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.

CNHA Amid the Indigenous NGO Boom

CNHA and its annual convention are important not only because CNHA’s convention is a nonprofit site productive of “community,” but also because CNHA has come to exert an increasing amount of influence over all Native Hawaiian nonprofits in Hawai‘i. The definitions of community appropriated and produced by CNHA echo far beyond its offices. As one person I interviewed put it, “Once they [CNHA] came along [in 2001], the money dried up. All the grants started going through them.” This influence is perhaps most evident in the names of the convention’s corporate sponsors, whose logos are peppered throughout the convention’s materials and speeches: Bank of Hawai‘i, Lockheed Martin, American Savings Bank, and Freddie Mac, among others. The list of panelists and speakers are also usually impressive in the sense of mainstream recognition. In 2008, the CNHA convention included presentations from all national representatives for Hawai‘i: Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, and Representatives Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono.

I want to make it clear, however, that using CNHA as the primary site of my analysis does not stem from a desire to delegitimize all nonprofit organizations working for Native Hawaiian communities. I approach this investigation following many of the definitions and questions laid out in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, a collection of essays edited by the scholars and activists of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, who continue to struggle for transformative justice within the nonprofit structure.[26] Dylan Rodríguez, in this collection, defines the nonprofit-industrial complex as a type of shadow state: “a set of symbiotic relationships that link political and financial technologies of state and owning class control with surveillance over public political ideology, including and especially emergent progressive and leftist social movements.”[27] I see CNHA as a metonym for the nonprofit-industrial complex that has seen exponential growth globally since the 1980s. I am not interested solely in the macroeconomic and political processes described here, however, for as Rodríguez also states, “this new industry grounds an epistemology—literally, a way of knowing social change and resistance praxis—that is difficult to escape or rupture.”[28] How this neoliberal, nonprofit epistemology affects, changes, and/or entrenches contemporary indigenous epistemologies and ontologies (ways of being and becoming) has received far too little scholarly attention.

While the previous section argued that CNHA works to promote and produce good indigenous citizenship for Native Hawaiians, how might CNHA’s neoliberal epistemology, or way of knowing social change, be further characterized? While neoliberalism has become a label sometimes used indiscriminately, it is “third way” neoliberalism that this study finds most salient, as first described by Anthony Giddens in reference to Tony Blair and the New Labour Party in 1998. Giddens in fact distinguishes the third way from both the social democratic, leftist tradition of the “old” Labour Party and the neoliberal, conservative politics of Margaret Thatcher (and Ronald Reagan in the United States). To Giddens at the end of the twentieth century, following what he saw as “the dissolution of the ‘welfare consensus’ that dominated in the industrial countries up to the late 1970s,” the essential political project for Western-styled democracies was to show how “political idealism” could be revived through creating collaboration between the left and right.[29] The key agent in this third way solution is civil society. Domestically, civil society is hailed as the arena in which the excesses of welfare are better managed through a “social investment state.” Internationally, Giddens argues for the concurrent development of a global civil society in place of the ruling system of often-warring nation states. To check the self-interest of states dominating the world market, global laissez-faire must be curbed and regulated through the expansion of “cosmopolitan democracy . . . [as] a condition for effectively regulating the world economy, attacking global economic inequalities and controlling ecological risks.”[30] Lisa Duggan aptly critiques this third way approach as attempting to represent “a kind of nonpolitics—a way of being reasonable.”[31]

Latin American scholar Sonia Alvarez describes the rise of this third way approach and the development of a global civil society as the “international NGO boom,” (referring to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or as they are more commonly known in the United States, nonprofits). The danger in her eyes is not the multifaceted NGO boom in and of itself, but the increasing demand for NGOs to act as technical advisors to intergovernmental organizations (state and international bodies like the United Nations). Accordingly, she writes:

[T]he more professionalized, technically adept NGOs seem to have become privileged interlocutors of States and IGOs [intergovernmental organizations] on gender policy matters. In pronouncing them intermediaries, neoliberal governments effectively have circumvented the need to establish public forums or other democratic mechanisms through which those most affected by gender policies might directly voice their needs and concerns. . . . NGOs and other women’s movement organizations openly critical of government incumbents are seldom among the States’ designated “partners” in the implementation of gender and social welfare programs.[32]

The force of these developments, Alvarez argues, is to “de-hybridize” NGOs into specialized functions that have little direct dialogue with the communities they purport to serve. Alvarez’s critique, along with Giddens’ description and Duggan’s critique of neoliberalism’s rhetoric of the third way, all offer helpful frameworks for understanding the position of CNHA within Hawai‘i’s nonprofit-industrial complex. While many nonprofits have no choice but to strategically learn the neoliberal “non-politics” language of government and foundation grantors, third way rhetoric is deeply integrated into CNHA’s political agenda, showcased in both its annual convention and its constant political advocacy at state and federal levels. As with the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority representative’s speech I discussed earlier, CNHA’s ethos is that there is no need to challenge the tourism industry in Hawai‘i, and instead focuses on finding ways to better incorporate Native Hawaiians into tourism industry jobs. Seeking alternative methods of promoting Native Hawaiian justice that may challenge the tourism industry or end it altogether would far overreach CNHA’s efforts to remain seemingly nonpolitical. CNHA’s stated philosophy emphasizes culture rather than politics and “challenges” rather than long-standing colonialism and injustice:

