Associate Professor Hokulani Aikau

Professor Hokulani Aikau


Dr. Hokulani K. Aikau is Kanaka ʻŌiwi Hawaiʻi and an associate professor of Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Politics. She is the author of A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawaiʻi (University of Minnesota press, 2012) which examines the intersections of race, religion, and Native Hawaiian identities as they are articulated with and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has also co-authored with Karla A. Erickson and Jennifer L. Pierce of Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Stories from the Academy (University of Minnesota Press, 2007).  Through funding from the Sea Grant College at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, her current research is a collaborative project with Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi, a Native Hawaiian nonprofit organization, working to restore loʻi kalo (wetland taro farming) in the ahpuaʻa of Heʻeia, in the moku of Koʻolaupoko, on the island of Oʻahu. Dr. Aikau is also mom to Sanoe, ʻĪmaikalani, and Hiʻilei.

Dr. Aikau’s research and teaching interests and commitments stem from her experience as a Kanaka ʻŌiwi who grew up in a deeply religious community of Polynesians living in Utah. As an ‘off–island’ Hawaiian, she was surrounded by stories of ‘back home’ and engulfed in the sounds and smells of the islands each week when various Polynesian families shared food, stories and music on Sunday afternoons at their home. These gatherings were an essential part of how she came to know what it meant to be Hawaiian.

Research Interests

Critical Indigenous Politics; Contemporary Native Hawaiian Identity and Politics; Race, Class, and Gender Studies; American Race Relations; Feminist Theory.

Courses Taught

Hawaiʻi Politics II (POLS 302)
Newspaper headlines offer a snapshot of the political terrain in a given community, but far too often, the stories themselves oversimplify and mask the complex political struggles and contestations at play in the community. In this course we will consider a range of contested issues that comprise Hawaiʻi’s political arena, including the battles being fought in the courts, in the classroom, and on the streets over who is Hawaiian and whom does Hawaiʻi nei “belong.” On August 2, 2005, the Honolulu Advertiser featured a story titled “Court rules against Kamehameha admissions.” We will begin this course with an extensive examination of the broad reaching implications of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (2 August 2005) decision on the Kamehameha Schools’ admission policy. In addition to the Doe v Kamehameha we will also look at the Rice v Cayetano (2000), arguably, one of the most important court decisions to impact Hawai'i in recent decades. From the juridical terrain we will move to an exploration of the historical record and explore the contested space of Hawaiʻi historiography paying close attention to how history is written and the political implications of knowledge production. As Foucault observed, knowledge is power, thus how history is written — whether from the perspective of the colonizers or the subaltern — is a political act. In addition, we will examine the contested space of cultural production in the tourism industry. What is the political economy of culture in Hawaiʻi and how have Hawaiian cultural expressions and productions come to be mobilized in explicitly political ways?

Indigenous Politics (POLS 304)
As Alfred and Corntassel assert, to be Indigenous today entails living an “oppositional, place-based existence, along with the consciousness of being in struggle against the dispossessing and demeaning fact of colonization by foreign peoples” (Alfred & Corntassel 2005, 297). According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, there are over 370 million indigenous people in over 70 different countries. Although this course does not fully survey this diversity, but students get a sense of the breadth and dynamism of the issues and movements that constitute this political field. Through this course, participants will develop our collective and individual understandings of Indigenous peoples’ struggle against colonialism and globalization and the alternative futures leaders envision for their people.   

Feminist Theory (POLS 339/WS 439)
This course explores the contemporary feminist theorizing about how to approach women's oppression and their strategies of resistance. Analyzing women's oppression entails generalizing about women. How do we generalize about women without projecting one set of experiences onto all of us and without recreating the exclusionary categories that enable heteropatriarchy and capitalism? The course shows us how contemporary feminist scholars have re–examined how the category ‘woman’ is constructed and defined as they explore how gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, globalization, nationalism and colonialism are intersectional axes of both power and privilege.

