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

(PAGE 3 of 3)

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.

Pages: 1 2 3 All Pages

Previous page

  1. Tessa Morris-Suzuki, The Past Within Us: Media, Memory, History (New York: Verso, 2005) 23. [Return to text]
  2. 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]
  3. Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina website. Accessed 9 Sept. 2014. [Return to text]
  4. 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]
  5. 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]
  6. Morris-Suzuki 2005: 23. [Return to text]
  7. 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]
  8. Elizabeth Povinelli, The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism (Durham: Duke UP, 2002) 338. [Return to text]
  9. Rodríguez 2007: 31. [Return to text]
  10. Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (New York: Zone, 2000) 175. [Return to text]
  11. 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]
  12. 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]
  13. Agamben 2000: 107. [Return to text]
  14. Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17.2 (1987): 68. [Return to text]
  15. Spillers 1987: 80. [Return to text]
  16. Agamben 2000: 130. [Return to text]
  17. 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]
  18. Coulthard 2007: 456. [Return to text]
  19. See Polynesian Voyaging Society: Hōkūleʻa. Accessed 10 Sept.2014. [Return to text]
  20. Goodyear-Kaʻōpua 2013: 246. [Return to text]
  21. Audra Simpson, “To the Reserve and Back Again: Kahnawake Mohawk Narratives of Self, Home and Nation,” diss., McGill U, 2003, 54. [Return to text]