- Following the Alaloa Kīpapa of Our Ancestors:A Trans-Indigenous Futurity without the State (United States or otherwise)
The sound of the pū (conch shell) cut through the quiet, as the sun would soon pierce the dark and illuminate the sky and sea. Curled in my sleeping bag, I focused on the sound of the pū. It was 4:30 a.m., time to start our first full day on Kaho‘olawe, and I was nervous about what was in store. The day before had been tumultuous—a rough morning in a rough sea—after which things got worse. By midday one of our students was ready to leave the island. This trip to Kaho‘olawe was part of a collaboration between the University of Hawai‘i Indigenous Politics program (UHIP), institutionally located in the political science department, and the Indigenous Governance Program (IGOV) at the University of Victoria. These cotaught, two-week intensive graduate seminars began in 2006 when UHIP hosted the first exchange on the UH Mānoa campus. Since then, we have staged two exchanges in Victoria and two more in Honolulu. This exchange was a highly experiential, place-based, and project-based course focused on contemporary Hawaiian efforts to restore kuleana (responsibility and obligations) to land and community.
Lying in the dark, contemplating the day ahead, I realize that we had survived the first day largely because the akua (gods) allowed it to be so. At this time yesterday, we had risen to prepare for the boat ride from Maui to Kaho‘olawe. The rough ride had mirrored the mood of many of our students. They were anxious, nervous; some even doubted the wisdom of being there. A few First Nations men who joined us on this exchange from IGOV felt that it was wrong for themselves to have access to this sacred place; they felt that their spaces should be given to Kānaka ‘Ōiwi (Native Hawaiians). The men were frustrated with us, the kumu (professors), Jeff Corntassel and me, for putting them in a situation where they felt that they had to choose between their politics and their grades. But as Katie Kamelamela, one of our ‘ōiwi students and a kua [End Page 653] (leader) for our trip, repeated several times, “If Kanaloa didn’t want you on island, you would not be on island.” Jeff and I asked our students to trust us, but there was still doubt, and that doubt was reflected in our crossing. We did our best to prepare the students for what was to come. We all learned two oli (chants) that asked permission to enter and leave the island, attended safety briefings, and read hundreds of pages of documents that included academic articles as well as personal diaries from the men who occupied the island in the 1970s, and the documents pertaining to the transfer of the island from the Department of Defense to the state of Hawai‘i.1 Ultimately it was up to individuals to ready themselves to accept the kuleana awaiting them on Kaho‘olawe. As we transferred from the fishing boat to the Zodiac, and then from the Zodiac into the cold sea, the rough waves shoved us under the surf, pushing us onto rocks and into each other. We emerged from the kai (the ocean) bruised and bleeding.
Our kua recognized the need to address the group’s mood, and they turned to ceremony to begin to calm our spirits, to remember the commitments we made and the reasons why each of us were on this huaka‘i (trip, journey). Once all the gear was transferred from the beach to our campsite, the kua asked all fifty-plus participants on this trip to return to the beach. We lined up facing the ocean and chanted, asking permission to have access to and learn from the island. The kua blessed each of us with pule (prayer) and ‘ōlena (turmeric) water. As I meditated to the repetition of the pule, I watched the power and force of the ocean as waves continued to crash on the shore. Then out in the distance, a koholā (humpbacked whale) breached, playing...