At CNHA our mission is to focus on the needs of our member organizations and community organizations all across the state and country that tap into and lift up Hawaiian culture as a strength and solution to the community development challenges of our people.[33]

Through using such language, CNHA seeks to present all of its claims as neutral, for the uncontested good of the community. For example, at the top of every policy recommendation page in its policy roundtable and town hall booklet, distributed at a session of the same name at the 2008 Native Hawaiian convention, is the bold title: “Working Together.” However, the agents in this working relationship are described more specifically in the content of the policy recommendations as primarily the Hawai‘i state government; the United States federal government; the Department of Hawaiian Homelands; the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; financial institution sponsors like Freddie Mac; and Native Hawaiian small businesses.[34] The rest of the Native Hawaiian population is apparently represented by CNHA itself. Thus while helping “our community” is continuously invoked, the specifics of CNHA’s plans are either deemphasized or staged as the only or the most reasonable way. This is, as Duggan puts it, challenging potential detractors with the question: “Who could be against greater wealth and more democracy?”[35]

Duggan persuasively argues for an understanding of this brand of neoliberalism as not only a style of economic and trade policy but also crucially a cultural politics. While contradictory and contested, the key cultural terms of neoliberalism—privatization and personal responsibility—have often been successful in gaining support for neoliberal economic visions. Duggan cites welfare reform as one of the most striking examples, describing how legislative policies such as the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA):

. . . emerged from decades of efforts to erode New Deal welfare state programs, especially AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children], through the deployment of images of sexually promiscuous, lazy welfare queens breeding for the profit of an ever-enlarging welfare check. The specific neoliberal spin on this cultural project was the removal of explicitly racist, misogynist language and images, and the substitution of the language and values of privatization and personal responsibility.[36]

CNHA’s version of this neoliberal culture may differ on the surface in the sense that it officially emphasizes group responsibility: Native Hawaiians working together. However, it is clear that a middle-class sense of personal responsibility remains a cornerstone of CNHA’s politics of “group uplift.” While CNHA admits that Native Hawaiians suffer many socioeconomic disadvantages in Hawaiʻi, they use such statistics to further partnerships with corporations and government programs that will give Hawaiians a place at the table. Sessions at the CNHA convention emphasized, however, that Native Hawaiians must work to earn this place—for example, Christopher Dawson, president of the Native Hawaiian Organizations Association (NHOA),[37] told the audience at the business leaders roundtable: “You’re not going to get a contract just because you’re Native Hawaiian.” The rest of the session was geared toward learning how to talk to contractors without using such entitled language. CNHA’s vision for change for Native Hawaiians thus rests on Native Hawaiians proving themselves individually and working their way up into the middle class. To draw on George Yúdice’s theory of culture acting as a key expedient in neoliberal civil society, while there is more of a market available to fund cultural-rights projects, these must still be translated into justifiable language of individualized economic rights.[38] The emphasis on personal responsibility within collective empowerment is part of this translation.

Realizing The Corporate Good Citizen: CNHA Looks to Alaska

Anne Keala Kelly, a Kanaka Maoli journalist and documentary filmmaker, has critically and thoroughly interrogated CNHA’s agenda and practices in Hawai‘i’s local media and US national media. While it was widely known and remarked upon that CNHA leaders Robin and Jade Danner lived for many years in Alaska, Kelly was the first to publicly question the institutional and business ties CNHA cultivated with the Alaskan Federation of Natives and related Alaskan businesses. In 2003, she published an article, “The Alaska–Hawaii Connection: How Inupiat, Gwich’in, and Native Hawaiian Power Bases Impact Both ANWR and Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition,” in the Native Americas journal. She writes:

This story is . . . a [peek] behind the curtain of how the Alaska oil industry’s efforts have secretly stepped into the Hawaiian community to secure Senator Akaka’s support for drilling in the Refuge. And it’s about how a multi-national Alaska Native corporation, flush with oil money and tied to Senator Akaka, has tried to convince the Hawaiian people to simultaneously oppose the Gwich’in people, who are fighting to keep drilling out of the Refuge, and accept the Akaka Bill. That bill could ultimately leave the Hawaiians as politically powerless as the Gwich’in . . .[39]

Kelly’s article is a call to attention urging readers to recognize and oppose the Congressional political deals she sees being sedimented between oil-drilling on Alaskan Native lands and the Akaka Bill legislation. While her critique is a much needed one since CNHA is often taken uncritically as the representative voice of all Native Hawaiians, her work has also been taken up by some as fueling a critique of CNHA as a top-down conspiracy. For example, a website entitled, “CNHA Exposed! What is the CNHA Secret Agenda?” has republished Kelly’s works and asks:[40]

  • Why is CNHA plotting to engineer a Native Hawaiian governing entity?
  • Do you honestly think Native Alaskan Corporations are helping to pay for this just because they like you?
  • Why does the CNHA want you to be a ward of the US government as are federal prisoners and “recognized” Native Americans ?[41]

