(Excerpt from Sista Resister: Bios of 50 Radical Women of Color Activists Resisting Sexism, Colonialism & Racism by m seenarine. Forthcoming 2021 from XPYR Press.)
“Politics - the blind are showing movies/in the plaza/so the deaf are gathering/in the plaza/so the mute can debate/in the plaza/the fate/of one beloved nation.”
- Merlinda Bobis (born 1959) is a Philippine-Australian writer & academic.
Chapter 27. Haunani-Kay Trask (Hawaiʻi/US)
Introduction: Gynocentrism and Gift Economy
Among the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, corn was the staple crop, and the Green Corn Dance was celebrated from North to South America. This important dance varies by group, but the core is a commemoration of the gift of corn by an ancestral corn Goddess. This sacred gift was reciprocated among the people of many nations. In matrilineal cultures, corn was stored in large granaries and distributed equitably by the clan mothers, the oldest women from every extended family. Since Indigenous communities placed an emphasis on sharing and equity, inequality and stratification were far less of a problem than in Europe.
Gynocentric theorists link many forms of social oppression to male domination and the exchange economy. These feminists suggest that only by dismantling male rule and phallic supremacy will many of the social problems that plague our modern world be mitigated. In her fictional account of a mother-centered culture, “The World of the Gift Economy,” feminist scholar Genevieve Vaughan describes the characteristics of the maternal gift economy as "Giving rather than exchange in the way we transmit our goods." The female-centered system is based on unilateral giving, like the mothering of little children, who cannot give back an equivalent in exchange for what they receive from caregivers.
Gynocentric and matriarchal cultures focus on meeting the needs of its members, which establishes bonds of mutuality and trust between givers and receivers. For example, Vaughan writes, "Hums like to guess each other's needs, so it is not unusual if I need a new pair of shoes to find them on my doorstep without my even asking anyone." The relational economy helps the future society the author describes in “The World of the Gift Economy,” to overcome competition and violence so prevalent in male-dominated societies in each corner of the globe. She writes, "The elimination of Patriarchy and exchange everywhere has defused the emphasis on categorization and belonging to superior categories that was part of racism, classism and sexism."
Despite centuries of patriarchal colonization, it is remarkable that some gynocentric traditions remain, even in the colonized US, and other parts of Turtle Island. Many Indigenous survivors understand and write about the importance of maintaining female-centered ways of knowing and being, like gift-giving. First Nations female scholars also document the intersection of colonization, dispossession and racism on Turtle Island, and feminist, cultural, environmental and social justice activists could learn much from these women. A shining example of Indigenous female leadership is Haunani-Kay Trask of Hawaiʻi.
Haunani-Kay Trask (born October 3rd 1949) is a Hawaiian nationalist, educator, political scientist and writer whose genealogy connects her to the Piʻilani line on her maternal side and the Kahakumakaliua line on her paternal side. The Hawaiian native grew up on the island of Oʻahu and continues to reside there. Known as "The Gathering Place", Oʻahu is the third-largest Hawaiian Island. The island has around one million people, about two-thirds of the state's population.
Haunani-Kay earned a BA, MA and PhD in political science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She graduated in 1981, and her dissertation was published as Eros and Power: The Promise of Feminist Theory (1986). Trask is professor emeritus of the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and has represented Native Hawaiians at the UN and other global forums. Sista Trask is the author of two poetry books, Light in the Crevice Never Seen (1994) and Night Is a Sharkskin Drum (2002). And in addition to her thesis, Dr. Trask published the nonfiction, From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii (1993).
Professor Trask co-wrote and co-produced the award-winning documentary, Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation (2011). The scholar-activist also created an educational video on the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement, Haunani-Kay Trask: We Are Not Happy Natives (2002). In March 2017, Hawaiʻi Magazine recognized the Oʻahu native as one of the most influential women in Hawaiian history.
