Remembering Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask

Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask
A poem by Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask
A poem by Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask

On Saturday, fittingly before America’s “birthday,” Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask passed on and became an ancestor to our lāhui. Dr. Trask was a historian, activist, leader of our Hawaiian sovereignty movement, poet, author, and professor emeritus at the University of Hawaiʻi. She vehemently and fearlessly opposed America, colonization, tourism, and the violent whiteness desecrating her home. Dr. Trask was in some ways a polarizing figure, especially for previous generations, as she unabashedly spoke from her naʻau no matter who was listening. I didn’t look up to her when I was in high school and first watched her infamous “We Are Not American” speech (I posted the video of it yesterday) because I was ignorant and followed blindly behind the beliefs of the church I once attended and people I knew and wanted to sound like. I thankfully left that church in my mid-teens and once I went to Texas for college, I followed Dr. Trask’s idea that in order to fight back, Hawaiians must become political. While I don’t subscribe to electoral politics (we are not American, remember?), I agree with all that Dr. Trask has repeatedly shared about American violence and imperialism.

She wrote many published pieces in her lifetime and her book From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaiʻi is absolutely essential reading for all kānaka and anyone who supports our sovereignty from the death hold of the US. In her book she writes “For Hawaiians, American colonialism has been a violent process: the violence of mass death, the violence of American missionizing, the violence of cultural destruction, the violence of the American military. once the United States annexed my homeland, a new kind of violence took root: the violence of educational colonialism, where foreign haole values replaced Native Hawaiian values; where schools, such as the University of Hawaiʻi, ridicule Hawaiian culture and praise American culture, and where white men assume the mantle of authority, deciding what is taught, who can teach, even what can be said, written, and published.” This passage is important because although she was a professor and founded the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi, the university was atrociously antagonistic and abusive toward Dr. Trask. The university’s lack of support for Dr. Trask was especially displayed when a white American student named Joey Carter wrote an Op-Ed about his hatred for the word ‘haole’ and how it shouldn’t be used conversationally in the school newspaper in 1990. Essentially, Carter claimed being called haole was racist and he was upset about that. In response, Dr. Trask penned an Op-Ed of her own highlighting Carter’s white privilege and the history of violent whiteness in Hawaiʻi. The final three paragraphs of her response are my favorite where she writes “The hatred and fear people of color have of white people is based on that ugly history Mr. Carter is pretending to have an “individual” exemption from, and which he refuses to acknowledge. It is for self-protection and in self-defense that we people of color feel hostility towards haoles. Contrary to what Mr. Carter believes, this hostility is not “haole-bashing”; it is a smart political sense honed by our deep historical wounding at the hands of the haole. On the rare occasions that we feel something other than hostility, something like trust or friendship for certain haole, it is because we have made an exception for them. It is our privilege and not Mr. Carter’s privilege to make exceptions, and to make them one by one. For it would be the mark of extreme historical stupidity to trust all haoles. In his uninformed, childish moaning, Mr. Carter flaunts his willful ignorance of where he is (in my native country, Hawai’i), and who he is (a haole American). Of course, his statements are disingenuous. If Mr. Carter does not like being called haole, he can return to Louisiana. Hawaiians would certainly benefit from one less haole in our land. In fact, United Airlines has dozens of flights to the U.S. continent every day, Mr. Carter. Why don’t you take one?”

One of Dr. Trask’s most famous works aside from her book is her article “Lovely Hula Hands: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of the Hawaiian Culture.” In that piece, she touches on topics such as the harms of American imperialism through tourism in Hawaiʻi, devastating facts and statistics about Hawaiʻi post-colonization, and what Hawaiʻi would look like without Western influences. She ends this article in the best possible way: “Now that you have heard a Native view, let me just leave this thought behind. If you are thinking of visiting my homeland, please don’t. We don’t want or need any more tourists, and we certainly don’t like them. If you want to help our cause, pass this message on to your friends.” This article is even more relevant today than ever before as tourism continues to boom during the pandemic. At the start of 2020 when travel into our islands was banned, kānaka saw our roads and beaches cleared of essentially all visitors and it was incredibly liberating. We saw what our Hawaiʻi looks like without haole bodies desecrating every part of land we have and it was the most beautiful sight. Nowadays though, we’re seeing masses of tourists flooding streets, restaurants, beaches, hikes, and every part of our islands in numbers greater than that prior to the pandemic. Hawaii News Now reported “more than 100,000 people flew to Hawaii over the July 4 holiday weekend. The state is now trying to figure out how to handle it all.” Dr. Trask left us before this article was released and I imagine she’d be horrified knowing such numbers of people are infecting our islands every day.

Dr. Trask is and was one of the most prolific leaders in Hawaiian history and she should have been treated better by our lāhui than she was before her passing into pō. She certainly changed my entire belief system and I know she did the same for countless others. Most days now I’m struggling to believe in a sovereign and free Hawaiʻi without haole and tourists running rampant, but it’s our duty to follow in Dr. Trask’s footsteps and fight for the Hawaiʻi we want to live in.

Follow:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *