Who We Are

Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻopua

Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua



He Kanaka ʻŌiwi Hawaiʻi au. ʻO Oʻahu kuʻu one hānau. My genealogy also connects my ʻohana to Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi and Maui islands, as well as to Southern China and the British Midlands. My academic work is one part of a lifetime commitment to aloha ʻāina. My research, teaching and activism focus on Hawaiian social movements and Indigenous resurgence.

My previous research projects have involved documenting, analyzing and proliferating the ways people are transforming imperial and settler colonial relations through Indigenous political values and initiatives. My first book, The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), discusses some of the tensions of designing and implementing Indigenous culture- and land-based educational initiatives within and against settler state structures. The book specifically focuses on the case of Hālau Kū Māna, a public charter school with which I have been involved since its founding.

I have edited three books that deal with Hawaiʻi-based, transformative social action. A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land and Sovereignty (Duke University Press, 2014) is a collection, co-edited with Ikaika Hussey and Kahunawai Wright, that brings original essays and photographs together to present a multilayered view of the ways that sovereignty—ea—has been conceptualized and practiced in Hawaiian movements from the 1960s – 2010s. Since the book’s publication, I led the development of the Movement-building for Ea curriculum for community organizers, students and others interested in connecting histories of Hawaiian struggle with political action in the present.

The Value of Hawaiʻi, volume 2, co-edited with Aiko Yamashiro, weaves personal and political narratives with poetry. The collection is intended to spark critical and hopeful discussions about ways to improve life in the islands, and it draws on the diverse experiences of Hawaiʻi residents engaged in fields such as public health, farming, political advocacy, energy policy, film-making, education and futures studies.

Nā Wahine Koa: Hawaiian Women for Sovereignty and Demilitarization combines life writing, photos and primary documents illuminating the stories of four women involved with Hawaiian movements for over forty years: Terrilee Keko‘olani, Moanike‘ala Akaka, Maxine Kahaulelio and Loretta Ritte. Each of these women emerged as organizers in the 1970s, and each touched Kaho‘olawe during the early landings to stop the bombing of that island. Nā Wahine Koa not only documents their stories for future generations, but also explores how women sustain courageous action for land, sovereignty and demilitarization over a lifetime.

I continue to be concerned with unmaking settler colonial relations and opening spaces to think about and practice Indigenous forms of governance. My work is increasingly influenced by the intersections of Indigenous politics with futures studies, particularly around issues of energy, food, climate change and land. I practice collaborative and community-engaged scholarship.

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The following elements are central to my teaching practice:

  • collaborative, project-based learning,
  • on-going assessment of my students and myself,
  • respect for diverse learners,
  • centering previously marginalized voices and epistemologies, including those of Indigenous Oceanic peoples,
  • learning-by-doing, as expressed in the Hawaiian proverb, “ma ka hana ka ‘ike,” and
  • connecting classroom learning with communities beyond the university.

Courses Taught

Hawaiʻi Politics I (POLS 301)
This course in Hawaiʻi politics focuses on major institutions that have shaped island life over the last two centuries. Throughout the course, we investigate the intersectionalities of power — along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, indigeneity and nationality — that operate through the various institutions we engage. This strong grounding in historical context provides class participants with a foundation for developing their own analyses on contemporary issues. Students are encouraged to develop their analytical skills and use them in real–world situations of service and advocacy. The course is grounded in Native Hawaiian perspectives, but it draws on a range of voices and emphasizes constructive dialogue between indigenous and settler perspectives. Our understanding of Hawaiʻi Politics is further deepened by comparison with parallel issues and phenomena in the wider Oceania (Pacific Islands) region. Topics vary from semester to semester.

Native Hawaiian Politics (POLS 302)
This course provides a critical study of issues in contemporary Native Hawaiian politics, with an emphasis on application and active engagement. Each semester we focus on key areas that impact Hawaiian lands and communities, such as: land use, sovereignty, education, and energy. Within these broad areas, students select issues that are particularly meaningful to them for more in-depth study. One of the features of Native Hawaiian political studies is its practitioners’ active and engaged scholarship. In this course, students are expected to engage with communities beyond the campus boundaries and to consider respectful and effective ways to build those relationships. This course takes the politics of solidarities seriously. While focusing on Native Hawaiian politics, students are also asked to think about how to build coalitions across differences. What are the possibilities for and challenges of forging solidarities around specific issues? How can movements to alleviate certain forms of injustice be framed so as not to be complicit with the oppression of other groups?

Indigenous Politics (POLS 304)
Through this course, participants develop our collective and individual understandings of the field of Indigenous politics, particularly as articulated by Indigenous political leaders and intellectuals. According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, there are over 370 million indigenous people in over 70 different countries. We are not be able to fully survey this diversity, but students get a sense of the breadth and dynamism of the issues and movements that constitute this political field. We investigate both international Indigenous political initiatives and locally–situated movements. We discuss historical and contemporary entanglements between Indigenous peoples and states. Each semester, we focus on specific case studies, engaging questions of sovereignty, land use, and Indigenous forms of governance.

Contemporary Native Hawaiian Politics (POLS 684)
What visions, ethics, and strategies define Kanaka politics in the present? How do concepts like ea, lāhui, ʻaloha ʻāina or kuleana offer forms of political analysis and practice that allow us to understand and imagine different ways of thinking and practicing politics in Hawaiʻi? These essential questions provide a springboard for this course. Topics vary from semester to semester, as participants engage with current issues (and their genealogies) impacting Hawaiian communities.

Politics of Hawaiʻi (POLS 686)
In the Hawaiian language, the word “ai” can variously refer to the acts of eating, sex, or rule. We take these various forms of ai/ʻai as pathways through which to think about the power–laden relationships constituting the political, economic and cultural terrains of Hawaiʻi, past and present. We will pay particular attention to ʻāina (land), wai and kai (fresh water and sea water). Kanaka Maoli have long studied and celebrated the interdependent relationships of kanaka and our non–human relatives, and we have recognized these mutually dependent relationships through protocols and philosophies around food, reproduction and governance. By considering acts of ai/ʻai as culturally and historically–situated, this course examines intersections of place, gender, class, race, and identity in the context of Hawaiʻi.

Indigenous Theory (POLS 720)
In this course, we explore the ways Indigenous scholars are theorizing and producing knowledge for and about our peoples. We work to establish a shared understanding of indigeneity as a concept, political identity, and position from which knowledge is produced. We ask, what counts as theory and what is at stake in those claims? With this foundation, we move into a sustained inquiry into the various ways Indigenous studies scholars approach the production of Indigenous theory.

Indigenous Nations and Problems of Sovereignty (POLS 776)
Understandings and practices of sovereignty and indigeneity change across time and place; they are historically contingent political categories. This course gives participants the opportunity to delve deeply into critical Indigenous examinations of sovereignty, particularly the concept’s ability to (re)initiate meaningful self-determination and healing from the legacies of colonial and imperial violences.

Decolonial Futures (POLS 777)
What 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 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, in which “decolonial” is be limited to thinking about formal processes for decolonization under international law. Rather, we look at ways representations of Indigenous pasts and futures come together in various proposals for decolonial worlds, including worlds beyond states and capitalism.