He Maimai Aroha: Haunani-Kay Trask

By Marena Mane

Many people in Hawai'i and around the world are mourning native Hawaiian scholar Haunani-Kay Trask, who died over the weekend.

She was professor emeritus at the University of Hawai'i, at Mānoa, and was known for her advocacy for indigenous studies, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and feminist theory. 

“She will leave a huge gap," indigenous studies researcher and academic Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith says.

Smith was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences alongside Haunani-Kay Trask.

"I admired her. She was a really smart woman. she says.

"She's quite controversial in Hawai’i in terms of the sovereignty movement but she was loved by the students she taught, and I certainly mourn her death.”

Spoke to hearts

Smith said Trask was one of the first indigenous and Pacific woman scholars, had a really clear voice and political theory about sovereignty, spoke with clarity and did not mince her words, "and really spoke to our hearts as well as our minds about the issues that confronted indigenous peoples, generally, but Indigenous women in particular.”

Smith notes Trask's ability to stand up against non-indigenous intellectuals speaking on behalf of native, indigenous peoples as a noteworthy success.

“The field was dominated by non-Indigenous people talking about indigenous people and Haunani was one of the first of clarion voices who basically said 'Enough. We can speak for ourselves and we have different kinds of messages that we need to talk about'.”

“I just think she's part of a movement of scholars, which has embraced what it means to be indigenous and has seen in that sources of inspiration from ancestors, from relationships to the whenua, to Papatuanuku, to the local, that gives us another and stronger platform to stand upon.”

According to Smith, Haunani-Kay anticipated issues that would affect native and indigenous peoples.


“One of her books that most people know is; From a Native Daughter and that book she wrote about the impact on water, water issues that now we are all confronting. She wrote about the impact of tourism, which we need to confront in Aotearoa because tourism has become such a big industry for us. So she was always thinking about these broad issues and what they mean. That's the role of the scholar to always be forward-thinking, and she did that.”

“She's a scholar who will be mourned by the entire indigenous scholarly world. She was at the forefront of leading intellectual shift.”