Indigenous Politics


For nearly 100 years, the discipline of political science (and social science in general) was implicated in the exclusion and attempted erasure of Indigenous political presence, not only in Hawaiʻi and in the U.S., but also throughout the world.

UHIP History

As American political science emerged from its initial focus on constitutions, it aided and abetted settler state nation-building projects that were constructing polities upon lands appropriated from Indigenous nations.

Shortly after the 1893 U.S.-backed armed coup against the democratically elected Hawaiian Kingdom government, the white, sugar industrialist oligarchy’s leader, Sanford Dole, wrote to Professor John W. Burgess of Columbia University, an acknowledged founder of American political science. He was seeking advice on the establishment of a “republican government.” Burgess responded: “I understand your problem to be the construction of a constitution which will place the government in the hands of the Teutons [read whites], and preserve it there, at least for the present.” Wholly sympathetic to this project, Burgess proceeded to make specific recommendations that included voting requirements that would exclude much of the local populations. Thus, the discipline supported a white, wealthy oligarchy that executed an immoral, gross land grab.

Historically, political science has also provided conceptual orientations and “methods” of analysis that located Indigenous peoples in frames of meaning that have deprived them of collective political eligibility. For example, American political science developed “modernization theory,” which refused the autonomous territorial identities of peoples who did not form Western-styled states, quarantining them within a pre-modern, politically ineligible status.

Seeking to expand the language of politics about, against, and beyond the state, the Department of Political Science instituted a Master’s Degree and Doctorate of Philosophy specialization option in Indigenous Politics in the late 1990s, with Professors Michael Shapiro and Jon Goldberg-Hiller leading the charge. Over the next several years, the current core faculty members—Professors Noenoe Silva and Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, and most recently Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio and Sarah Marie Wiebe —were hired to build Indigenous Politics. Now affectionately known as UHIP, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Indigenous Politics program provides a political pedagogy that serves a broader range of students and constituencies. As a learning community, UHIP takes seriously the growing tempo of Indigenous politics activity in local and global venues.