This heightened conspiracy rhetoric makes sense when we consider, as the discussion about CNHA’s third way rhetoric showed above, how effectively CNHA has represented itself in public media, with the unwavering support of Hawai‘i’s politicians, as the reasonable voice of Native Hawaiians. Some Native Hawaiians feel that there is little recourse to changing CNHA’s image given how powerful it has become through its political and corporate sponsors. For example, one person with a long history of participating in Native Hawaiian political organizing, who I interviewed as part of my research, described a protest mounted against one of CNHA’s annual conventions, which was quickly shut down by CNHA calling the police.[42]

These critiques citing secret conspiracies formulated between CNHA, the Akaka Bill, and all the other indigenous and Congressional politics to which each is tied, tend to represent CNHA, members of the US Congress, and oil companies intent on drilling in Alaska as a monolithic, undefeatable force gathering against Native Hawaiians. However, these alliances are contingent and not self-evident, and deeper critique is needed. To return to the context of the neoliberal restructuring of politics and culture described above, we must recognize that it was only recently that such alliances were forged between the federal government, industry, and indigenous peoples. In the 1970s, state and corporate institutions began to discover that indigenous people could be organized in NGOs and funded as cultural expedients toward “progress,” whether that progress was enacted through enticing a newly recognized cultural constituency of Alaska Natives to drill the oil reserves in their land in Alaska or the now increasing use of the technical and cultural expertise of Native Hawaiians in tourism and other business interests in Hawai‘i. These neoliberal policies flared up somewhat earlier in Alaska than in Hawai‘i, and thus it is worth briefly looking at the history of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) before considering further how and why CNHA models itself after AFN.

Established in 1966, the AFN began as a group of over 400 Alaska Natives from 17 separate Alaska Native organizations who worked to achieve a land settlement with the US government. The urgency of the land settlement was spurred by the discovery of oil in Alaska in 1968. AFN achieved its goal in 1971 with the federal passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which formally extinguished all Alaska Native land claims on the US government by transferring titles formerly owned by the federal government to 12 concurrently organized Alaska Native regional corporations and around 200 smaller village corporations. These corporations collectively received title to 44 million acres and a settlement of approximately $962,500,000. This was a remarkable political event, representing one of the largest US native settlements ever made. However, as with the conferral of casino gambling rights to many Native American tribes around the United States, ANCSA has impacted Native Alaskan tribes unevenly. Today, AFN is the statewide institution, governed by a 37-member elected board, which manages all Alaska Native corporations as members in the federation. AFN states its mission thus:

Alaska Native people began as members of full sovereign nations and continue to enjoy a unique political relationship with the federal government. We will survive and prosper as distinct ethnic and cultural groups and will participate fully as members of the overall society. The mission of AFN is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska Native community. AFN’s major goals are to:

  • Advocate for Alaska Native people, their governments and organizations, with respect to federal, state and local laws;
  • Foster and encourage preservation of Alaska Native cultures;
  • Promote understanding of the economic needs of Alaska Natives and encourage development consistent with those needs;
  • Protect, retain and enhance all lands owned by Alaska Natives and their organizations; and
  • Promote and advocate for programs and systems which instill pride and confidence in individual Alaska Natives.[43]

This mission statement closely mirrors CNHA’s mission statement, as analyzed above. Though CNHA does not have the formal, legal status of the AFN, it clearly speaks the same neoliberal and community-development language that emphasizes economic needs, cultural preservation, and advocacy at the federal and state levels. Also noticeable is how the discourse of indigenous sovereignty is invoked, but only as part of the Alaska Native past: “Alaska Native people began as members of full sovereign nations.” The extinguishing of Alaska Native claims through ANSCA undoubtedly benefited many Alaska Natives, but the price was effectively a termination of indigenous sovereignty, along similar lines as the federal termination policies the United States pursued in the 1960s and 1970s with other Native American tribes like the Klamath.[44] Many Kanaka Maoli oppose federal recognition precisely because they see it as an attempt on behalf of the US government to declare a final settlement of claims with Kanaka Maoli, which would limit land rights, ban any potential casino rights, and form a “paper government” rather than substantive political independence.

Nonetheless, CNHA actively pursues federal recognition, with the equally active support of AFN, which is an official partner and sponsors CNHA’s annual convention. At the 2008 convention, several AFN leaders, including AFN president Julie Kitka, were invited to speak at the business leaders roundtable. One featured Alaska Native speaker was Willie Iggiagruk Hensley, who was—in the dominant entrepreneurial ethos of the CNHA convention—promoting his newly published memoir, Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People. Hensley was active in getting ANSCA passed, has served for 20 years as the president of NANA Regional Corporation (one of the 12 main Alaska Native regional corporations), and is currently “Manager of the Federal Government Relations for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the organization that operates and maintains the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).”[45] Along with Hensley’s inspirational speech urging the CNHA audience to keep up the fight (implicitly for the Akaka Bill), CNHA’s handouts included an article from Indian Country Today that proclaimed: “Sealaska infuses millions into southeast Alaska economy.” Sealaska, another Alaska Native corporation, is heralded in the article as “one of the largest for-profit, private-sector employers in the region [of southeast Alaska]” through both its timber corporation and its heritage institute.[46] The message CNHA was sending was obviously that Native Hawaiians should follow the AFN model and thereby reap financial success. However, the very different historical, cultural, and geographic contexts of Hawai‘i and Alaska were never addressed.

