourism machine’s gaze, but to strategically participate in wielding it upon themselves. The convention was a form of one of the nonprofit industry’s favorite code words, “community development”: a project bent on anxiously addressing the Native Hawaiian community’s historic alienation within the state by remaking them into subjects that can be welcomed into it. As the market for tourism buoyed by a system of global capitalism is naturalized as the unshakeable reality of contemporary Hawaiʻi, the state and institutional response to historic calls for Native Hawaiian rights offers only a realm where we are to become the plucky self-reliant agents of selling the islands.

Legal scholar Nan Seuffert, writing about the history of imperialism in Aotearoa/New Zealand, has aptly referred to this type of self-marketing as self-entrepreneurship, which could be a pathway for Maori towards good citizenship. For Seuffert, the ultimate model of this good citizenship was the missionary Henry Williams, responsible for the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty, essentially founding New Zealand as a British colonial state, was necessarily deceptive, suggesting in the Maori-language version that the British would be governors of British subjects but Maori governing structures would remain in place for Maori people. Seuffert argues that Williams’ translation was purposefully deceptive because he personally stood to gain in clarifying his land rights (as did most of the other British people living in New Zealand at that time) after the treaty passed. However, she also argues that his deceptive translation was “not an isolated incident” but a performance of good citizenship, that is, “the fulfillment of dual individual and national interests, sometimes overlapping.”[18] She goes on to note:

Williams’ actions [the deceptive translation] mapped his own identity on to a white masculine ideal of the good citizen/subject . . . , a forward-gazing (white, male) citizen . . . , an agent of free trade imperialism acting simultaneously in his own interests and in the interests of nation-building. His act is also the performance . . . and fulfillment of that ideal, and for that moment he closed the gap between his own identity and the ideal.[19]

By emphasizing the performativity of Williams’ actions, Seuffert shows how the good citizen was not a permanently held subject position, but an ideal that had to be performed with the use of certain racial and gendered identities in order to be fulfilled. Seuffert argues that in the colonial period as much as in the contemporary period, Maori men were and are assimilated to a similar good-citizen status under government programs “encouraging self-entrepreneurship among colonised men” and thereby “assimilating some Maori men to a new strand of national identity as global entrepreneurs.”[20]

In the rhetoric of CNHA, Native Hawaiians have been “good Americans” and thus deserve to better themselves through self-entrepreneurship. In line with this rhetoric, a key piece of policy that CNHA has been instrumental in creating and supporting is commonly known as the Akaka Bill. The Akaka Bill is a piece of federal legislation introduced to the US Congress in 2000, and continually reintroduced by Native Hawaiian US Senator Daniel Akaka (for whom the bill is nicknamed), which would begin a process of setting up a “self-governing entity” for Native Hawaiians.[21] Senator Akaka himself embodies many of the ideals of good, masculine citizenship Seuffert describes. Akaka served in the US Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and went to college through the G.I. Bill.[22] He has often spoken of this legislation as a matter of recognizing the hard-working, tax-paying Native Hawaiians as good American citizens.[23]

The Akaka Bill promised to give Native Hawaiians “federal recognition,” on analogous terms to many federally recognized Native American tribes. The Akaka Bill has suffered many defeats, largely by Republicans who object to the formation of a so-called race-based government for Native Hawaiians whom they deem already assimilated. However, a large number of Native Hawaiians also oppose the legislation, as it fails to provide many of the substantial sovereign rights they seek. Namely, the Akaka Bill makes no provisions for land rights; bans the possibility of Native Hawaiians opening casinos in Hawaiʻi; and simply lays out a process for setting up a “self-governing entity” that many Native Hawaiians feel would have no real power or agreed-upon authority.[24]

Nonetheless, CNHA has been a tireless advocate of the Akaka Bill. Indeed, the legislation is ultimately the fulfillment of CNHA’s ideal of good indigenous citizenship, wherein concurrent political subjectivities, both Native Hawaiian and American, are overlaid as reinforcing rather than resisting each other. This overlay requires a certain loss, however. Seuffert points out that: “The ideal citizen not only acts in both his own and the nation’s interests simultaneously, he is also forward gazing, without a history; he is always able to shed his history.”[25] Though many native people find their histories important orientations for the future, under the domain of good citizenship, native political projects fixed on “transparent” inclusion into the colonial nation-state require the performative shedding of native history (especially the legacies of colonial violence), whether through legislative recognition, official apologies, or the like. Native “tradition” and “culture” are allowed to remain, but largely as they are useful in the advancement of self-entrepreneurship. The next section focuses on how this process of native self-entrepreneurship has gained traction through a certain alignment of the contemporary nonprofit industry; native nationalist projects intent on achieving (and/or indebted to historic) forms of legal recognition; and settler colonial nation-states seeking to remedy historic wrong-doings.