As an Indigenous feminist, Haunani-Kay opposes tourism to Hawaiʻi, as well as US military's presence on the islands. In a 2014 interview, the Oʻahu native explained how she got involved with anti-military activism in the Pacific,
I got involved with Kahoʻolawe and the whole archipelagic idea of bombing ranges when I came back from college [in the mid-1970s from the University of Wisconsin Madison]. My mother, who was very straight, said you better come home, these people are going out there [to Kaho‘olawe] and getting arrested, and some of them are dying. It sounds like something you’d like. So that’s how I got into it. I did come home, and I didn’t write my dissertation for two years because I was so engaged in this process.
More recently the professor has spoken against the Akaka Bill to establish a process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition similar to the recognition that some Native American tribes currently possess. Advocates of Hawaiian sovereignty oppose the bill since it disregards the 1993 Public Law (103-150) in which the US Congress apologized "for the overthrow and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination." Professor Trask exposes the Eurocentric settler bias and violence present in her native islands, writing,
The color of violence, then, is the color of white over black, white over brown, white over red, white over yellow. It is the violence of north over south, of continents over archipelagos, of settlers over natives and slaves.
The Hawaiian studies scholar explains further that melaninized subjugation in the island chain is inter-linked with other layers of oppression,
Shaping this color scheme are the labyrinths of class and gender, of geography and industry, of metropoles and peripheries, of sexual definitions and confinements. There is not just one binary opposition, but many oppositions.
Melaninized persecution is one form of patriarchal dualism among many. Intersectional oppression in Hawaiʻi is complicated and requires complex analysis and multi-disciplinary approaches. The political scientist describes different levels of violence inherent in the occupation of Indigenous lands by the most powerful nation in the Anglo-sphere,
Within colonialism, such as that now practiced in my own country of Hawai'i, violence against women of color, especially our Native women, is the economic and cultural violence of tourism and of militarism. It is the violence of our imprisonments: reservations, incarcerations, diasporas. It is the violence of military bases, of the largest porting of nuclear submarines in the world, of the inundation of our exquisite islands by eager settlers and tourists from the American and Asian continents.
Predatory capitalism is part of colonialism and racism, and this gets translated into the society, language and institutions of Eurocentric rule on Turtle Island. The Hawaiian nationalist describes this process with regards to culture,
Colonialism began with conquest and is today maintained by a settler administration created out of the doctrine of cultural hierarchy. It is a hierarchy in which Euro-Americans and whiteness dominate non-Euro-Americans and darkness.
Professor Trask contends that in a colonial country, there must be dominance and subordination, and low-melanin hegemony delineates this hierarchy in the US. Thus, the Indigenous political scientist argues,
white people are the dominant group, Christianity is the dominant religion, capitalism is the dominant economy, and militarism is the dominant form of diplomacy and the underlying force of international relations. Violence is thus normal, and race prejudice, like race violence, is as American as apple pie.
People of European descent are an elite minority in the islands. Low-melanin people comprise about 25 percent of the ethnically diverse state's 1.3 million residents, while those who identify as Native Hawaiian account for around 20 percent. Most residents are of mixed 'race,' so multi-racial people are the majority. The female Indigenous scholar explains how structural racism works in the US,
In a racist society, there is no need to justify white racist behavior. The naturalness of segregation and hierarchy is the naturalness of hearing English on the street, or seeing a McDonalds on every other corner, or assuming the U.S. dollar and United Airlines will enable a vacation in Hawai'i, my native country. Indeed, the natural, everyday presence of the "way things are" explains the strength and resilience of racism. Racism envelops us, intoxicating our thoughts, permeating our brains and skins, determining the shape of our growth and the longevity of our lives.
As an activist poet, Professor Trask employs the “art as an anvil” method in her writing style. Recognizing that Indigenous Hawaiians have been relegated to the margins of their society, the First Nations poet utilizes her words as weapons against the colonizing oppressors. An example of the art as anvil approach can be seen in the poem, "Racist White Woman," featured in her 1994 book, Light in the Crevice Never Seen:
Racist White WomanI could kickYour face, punctureBoth eyes.You deserve this kindOf violenceNo more viciousTongues, obsceneLies.Just a knifeSlitting your tightLittle heart.For all my peopleUnder your feetFor all those yearsLived smug and wealthyOff our landParasite arrogantA fistIn your paintedMouth, thickWith moneyAnd piety.
Post a Comment