Alaska Native scholar Eve Tuck has written powerfully about the complications of ANSCA, noting that it transformed tribal members into shareholders with varying financial stakes in turning surface and subsurface land claims (oil rights in particular) into profit.[47] Tuck argues that the effect of ANSCA has been a “settler reconceptualization, one that displaces and re-stories land as capital and Indigeneity as a capitalist endeavor. It makes us all Alaska Native capitalists.”[48] Nonetheless, Tuck urges us to read ANSCA as an x-mark, Scott Lyon’s term for “a sign of consent in the context of coercion,” in order to recognize that Alaska Native elders resisted ANSCA even as they brought it into existence, with an eye towards indigenous (not settler) futurity—namely the proliferation of indigenous life and land.[49]

Some Native Hawaiians support certain forms of federal recognition in a similar manner, in the hopes that it will eventually regain Native Hawaiians some rights over lands currently held in trust by the state of Hawaiʻi.[50] However, CNHA’s vision of federal recognition does not represent an x-mark in my view, precisely because it is so wedded to capitalist, settler understandings of Hawaiʻi and its future. In place of oil rights that Hawai‘i does not have, CNHA’s vision depends on the scene I discussed earlier in this essay where the Hawaiian Tourism Authority agent welcomes the Native Hawaiian crowd home. Tourism is the most lucrative industry in Hawaiʻi today, along with the US military, and though its revenues are too prized by the state and the businesses that operate it to share with Native Hawaiians, CNHA imagines creating savvier Native Hawaiian businessmen who will break into these spheres. Thus, the Akaka Bill and the racist opposition it attracts create a diversion, a distracting measure that directs the field of discourse about the Akaka Bill away from issues of land rights and the negative effects of military presence in Hawai‘i such as the destruction of Kanaka Maoli burial sites on the substantial portions of land controlled by the US military in Hawaiʻi. This diversion serves not only the conservative Republicans who oppose land rights for Native Hawaiians, but moderate organizations like CNHA as well. For once the racist arguments against Native Hawaiians are rebutted, organizations like CNHA do little to interrogate the processes of militarization and capitalism that the Akaka Bill allows to continue. In fact, CNHA sees the legislation as a chance for certain Native Hawaiians (namely, themselves) to better participate in that militarized and capitalist structure. As Tuck notes, with ANSCA turning Alaska Native tribal members into shareholders, CNHA would have us all be Native Hawaiian capitalists.

CNHA purports to be a neoliberal third way claiming to mediate between radical and conservative groups (Kanaka Maoli sovereignty activists on the one hand and racist Republicans on the other), but in reality, CNHA aims to preserve a settler status quo by better including Native Hawaiians within settler society and economies. Federal recognition for Native Hawaiians participates in a notion of Native Hawaiian nationalism producing what Hakim Adi refers to, in other global contexts, as a “failed and failing state”—that is, indigenous nations could never be an equal member among the domination of First World nation-states. The “solution” to these failed states becomes another justification for intervention, just as the Akaka Bill is justified on the grounds of US humanitarian and moral obligation to support indigenous self-determination but reinstates the power of the federal government to grant and limit these rights.

CNHA would have Native Hawaiians achieve economic self-determination, but only as modeled after the corporate structure used by the Alaska Federation of Natives. Reading CNHA and the Akaka Bill as a key component of a new imperial formation that extends American empire through discourses of personal responsibility and empowerment is a starting point in understanding how to resist this “new imperialism.”[51] The fitting conclusion that Adi makes, “Monopoly capitalism remains alive, even if it is moribund,”[52] is an important reminder in deciding where more meaningful formations of indigenous sovereignty can intervene for Kanaka Maoli, rather than simply becoming new grounds on which the settler state intervenes.

What CNHA Re-members

This section returns to a focus on CNHA’s good indigenous citizenship by examining how their annual convention “re-members”—in the sense of both how it has narrated Native Hawaiian history and, in doing so, how it has reconfigured (literally re-membered) the Native Hawaiian community itself. Tessa Morris-Suzuki argues, “[I]t is the very act of historical commemoration that calls group identity into being. As Jos Perry puts it, ‘We recollect, therefore we are.’”[53] Indeed, the annual nature of CNHA’s convention was key in establishing it as a stable, reliable Native Hawaiian political organization. Founded in 2001, history was exactly what CNHA needed, and an annual convention became a public and increasingly recognized site of historical commemoration. That is, the convention and CNHA itself have come to be commemorated annually, though specific Hawaiian historical events were not. This annual reliability was also something that CNHA’s president, Robin Danner, needed in order to gradually establish her own personal accountability to the local Native Hawaiian community in Hawai‘i. Danner, who is Native Hawaiian, grew up in Alaska and moved to the state around the same time as CNHA’s founding.[54] The convention is in marked contrast to the practices of many Native Hawaiian groups that organize protests and rallies on key historical dates such as Queen Lili‘uokalani’s overthrow on January 17, 1893. Thus CNHA’s convention calendar plays into the routine schedule of its main audience, comprised of staff from Native-Hawaiian-focused nonprofit organizations, local and state politicians, and other public leaders who are accustomed to attending professional conferences. Accordingly, in the convention space, a group identity is shaped at the hands of an elite portion of the nonprofit-industrial complex—funders, executives, state and federal senators. These distinctly middle-class groups are generally the only ones who can afford to attend the convention. Although scholarships are available, daily costs for the convention ranged from $140 to $180 for registration and lunch alone (travel costs even for those on-island could be considerable due to the costs of gas and parking in pricey downtown Honolulu).