Political Inquiry and Analysis (POLS 390)
This is a Writing Intensive and Contemporary Ethics course. We will utilize a series of readings to examine the relationship between epistemology (what we know) and methodology (the means by which we produce what we know) within the field of Political Science. Knowledge claims lay the foundation for what constitutes truth, acts, logic, argumentation as well as the strategies of resistance one deploys. As a course on political inquiry and analysis, our focus will be on how one goes about conducting social and political research. This course offers students and introductory survey and analysis of methods used in empirical research, ethnographic research, and social criticism. A central feature of this course will be a research project that each student will first outline, and then implement on a topic of interest to her or him

Senior Thesis (POLS 404)
POLS 404 is a capstone course for Political Science majors but is open to all students interested in pursuing an individual research project related to political science. This course is intended to walk students through the process of writing a senior thesis, starting with finding a topic, conducting original research, building an argument, and writing an article length original research paper.  This course does not prepare students to confront methodological issues related to knowledge production, approaches to research, or ethical issues; this should have been done in POLS 390. Rather, students will work with the instructor, fellow students, as well as in conjunction with a faculty mentor on the technical steps of conceptualizing, designing and producing an original research paper. 

Political Analysis and Theory Building (POLS 601)
The goal of the course is to move beyond a simple description of possible qualitative methods to more critically understanding the ways in which specific types of methods produce knowledge and the theoretical assumptions that underlie them. Thus, we must begin from the idea that social science research is always politically embedded and part of the process is to make visible the different kinds of power relationships that are implicated in any research project: the knower and the known, researcher and research subject, the university and the community, and ultimately who “owns” knowledge and the goals for which knowledge is produced and how it is disseminated.

Introduction to Indigenous Politics (POLS 620)
This course examines the breadth and dynamism of the issues and movements that constitute the field of Indigenous politics. We approach Indigenous politics from an interdisciplinary and comparative lens. The course is interdisciplinary in so far as the global Indigenous peoples’ movement encompasses Indigenous peoples’ desire to maintain and revitalize their land and water based practices in order to assert political, economic, and social control over their lands, lives and livelihoods. Having control over our governments and governance practices are central to achieving these crosscutting goals. However, there is tremendous debate, tension, and conflict over what governments should look like, what they should do, and to whom they should accountable.

If we understand indigeneity to be a political category that recognizes both the connection of autochthonous peoples to our lands and the international alliances and interconnections amongst peoples who identify as Indigenous, then our focus is necessarily comparative.  One of the challenges within the Indigenous peoples’ movement is a tension between presenting a unified image of the nation as a political strategy for claims for sovereignty and the heterogeneity that exists within such nations.  Students are encouraged to analyze the ways various axes of power, such as race, gender, sexuality, and class, intersect with indigeneity and how they inform visions of indigenous resurgence and paths toward decolonization.

Politics of Indigenous Representations (POLS 621)
This course will examine the political and cultural economy of images as well as modes of production that determine how indigenous peoples represent themselves (aesthetic production) and are represented (who speaks for indigenous peoples in the political arena). A third form of representation will also be considered, the role of researcher in the production of theory (intellectual production). Whether we are indigenous scholars working within our own communities or non–indigenous working with indigenous groups, the question of who and how we represent the ‘other’ must be asked and examined. This course will assist students in asking and answering this question for themselves and will allow them the space to think through the ethnical, moral, philosophical and personal issues implicated in such a project.

Contemporary Native Hawaiian Politics (POLS 684)
In this course we will consider a range of contested issues that comprise Hawaiʻi’s political arena, including the battles being fought in the courts, in the classroom, and in the streets over who is Hawaiian and to whom does Hawaiʻi nei “belong.” We will begin with a solid ground grounding in Hawaiʻi history written by Kanaka and ‘local’ authors. We will then focus on several key issues including: a discussion of how Kanaka Maoli are responding to and the implications of recent court cases intended to dismantle “Hawaiians Only” programs; the status of Native Hawaiians in the Hawaiʻi school system and the strategies deployed to address existing disparities; the political economy of tourism for Kanaka communities; and we will also consider related issues of representation and identity. Who gets to define who is “Kanaka Maoli”? Who is “Hawaiian”? What role can the Hawaiian diaspora play in discussions of Hawaiian self–determination and independence?

