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

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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.

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  1. 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]
  2. Incite! 2007: 8. Rodríguez’s essay is also included in this issue. [Return to text]
  3. Incite! 2007: 31. Rodríguez’s essay is also included in this issue. [Return to text]
  4. Anthony Giddens, The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998) vii. [Return to text]
  5. Giddens 1998: 147. [Return to text]
  6. Lisa Duggan, Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003) 10. [Return to text]
  7. Sonia Alvarez, “The Latin American Feminist NGO ‘Boom,’” International Feminist Journal of Politics 1.2 (1999): 194. [Return to text]
  8. Program Booklet (Hawaii: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, 7th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention, 2008) 72. [Return to text]
  9. Policy Roundtable & Town Hall Booklet (Hawaii: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, 2008) 3-6. [Return to text]
  10. Duggan 2003: 10. [Return to text]
  11. Duggan 2003: 16. [Return to text]
  12. 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]
  13. George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture (Durham: Duke UP, 2003). [Return to text]
  14. 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]
  15. 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]
  16. “CNHA Exposed.” Available at [Return to text]
  17. See endnote two for further explanation of the research this essay draws on. [Return to text]
  18. Alaska Federation of Natives, “About Us.” Alaska Federation of Natives website. Accessed 10 Sept. 2014. [Return to text]
  19. Angela Morrill, “Deconstructing Factionalism in Klamath Termination,” master’s thesis, University of California, San Diego, 2008. [Return to text]
  20. Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Business Leaders Roundtable Booklet (Hawaii: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, 2008). [Return to text]
  21. “Sealaska infuses millions into southeast Alaska economy,” Indian Country Today 26 Aug. 2008. [Return to text]
  22. 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]
  23. Tuck 2014: 258. [Return to text]
  24. Tuck 2014: 261-2. [Return to text]
  25. 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]
  26. Laura Ann Stoler, “On Degrees of Imperial Sovereignty,” Public Culture 18.1 (2006). [Return to text]
  27. Hakim Adi, “A New Kind of Imperialism,” Radical History Review 95 (2006): 114. [Return to text]