The most obvious contradiction in solidifying a middle-class Native Hawaiian identity in this space is not simply that the majority of the Native Hawaiian community is working-class and, especially in recent years, has been disproportionately represented in the state’s growing homeless population. While many scholars and activists have pointed out the undeniably capitalist nature of nonprofits, the nonprofit industry is ostensibly meant to serve our most marginalized people. As discussed earlier, the history of the nonprofit industry centered on Native Hawaiian communities is particularly rooted in concessions forced from state and local governments by the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Yet CNHA, whose annual convention costs upwards of $500 per person to attend, is careful to maintain its legibility as an agency that “serves the community.” The convention constantly promotes CNHA education and economic outreach programs within Native Hawaiian homestead communities.

Another example of the pains CNHA does go to in order to stress these community connections is their annual Native Hawaiian Community Advocate awards. Here the word community becomes a curious code word for Native Hawaiians “out there,” those who do not regularly attend the convention but engage more directly in grassroots organizing (the implicit contrast is to the more bureaucratic nonprofits that are the CNHA audience). At the 2008 convention, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation presented the award (consisting of a plaque and a $5000 grant) to Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina (The Eyes of the Land), a documentary film company that focuses on “documenting traditional and contemporary Hawaiian culture, history, language, environment and the politics of independence and sovereignty.”[55] Many of Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina’s films are filled with scenes of Native Hawaiian protests and other political actions, which are hardly the topic of most films made in Hawai‘i. Their most well known film is Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom (1993), which features many prominent Native Hawaiian scholars including Haunani-Kay Trask and Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa narrating what they purposefully emphasize as the American coup d’etat of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.[56]

Before the award presentation, a short video that included clips from a variety of Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina’s films was shown to the convention audience. Images flashed by: crowds of Native Hawaiians wearing red shirts in solidarity gathered in front of ‘Iolani Palace; hula dancers performing; groups of Native Hawaiian children in Hawaiian language immersion schools; a heiau (sacred burial site) on ‘Oahu’s North Shore that has been in danger of being removed by real estate developers. The clips went by too quickly to get a full sense of the events they documented—indeed, if I had not already seen some of Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina’s films, I would not have been able to recognize as much as I did. Still, the images were familiar enough to evoke a sense of pride in our Native Hawaiian community and the audience applauded loudly when the video ended. The relationship this award and video reel instituted between Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina and CNHA is much like the one Gayatri Spivak describes in her critique of Foucault and Deleuze’s valorization of the subaltern they are anxious to see self-represented:

The limits of this representationalist realism are reached with Deleuze: ‘Reality is what actually happens in a factory, in a school, in barracks, in a prison, in a police station.’ This foreclosing of the necessity of the difficult task of counterhegemonic ideological production has not been salutary. It has helped positivist empiricism—the justifying foundation of advanced capitalist neocolonialism—to define its own arena as ‘concrete experience’, ‘what actually happens.’ Indeed, the concrete experience that is the guarantor of the political appeal of prisoners, soldiers and schoolchildren is disclosed through the concrete experience of the intellectual, the one who diagnoses the episteme.[57]

Although here Spivak critiques the erasure of the First World intellectual’s concrete experience in consolidating the international division of labor, it is remarkably applicable to the First World nonprofit bureaucrat consolidating the Fourth World division within her own community. CNHA’s community awards similarly valorize the “concrete experience” of the Native Hawaiian Others who labor in the dirtiest arenas of advanced capitalist neocolonialism: the factory, school, barracks, prison, police station. For the Hawaiian context, CNHA adds the heiau, the protests in front of Iolani Palace, and the kalo patch.

Morris-Suzuki writes, “Images like photographs or newsreel footage often possess great power to convey the terror, elation or confusion of particular historical events; but without accompanying scripts or narration they seldom tell us much about causes or effects.”[58] In this case, then, the irony is that though Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina is respected for its attention to historical and cultural details, and to a radically transformative political agenda, CNHA could buy into the group identity and emotions evoked by their films (such as pride in preserving culture, and anger at past and continuing injustices) without similarly committing to a radical political practice. In fact, CNHA was able to repurpose and rearticulate these images as part of their moderate political practice. To return to Spivak’s term, “concrete experience” of the protest, Hawaiian culture, and grassroots organizing is fetishized and consumed as if it represents the experience of all Native Hawaiians, and more importantly, is the narrative that is most in need of being (self) represented. In the process, the experiences of the CNHA crowd are written as transparent, able to participate in the “concrete,” but through using that grounding as a reason to advance the concrete needs of the community “out there,” not their own particular economic interests.