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  1. Kanaka Maoli is the Hawaiian language term for Native Hawaiian. I use both Native Hawaiian and Kanaka Maoli interchangeably, but generally the former is more appropriate in nonprofit terminology, and the latter is more applicable to radical activism. As Hawaiian scholar and language teacher Noenoe Silva notes, Kanaka means, “Person, people, but also Hawaiian; Kānaka is plural form, Kanaka is singular and the category.” Kanaka Maoli means “Real person or people, i.e., native.” See Noenoe Silva, Aloha Betrayed (Durham: Duke UP, 2004) 238. [Return to text]
  2. My ethnographic research, completed as part of a master’s thesis project, involved participant-observation at the 2007 and 2008 CNHA Native Hawaiian Conventions in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as conducting anonymous interviews with various Native Hawaiians involved in Native Hawaiian political organizing and the nonprofit sector. This essay draws much of its data from the participant-observation rather than the interviews, although the interviews did shape my overall conclusions and analysis. For further information, see Maile Arvin, “Sovereignty Will Not Be Funded: Indigenous Citizenship in Hawai‘i’s Non-Profit Industrial Complex,” master’s thesis, U of California, San Diego, 2009. [Return to text]
  3. As of 2014, the Akaka Bill has largely been abandoned due to its repeated failure since 2000 to pass both houses of Congress. However, CNHA and affiliated groups continue to pursue federal recognition in other forms, including through state recognition and (as announced in the summer of 2014) an administrative rule change in the Department of the Interior. See, for example Trisha Kehaulani Watson, “So the Interior Department Wants Input on Hawaiian Nation-Building?” Honolulu Civil Beat. Accessed 9 Sept. 2014. Available at [Return to text]
  4. “History,” Native Hawaiian Education Council website. Accessed 6 Jan. 2012. See also “History,” Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program website. Accessed 6 Jan. 2012. While this essay, drawing on research from 2007-2009, often refers to the Akaka Bill (at that time still a major rallying point for CNHA and others), I see my critiques of the Akaka Bill as equally relevant to the structures and epistemologies behind Native Hawaiian federal recognition in its other, more current forms, including the administrative rule change under the Department of Interior. [Return to text]
  5. See “Who We Are,” Ke Ola Mamo website. Accessed 6 Jan. 2012. [Return to text]
  6. “Establishment of OHA,” Office of Hawaiian Affairs website. Accessed 6 Jan. 2012. [Return to text]
  7. Judy Rohrer, “Got Race?: The Production of Haole and the Distortion of Indigeneity in the Rice Decision,” Contemporary Pacific 18.1 (2006): 1-31. [Return to text]
  8. Kamehameha Schools is an institution that has faced these lawsuits, and is an important player in the Native Hawaiian nonprofit world in Hawai‘i today, although detailing its complicated role in Hawaiʻi’s nonprofit-industrial complex is beyond the scope of this essay. Kamehameha Schools, established through the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who died in 1884, originally worked to promote Native Hawaiian welfare by encouraging assimilation into a modern Hawaiian society that was increasingly dominated by the United States. Kamehameha Schools has since grown into a large, private K-12 school system that gives “preference” for admission to Native Hawaiian children, with campuses on O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i islands. Kamehameha Schools is the largest private landowner in Hawai‘i today, and its total endowment is valued at 7.66 billion. (Value as of June 2006). From: “Facts About KS,” Kamehameha Schools website. Accessed 20 Sept. 2011. While Kamehameha Schools initially administered many of the programs created under the Native Hawaiian Education Act of 1988, it has since cut ties with many of its federally funded programs in order to avoid further legal challenges over its Native Hawaiian admission policy. See, for example Walter Wright, “Kamehameha to Drop Junior ROTC,” Honolulu Advertiser 18 Jan. 2002. Available at Accessed 6 Jan. 2012. [Return to text]
  9. This specific phrasing of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s mission statement comes from its website, as accessed in 2008. CNHA includes variations on this statement in nearly all of the materials it produces and disseminates. [Return to text]
  10. Philip Joseph Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: Kansas UP, 2006). [Return to text]
  11. Hawaiian Tourism Authority, “Overview of HTA Program Areas” Official Website of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Accessed 29 Mar. 2009. [Return to text]
  12. John Witeck, “Public Policy in Hawaiʻi: Globalism’s Neoliberal Embrace,” Public Policy and Globalization in Hawaiʻi, ed. Ibrahim G. Aoudé, (Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2001) 36-68. [Return to text]
  13. Burt Burlingame, “Convention Center’s Glottal Goof,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin 23 Oct. 1997. Available at [Return to text]
  14. “Convention Center ripe for Lingle scrutiny,” editorial, Honolulu Advertiser 23 Dec. 2002. Available at [Return to text]
  15. J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (Durham: Duke UP, 2008). [Return to text]
  16. Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻopua, The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2013). [Return to text]
  17. Goodyear-Kaʻopua 2013: 139. The “corporation” refers to the fact that Lānaʻi island (and the two hotels that provide most of the island’s jobs) is owned by a single, haole landowner, Larry Ellison. [Return to text]
  18. Goodyear-Kaʻopua 2013: 16-17. [Return to text]
  19. Nan Seuffert, Jurisprudence of National Identity: Kaleidoscopes of Imperialism and Globalisation from Aotearoa New Zealand (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006) 16. Note that Seuffert uses in-text citations that I have not included. [Return to text]
  20. Seuffert 2006: 6. [Return to text]
  21. As noted above, advocacy for the Akaka Bill itself has largely ended because of its repeated failure in Congress. However, CNHA continues to advocate for federal recognition via other avenues, including state recognition and the establishment of a Native Hawaiian roll, and through an administrative rule change under the US Department of Interior. Other Kanaka Maoli continue to resist these other avenues. See, for example Randall Akee, “The Press for Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition is Presumptuous,” Hawaii Independent 22 Jun. 2014. Accessed 12 September 2014. Available at; Chad Blair, “Kanaka Maoli to Feds: ‘Get Out of Our House! Go Home!’” Honolulu Civil Beat 24 Jun. 2014. Accessed 12 Sept. 2014. Available at [Return to text]
  22. Association of the United States Army, Once a Soldier . . . Always A Soldier: Soldiers in the 112th Congress (Arlington: Association of the United States Army, 2011) 4-5. Available at [Return to text]
  23. See, for example Maile Arvin, “Spectacles of Citizenship: Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Gets a Makeover,” Transnational Crossroads: Reimagining Asian America, Latin America, and the American Pacific, eds. Camille Fojas and Rudy Guevarra, (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2012). [Return to text]
  24. Arvin 2012. [Return to text]
  25. Seuffert 2006: 6. [Return to text]