Education can reinforce hegemony or be used to facilitate political resistance and catalyze social justice. Students and faculty at the University of Hawaii have empowered themselves through education, through changes to curriculum and also to the norms of public discourse. In “Native Student Organizing,” Trask also describes how political structures in education have a direct bearing on community empowerment. Left alone, university politics can too easily reflect the dominant, colonialist, and typically white discursive practices. Trask describes how concerted efforts at building campus organizations of resistance and decolonization can and will yield results that extend far beyond campus boundaries. In fact, education is often the breeding ground for broader social and/or political revolutions like the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, which Trask recalls. During processes of transformative change in universities, it is important to create pathways for harmonious exchanges of ideas. Indigenous empowerment and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement can be aligned with non-Hawaiian values to create a campus culture and curriculum that embodies and enforces the lofty ideals of social justice.


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The creation of the Hawaiian Studies program has played one of the biggest roles in promoting the general interests of Hawaiian sovereignty in general. Hawaiian studies are a critical component in the general de-colonization effort, as well as the key to providing students with a more robust educational curriculum that is devoid of biases and misconceptions about indigenous culture or history. The result of Hawaiian studies and other “Indigenous critical pedagogy” is an educational environment and extended community that is knowledgeable, aware, and compassionate (Reyes, 2013, p. 205). All students, and not just the indigenous, benefit from critical pedagogy and from specific coursework in Hawaiian studies. To live in Hawaii is to respect Hawaiian culture, epistemology, worldview, and history, supporting the use of Hawaiian language and the implantation of Hawaiian political structures and institutions on campus. Classes like the “Myths of Hawaiian History” have also been instrumental in helping to dismantle institutionalized racism and the pedagogical, curricular vestiges that perpetuate the colonial mentality (Trask, 1999, p. 188). At times, classes like these seem reactive rather than proactive, as students recognize microaggressions and other subtle ways white hegemony is perpetuated on campus, by both students and faculty.


In addition to the creation of the Hawaiian studies department, students and faculty at the University of Hawaii have been able to empower themselves through community activism and campus leadership. Trask describes student government groups like Make’e Pono and Kalai Po, and the roles they have played in catalyzing change to campus culture and school policies. Led largely by indigenous women, student groups reveal the intersections between race, class, gender, and political power. Trask (1999) claims that in the past, student government groups have been used as mere extensions of the administration: as upholding haole values and social institutions instead of challenging institutionalized racism or oppression. Recently, however, groups like Kalai Po have helped inspire the disenfranchised—however small their numbers—to raise awareness and create change. Some of the specific strategies that have been successfully used by student groups include forming alliances with other oppressed groups, most notably via the creation of a pan-Polynesian union that includes Samoan student representation (Trask, 1999). Results of activism are tangible and visible, including the renaming of campus buildings and the promotion of more Hawaiian language courses. Therefore, activism often begins as reactive responses to single events or grievances, but emerge as long-term fights against systematic oppression.


Resistance to change is a genuine problem in all large organizations, though, and one that still needs to be addressed through conscientious effort and a spirit of optimism. When Trask challenged the colonialist assumptions and ignorance of white privilege in a scathing letter condemning one student’s white privilege, the backlash was indicative of the resistance to change. Trask was severely censured, and had to work long and hard to clarify and justify her response. When similar incidents arise on campus, leaders need to work together and consider the big picture issues: listening closely to the grievances and responding in ways that are proactive in fulfilling ultimate goals of harmony. White privilege and institutionalized racism often proceed unchallenged because these are by definition unconscious patterns. When people of color challenge the status quo, the people in positions of power feel threatened and react aggressively as in Trask’s example. It is important to engage all members of campus in an ongoing dialogue, continually uncovering ways that students and faculty can work together to improve communication and relationships rather than perpetuate injustice.


To include Hawaiian, Asian, haole, and indigenous ways of knowing at the University of Manoa, students and faculty need to remain cognizant of the need to build bridges and establish rapport across stakeholder groups. Even when tensions are high and the dialogue seems hostile, all stakeholders need to remain engaged. Education is about empowerment: empowerment with knowledge and also with political agency to act on that knowledge wisely and within the framework of ethical objectives. Reyes refers to the need to marry Hawaiian epistemology with Western ways, not so that the latter can be obliterated but so that the former can be introduced as an alternative and potentially complementary epistemology. Hawaiian epistemology is both transcendent and immanently pragmatic. ‘Ike Hawaii, traditional Hawaiian knowledge, becomes ‘Ike Ku’oka’a, liberating knowledge (Reyes, 2013, p. 205). One of the fundamental features of Hawaiian epistemology is the value of practical application, of taking knowledge from the classroom and putting it into action in the community. Knowledge has meaning in the way it creates a better world, improves relationships with other beings, and promotes harmony between multiple people and multiple, seemingly conflicting, concepts.


To promote an active, transformative, and applied indigenous critical pedagogy, it becomes essential for University administrators to recognize the value in adopting a synergistic worldview. A synergistic worldview recognizes the value of the Western pedagogical traditions and western epistemologies, while weighing alternative views equally. Because the University of Hawaii is immediately responsible to the needs of its community, Hawaiian epistemology must become a guiding force in university politics, policies, and programs. The focus of history needs to shift to the indigenous perspective, the shift of philosophy on Hawaiian ethics and values, and the shift of arts and literature on Hawaiian culture. University organizational culture and structure may also be able to change to reflect Hawaiian values, respecting the need for collaborative leadership and affirmative action. To develop leaders for a Hawaiian place of learning, leaders need access to structures, institutions, and cultures that are meaningful to them and which enable them to put their ideas into action. The organizational culture can change to better reflect Hawaiian knowledge and ‘Ike Hawaii, thereby preventing emerging indigenous leaders from being discouraged, from being shut out of political discussions, or from being censured.


It is also important to remedy the state of confusion known as huikau, wherein one loses sight of identity, rights, and values (Reyes, 2013, p. 215). Promoting indigenous success on campus means engaging all students and faculty, seeking direct input, and actively listening to all stakeholders. Critiquing a Eurocentric view, attitude, or discourse should not be seen as something that is subversive or antagonistic, but something that is essential to critical thought and respect. Dissent is the harbinger of positive change. As Trask (1999) puts it, perceived hostilities or aggressive language is “smart political sense of survival,” (p. 171). Indigenous critical pedagogy is “critical” because Western hegemony has for so long been taken for granted, that learners need to ascertain the basics, be exposed to the small ways racism manifests on campus and in the society at large, and be willing to avow the rights of the oppressed to take a stand and say “no more.” All persons benefit from critical pedagogy because critical pedagogy also implies critical thinking, the questioning of assumptions, and the undermining of biases: this is the essence

of a good education.


Activism, student organization, faculty leadership, and critical pedagogy are all ways University of Manoa stakeholders on campus and in the community can work together to bring about desired change. Locating shared goals and objectives would be a good start towards creating a pathway towards a more harmonious future in which the diversity of Hawaii is no longer mythologized and whitewashed, but actually transformed into something truly beautiful and liberating. Affirmative action and other policies that undermine institutionalized racism may take generations to reveal their benefits, and in the meantime, individual students and faculty members also need to have a safe environment in which to raise objections and protest. Changing attitudes and social norms can be difficult, involving many years of concerted effort. To prevent discouragement among stakeholders, the University can hold regular community meetings and focus on the positive results of policy and pedagogical changes.




Reyes, N.A.S. (2013). ‘Ike Kü‘oko‘a: Indigenous Critical Pedagogy and the Connections between Education and Sovereignty for ka Lähui Hawai‘i


Trask, H.K. (1999). From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press.

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