When Puhipau, the founder of Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina, took the stage to receive the award and give a short speech, he attempted to address the conflicts between his political commitments and those of CNHA. “The work is not finished,” he said. “Our nation exists, our kingdom exists. If we keep looking to the federal government, we’ll get tired. To make changes, we must go to the children.” Puhipau’s criticism of CNHA’s mission, while indirect, was a strong departure from any of the other speakers or panel presentations at the convention. While he identified himself as a Kamehameha Schools graduate, he went on to relate the school’s historic role in assimilating Native Hawaiians into American society, which for men was particularly tied to the US military through institutions such as JROTC.[59] “We were taught to be gunners, to do the dirty work for multinational corporations,” Puhipau said in place of a light high school anecdote. “Thank goodness some of us didn’t feel comfortable with the military situation. . . . It is time we said, Yankee, beat it, go home!” Here Puhipau noticeably departs from the ideal, masculine, good indigenous citizen embodied by Senator Akaka, whose career (as noted above) was built on his US military service and education funded by the G.I. Bill.

While Puhipau’s speech, like his video clips, elicited applause from the convention audience, it was a tense, unexpected moment in the normally placid convention room. Puhipau’s presence and speech, clearly articulating his political commitments, were not as easily repurposed and submerged into the narrative of Native Hawaiian-ness as told by CNHA as the film clips were. Robin Danner, the CNHA president, nonetheless stepped up to hug and honi (kiss on the cheek) Puhipau. When she addressed the audience again, she said, “Thank you, Puhipau. It takes all kinds to advance our movement.” To me, Danner’s response here was a gut-wrenching example of how inclusion and recognition, as informed by contemporary discourses of civil rights and multiculturalism, are so effective in neutralizing (if not exactly silencing) those who struggle to call attention to oppressive conditions. Elizabeth Povinelli has described this as a dangerous mode of achieving “social difference without social consequence,” which she theorizes as particularly effective in razing over radical indigenous claims in settler colonial societies like the United States and Australia.[60] Robin Danner meant to take both Puhipau and his films as cultural adornment, without real political dissention, to further CNHA as an all-inclusive Native Hawaiian space. Again, as Dylan Rodríguez has noted, the nonprofit-industrial complex creates an epistemology about social praxis and change that that is very difficult to escape or rupture.[61] Puhipau is recognized and included in such a way that CNHA is able to claim his hard work and activism, while his dissenting politics are left unengaged.

However, Puhipau’s speech was a disruption, no matter how brief, which allows us to read CNHA’s convention against the grain. Here, I turn to Giorgio Agamben’s notions of memory, testimony, and the witness in his text, Remnants of Auschwitz, to flesh out some of the unexpectedly symbiotic connections between Puhipau’s and CNHA’s ideas of community.[62] CNHA’s ethos distinctly emphasizes self-help and a kind of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps advancement. This stance is a direct response to a long history and continuing present of mainstream representations of Native Hawaiians as lazy, incompetent, welfare queens who have willfully and wrongly refused to complete their assimilation into American life.[63] Local cartoonists like Daryl Cagle consistently draw on racialized stereotypes to make this point, drawing Native Hawaiians as dirty, gaping-mouthed children.[64] Political arguments against the Akaka Bill are caricatured as complaints on par with a dog barking. Senator Daniel Akaka is represented as the only Native Hawaiian in suit and tie, a striking contrast to his ungrateful community, to whom he nonetheless presents a huge gift: the Akaka Bill.

Agamben defines shame as “nothing less than the fundamental sentiment of being a subject, in the two apparently opposed sense of this phrase: to be subjected and to be sovereign. Shame is what is produced in the absolute concomitance of subjectification and desubjectification, self-loss and self-possession, servitude and sovereignty.”[65] The awarding of Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina and the near-absented presence of Puhipau in the voiding of his political commitments by Robin Danner’s response (“It takes all kinds”) can be read as a scene of (generally unmarked, or at least not officially remarked upon) shame. While it may initially be surprising that Puhipau was invited to speak and receive an award at CNHA at all, Agamben’s take on subjectivity suggests that Native Hawaiian identity is only made coherent in this convention space by reifying the two senses of being a subject: to be subjected and to be sovereign. Danner’s insistence on advancement, like the ethos of much nonprofit work, requires a split in Native Hawaiian group identity between those who have advanced and those who still need advancement. This split in Native Hawaiian identity is a reenactment of Cagle’s cartoon, with the civilized Native Hawaiian senator trying to help his irredeemably uncivilized people.

Ironically, though sovereignty has long been a useful rallying term for more radically political Native Hawaiians, in Agamben’s terms, it is CNHA who insists on being sovereign—in maintaining self-possession (e.g., Danner’s short, apparently “respectful” quip) against what seems, in contrast, an unprovoked sense of self-loss (Puhipau’s final outburst: “Yankee, beat it! Go home!”). Puhipau is able to more directly acknowledge his own subjectivity as split, encompassing the indignity of being forced to be part of the US military machine and yet continuing to find that “our nation exists.” While Danner maintains a respectful demeanor, her refusal to engage Puhipau’s politics, and the relegation of activists like Puhipau to the single community award slot, betrays a desire if not to change than to sweep such divergent views under the rug.

In my reading of this scene through Agamben, the significance of Puhipau bearing witness at the CNHA convention is less the content of his own experiences than how his speech allows, however briefly, a rupture in the otherwise homogeneous setting. His speech points out the cost of rendering a Native Hawaiian identity fixed on a certain kind of advancement, as formulated by CNHA. For the directors and supporters of CNHA, Native Hawaiian advancement, self-determination, and justice are achieved through the entrance of Native Hawaiians into a regulated, civilized citizenship a la Senator Akaka.

