Staking Claim: Settler Colonialism and Racialization in Hawai'i by Judy Rohrer (review)
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Reviewed by
Lori Pierce, Associate Professor
Staking Claim: Settler Colonialism and Racialization in Hawai'i. By Judy Rohrer. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2016. 232 pp. Bibliography. Index. $55.00 cloth

In Staking Claim: Settler Colonialism and Racialization in Hawai'i, Judy Rohrer contends that in order to understand settler colonialism, it is necessary to account for the ways in which racial discourses have been deployed to undermine Native Hawaiian claims, rights, and entitlements. The metaphor "staking claim" is used both literally and metaphorically, referring to the ways non-natives have established their rights to material resources and the privilege of claiming Hawai'i as home. Racial discourses—the discourse of racial harmony and the discourse of racial conflict—have supported nonnatives in their claims. She uses the cases of Harold F. Rice v. Benjamin J. Cayetano 528 U.S. 495 (2000) (Rice v. Cayetano) and challenges to the Kamehameha Schools admissions policy to demonstrate this assertion. [End Page 189]

Chapters one and two discuss contemporary scholarship from Native Pacific cultural studies and settler colonial studies. Here Rohrer argues that each field provides strategies that are necessary but not sufficient to an analysis of settler colonialism in Hawai'i. Patrick Wolfe's five elements of settler colonialism (colonialism as a structure; the centrality of land; the logic of native elimination; the use of imported labor; and the replacement of natives with nonnatives) can be used to analyze Hawai'i. What this approach lacks, however, is found in Native Pacific cultural studies, most importantly Native Pacific epistemologies and temporalities that can generate methodologies more appropriate to Hawai'i.

Chapter three acts as a bridge that links academic theory to the concrete reality of settler colonialism. Here Rohrer argues that racial discourses that "indigenize nonnatives" and "racialize natives" are a key feature of settler colonialism in Hawai'i. (p. 79) The discourse of racial harmony, which has a long and all too familiar history, presents Hawai'i as a racial paradise secured by allegiance to Hawaiian values of love, kindness, and a welcoming spirit. The discourse of racial conflict imagines whites as the victims of racism perpetrated by Hawaiians. This discourse was on display during the "Massie Affair" when Native Hawaiians were depicted as a threat to the white community, especially white women. Rohrer argues that these discourses "naturalize" the presence of nonnatives, erasing the violence of colonialism by treating Whites as just one of the many groups (including Hawaiians) who settled Hawai'i.

Chapters four and five analyze the Supreme Court decision in Rice v. Cayetano and the public discussion of the challenges to the Kamehameha Schools admissions policy. Harold Rice, a fifth generation descendant of American missionaries, sued for the right to vote in elections for the Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), a state entity established to distribute resources owed to Native Hawaiians as a result of the theft of land by the U.S. government after annexation. OHA elections had been restricted to Hawaiians (defined by blood quantum or ancestry). Rice argued that the elections violated the 14th and 15th Amendments. Rohrer demonstrates that the courts sided with Rice because Hawaiians were racialized, i.e. treated as a race, not as indigenous people who had a prior claim to Hawai'i that predated and superseded the U.S. Constitution. A similar process happened in the Kamehameha Schools cases in which nonnatives challenged the admissions policies that gave preference to children of Hawaiian descent. Both cases were backed by conservative political groups and lawyers who used a "color-blind" racial ideology that imagined whites to be victims of systemic discrimination that excluded them from preferences reserved for Native Hawaiians. Rohrer suggests that by claiming their right to attend Kamehameha Schools, these nonnatives were attempting to "indigenize" themselves by equating themselves [End Page 190] with Kanaka Maoli who were meant to be the principal beneficiaries of Bernice Pauahi Bishop's estate.

For Rohrer, the cases reveal a significant problem because they rely on a dichotomy between who belongs (natives) and who does not (settler), a strict binary that does not reflect the more complicated reality of Hawaii's past and present. She offers a potential resolution, a...


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