Indigenous Theory (POLS 720)
According to Ronald Niezen (2003), the study of Indigenous identity is founded upon a paradox: although the term indigenous (used to refer to human societies) is relatively new —the 1980s— it “invokes people's sense of permanence and ability to survive and stay close to their cultures and homelands despite almost insurmountable odds” (xxi). For many Indigenous peoples these insurmountable odds are directly linked to colonial, postcolonial and neocolonial global processes. In addition to a shared commitment to the issues of racism, oppression, liberation, nationalism, and decolonization, Indigenous and postcolonial scholars have written extensively about this common legacy of upheaval from land, cultural practices, language, and epistemologies. But where do these literatures diverge? What unique perspectives do Indigenous authors bring to these long–standing global processes? As feminists contend, these processes are also highly gendered and liberation is not possible without also dismantling patriarchal systems and structures of domination that correspond with these structures of power. In this course we are not merely interested in how various scholars have critiqued these global systems but we are interested in the politics of the production of knowledge. Knowledge claims lay the foundation for what resistance one deploys. Far too often, Western “ways of knowing” or epistemologies take on hegemonic status rendering “Other” epistemologies inferior by claiming they are not theory but merely descriptive. In this course, we will de–center hegemonic ways of knowing in order to explore how indigenous scholars are producing knowledge, theorizing, for and about their peoples. As we critically engage the readings and develop our ideas through class discussion and writing assignments two questions will guide us: Does “theory” only reflect hegemonic knowledge claims and how can indigenous ways of knowing/indigenous epistemologies transform how we produce theory? What are the transformative possibilities of indigenous theory?

Decolonial Futures (POLS 777)
What preferred futures are Indigenous peoples envisioning to replace colonial/neocolonial relations? In what ways does invoking the figure of ‘the indigenous’ in representations of the future retrench oppressive dynamics of power? What roles can scholars and communities play in both the critique and creation of alternative futures? What political, economic and cultural tools or models exist already? These essential questions provide a springboard for this course. Our point of departure will not be limited to thinking about formal processes for decolonization under international law. Rather, we will try to imagine worlds beyond states and capitalism. Given my current interest in Indigenous sustainable self-determination through restoring Indigenous food systems, we will partner with Hoʻoulu ʻĀina (HA), an urban farm that is part of Kokua Kalihi Valley which provides health services to the underserved community of Kalihi, to develop models for preferred decolonial futures. The course will be held at the Hoʻoulu ʻĀina farm and will begin with creating an intellectual community among students and HA staff through shared readings and discussion. We will then participate in the Growing Future Farmers Program: From Seed to Seed. I see the notion of “Seed to Seed” as a metaphor for sustainable self-determination or as a political philosophy for sustainability. As a staff member at Hoʻoulu ʻĀina explains, to be self sufficient, it is not enough for a farmer to know how to prepare the soil, plant and nurture the seeds, and harvest the fruits of their labor. Farmers must also know how to produce their own seeds. From an Indigenous politics perspective, we will explore the conditions of possibility when we know how to generate our own seeds. What are the conditions of possibilities when we open spaces and envision decolonial futures that are sustainable and grounded in Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies? We will envision futures that can produce the next generation of seeds. Using a process developed by Dr. Jim Dator, class participants will work collaboratively to research and envision a preferred future for an organization, institution, community, or nation and develop a plan that will lead to enacting that preferred future. 

Selected Publications

Aikau, Hokulani K. A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawaiʻi. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2012.

Aikau, Hokulani K., Karla A. Erickson, and Jennifer L. Pierce, eds. Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Life Stories from the Academy. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2007.

Articles, Book Chapters, Book Reviews

Hokulani K. Aikau, 2012, “More than Preserving a Polynesian Paradise,” Arena Journal, 37/38: 129-152.

Hokulani K. Aikau, 2010, “Indigeneity in the Diaspora: The Case of Native Hawaiians at Iosepa, Utah,” American Quarterly, 62(3): 477-500.

Book Review of Colonizing Leprosy: Imperialism and the Politics of Public Health in the United States, Michelle T. Moran, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).  In Review of Policy Research, 2009, 26(5): 635-636,

Hokulani K. Aikau, 2008. “Resisting Exile in the Promised Land: He Moʻolelo no Lāʻie.” In American Indian Quarterly, 32(1): 70–95.

Hokulani K. Aikau and James H. Spencer, eds. 2007. “Introduction: Local Reaction to Global Integration—The Political Economy of Development in Indigenous Communities.” In Alternatives: Global, Local, and Political, 32(1): 1–7.

Book Review of Leaving Paradise: Indigenous Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest, 1787-1898, Jean Barman and Bruce McIntyre Watson (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2006).  In The Hawaiian Journal of History, 2008, 42: 291–294.


Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Political Science – Indigenous Politics Program