Hortense Spillers offers some potentially useful ways to build on the critiques of media and language that Morris-Suzuki and Agamben have raised by adding a deeper critical awareness of what she calls an “American grammar:”

[that] dominant symbolic activity, the ruling episteme that releases the dynamics of naming and valuation, [which] remains grounded in the originating metaphors of captivity and mutilation so that it is as if neither time nor history, nor historiography and its topics, shows movement, as the human subject is “murdered” over and over again.[66]

Spillers deconstructs this grammar to unveil the hidden processes behind making African American kinship and gender formations illegible. She also suggests that transformative political praxis lies not in making these formations legible (explicated and included in American grammar) but in writing a radically different text—in making a place for the African American female “out of the traditional symbolics of female gender” (emphasis original).[67] This seems to echo Agamben’s point that “[t]estimony takes place in the non-place of articulation.”[68] Both Spillers and Agamben write toward an understanding that it is only through the production of improper and illegible subjects (in my example, Puhipau) that other subjects are made whole and completely disconnected from the conditions of their own making (in my example, Danner and others involved in CNHA leadership).

Overall, this essay’s critique remains less with CNHA’s general desire to achieve socioeconomic equality for Native Hawaiians than with the mechanisms they have employed towards that goal, which have made socioeconomic equality only possibile for certain “good” Native Hawaiian citizens. Many scholars and activists have shown that working toward transformative justice for indigenous people and other dispossessed communities does not depend on writing these communities into an inherently violent “American grammar.” Radical political praxis can recognize heterogeneity and move away from the formulation of ideal subjects. Dene scholar Glen Coulthard, for example, argues that recognition of indigenous peoples from the settler nation-state (Canada, in his case) will only ever reinforce colonial power.[69] Instead, Coulthard urges indigenous nations to reinvest in “our own on-the-ground practices of freedom.”[70] In Hawaiʻi, there are many examples of Kanaka Maoli doing just that, in areas including Hawaiian language revitalization, restoration of loʻi kalo and fishponds, and the regeneration of traditional seafaring—best exemplified by the current round-the-world voyage of our beloved double-hulled canoe Hōkūleʻa.[71] These efforts are ongoing and often beset by problems of funding and state and federal regulations, but as Goodyear-Kaʻōpua argues, such actions are complicating our own ideas about practices of sovereignty, by recognizing that “sovereignty is not just a political status but a way of living in relation to land and others.”[72] Thus, we know that sovereignty will not be enabled or funded through settler state recognition or through the nonprofit-industrial complex, and that working within these structures (as we may have to do at times) will require constant critical awareness and resistance. Yet we also know, from examples in the work of those like Puhipau and Hālau Kū Māna, that the lack of statist recognition and equitable corporate/governmental funding does not wholly prevent us from “living in relation to land and others” in a conscious way, with an eye toward a healthy future for Native Hawaiians and other residents of Hawaiʻi.

I have pursued a critique of CNHA’s good indigenous citizenship not in order to deny those Native Hawaiians who do earnestly wish to pursue what popular culture names the American dream: a fulfilling job with a living wage and access to affordable education and health care, among other desires. I simply wish to draw attention to the fact that branding such goals an American dream suggests that they can only be achieved in the United States, through US modes of good citizenship. Rather, my critique has suggested the need for a more flexible, self-reflective, and open to re-centering ideal of Native Hawaiian subjecthood that is set to withstand the endless imperial formations launched at Kanaka Maoli in the neocolonial present but that is also more in keeping with how complicated Kanaka Maoli actually are. Native scholar Audra Simpson has insisted that those in her home nation of Kahnawake “do not resist, they are. And the ways that they are can be at times vexing, demanding, resistant, acquiescent and in all ways complex.”[73] Kanaka Maoli similarly deserve both political practices and scholarship that honor the multiple visions Kanaka Maoli have for a self-determined future, which does not require remaining captive to compromises wrought between the nonprofit-industrial complex, the tourism and military industries, and the US settler colonial nation-state.

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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]
  26. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, ed., The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-profit Industrial Complex (Cambridge: South End Press, 2007) 257. [Return to text]
  27. Incite! 2007: 8. Rodríguez’s essay is also included in this issue. [Return to text]
  28. Incite! 2007: 31. Rodríguez’s essay is also included in this issue. [Return to text]
  29. Anthony Giddens, The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998) vii. [Return to text]
  30. Giddens 1998: 147. [Return to text]
  31. Lisa Duggan, Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003) 10. [Return to text]
  32. Sonia Alvarez, “The Latin American Feminist NGO ‘Boom,’” International Feminist Journal of Politics 1.2 (1999): 194. [Return to text]
  33. Program Booklet (Hawaii: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, 7th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention, 2008) 72. [Return to text]
  34. Policy Roundtable & Town Hall Booklet (Hawaii: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, 2008) 3-6. [Return to text]
  35. Duggan 2003: 10. [Return to text]
  36. Duggan 2003: 16. [Return to text]
  37. NHOA represents Native Hawaiian small businesses that operate under the federal Small Business Administration 8(a) program, a provision that allows for-profit businesses to operate under nonprofit ones to promote minority economic development. The 8(a) program has focused on the “special needs and obligations of federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations (ANC)” since the 1980s, and was amended in Congress to include “Native Hawaiian Organizations” in 2002. [Return to text]
  38. George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture (Durham: Duke UP, 2003). [Return to text]
  39. Anne Keala Kelly, “The Alaska-Hawaii Connection (Part One): How Inupaiat, Gwich’in, and Native Hawaiian Power Bases Impact ANWR and Native Hawaiian Recognition,” Indian Country Today 19 Dec. 2003. [Return to text]
  40. With her permission, though with the disclaimer: “Authors of articles on this site have no connection to the website itself other than having given permission to reproduce their work.” See “CNHA Exposed.” Accessed 10 Sept. 2014. Available at [Return to text]
  41. “CNHA Exposed.” Available at [Return to text]
  42. See endnote two for further explanation of the research this essay draws on. [Return to text]
  43. Alaska Federation of Natives, “About Us.” Alaska Federation of Natives website. Accessed 10 Sept. 2014. [Return to text]
  44. Angela Morrill, “Deconstructing Factionalism in Klamath Termination,” master’s thesis, University of California, San Diego, 2008. [Return to text]
  45. Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Business Leaders Roundtable Booklet (Hawaii: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, 2008). [Return to text]
  46. “Sealaska infuses millions into southeast Alaska economy,” Indian Country Today 26 Aug. 2008. [Return to text]
  47. Eve Tuck, “ANCSA as X-Mark: Surface and Subsurface Claims of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” Alaska Native Studies 1.1 (2014): 240-272. [Return to text]
  48. Tuck 2014: 258. [Return to text]
  49. Tuck 2014: 261-2. [Return to text]
  50. For example, Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor, an ethnic studies scholar and longtime member of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, advocates for federal recognition to regain control of Kahoʻolawe island from the state. See Maile Arvin, “Calling the Law for an Occupied Kingdom: Native Hawaiian Dissent and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,” Race, Law, and the Postcolonial Handbook, eds. Denise Ferreira da Silva and Mark Harris, (New York: Routledge, forthcoming). [Return to text]
  51. Laura Ann Stoler, “On Degrees of Imperial Sovereignty,” Public Culture 18.1 (2006). [Return to text]
  52. Hakim Adi, “A New Kind of Imperialism,” Radical History Review 95 (2006): 114. [Return to text]
  53. Tessa Morris-Suzuki, The Past Within Us: Media, Memory, History (New York: Verso, 2005) 23. [Return to text]
  54. Danner’s Alaskan background is constantly evoked by critics. See Anne Keala Kelly, “The Alaska-Hawaii connection (Part One),” Indian Country Today 19 Dec. 2003. [Return to text]
  55. Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina website. Accessed 9 Sept. 2014. [Return to text]
  56. Act of War was made during the overthrow’s centennial and screened as part of the People’s International Tribunal, also held in Hawai‘i that year. Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina also has a documentary of footage from the People’s Tribunal. [Return to text]
  57. Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chisman, (Boston: Pearson Education, 1994) 69. [Return to text]
  58. Morris-Suzuki 2005: 23. [Return to text]
  59. JROTC stands for Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, chapters of which exist across the United States and in extraterritorial sites such as Guam, Puerto Rico, and other countries. For a partial history of JROTC at Kamehemeha Schools, see Ty Kāwika Tengan, “Re-membering Panalā‘au: Masculinities, Nation, and Empire in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific,” Contemporary Pacific 20.1 (2008): 27-53. [Return to text]
  60. Elizabeth Povinelli, The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism (Durham: Duke UP, 2002) 338. [Return to text]
  61. Rodríguez 2007: 31. [Return to text]
  62. Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (New York: Zone, 2000) 175. [Return to text]
  63. Exemplary of this commentary is Bruce Fein’s writing against the Akaka Bill: “American civilization has been a boon, not an incubus, for the Native Hawaiians living today . . . Native Hawaiians’ nagging resistance to complete assimilation seems to explain their suboptimal demographics.” See Bruce Fein, “A Race-Based Drift?,” Washington Times 4 Oct. 2004. [Return to text]
  64. See Daryl Cagle’s untitled cartoon (unavailable to be reproduced here) in United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Policy of the United States Regarding Relationship with Native Hawaiians and to Provide a Process for the Recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaiian Governing Entity (S Hrg. 108-27, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003) 130. This document is a compendium of arguments for and against the Akaka Bill, and this cartoon, originally printed in the local Kaneohe-based paper Midweek, is included positively as a critique of Native Hawaiians’ unwillingness to assimilate in a statement titled “Killing Aloha.” [Return to text]
  65. Agamben 2000: 107. [Return to text]
  66. Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17.2 (1987): 68. [Return to text]
  67. Spillers 1987: 80. [Return to text]
  68. Agamben 2000: 130. [Return to text]
  69. Glen S. Coulthard, “Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Politics of Recognition’ in Canada,” Contemporary Political Theory 6.4 (2007): 437-460. [Return to text]
  70. Coulthard 2007: 456. [Return to text]
  71. See Polynesian Voyaging Society: Hōkūleʻa. Accessed 10 Sept.2014. [Return to text]
  72. Goodyear-Kaʻōpua 2013: 246. [Return to text]
  73. Audra Simpson, “To the Reserve and Back Again: Kahnawake Mohawk Narratives of Self, Home and Nation,” diss., McGill U, 2003, 54. [Return to text]