“Know Where You Stand”: ʻŌiwi Refusals of Settler Futurities and Carceral Violence 

by Pōmaikaʻi Gushiken

A contribution to Abolition’s conversation on “States of Emergency/Emergence: Learning from Mauna Kea” (read the call here)

Since 2014, the settler state of Hawaiʻi arrested, detained, and punished over 300 Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiians) and our allies for defending our ʻāina[1] from desecration. From wind turbines at Kahuku and Kalaeloa to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna a Wākea, settler projects predicated upon the discourse of “the greater good” continue to violate our native lands and bodies. Indeed, as the police continue to show up in droves at these sites prepared to brutalize, arrest, and criminalize Kānaka ʻŌiwi and those who stand with us, so, too, do these projects built on our stolen land continue to constitute a particular kind of colonial violence.

When we consider a history of occupation and settler colonialism in Hawaiʻi that brings to the fore police and carceral violence, the mass deployment of settler state militias (whether the police or the military) on Mauna Kea and other sites of resistance in the Hawaiian Islands seems less and less surprising. It was, in fact, the same force that imprisoned Liliʻuokalani in ʻIolani Palace for a year, that bombed Kahoʻolawe and continue to bomb Pōhakuloa relentlessly, that have detained and cited Kānaka fighting for our ʻāina and our community. Such forces that enact violence against Indigenous peoples and our lands constitute the settler state through the continued projection of a futurity where the occupation of our lands and the policing of our bodies continues to be the norm. In this essay, I ask what it would mean to consider an “otherwise,” a future for Kānaka ʻŌiwi that is grounded in our resurgence and relations to ʻāina. In other words, I ask what might it mean to, following Kanaka ʻŌiwi scholar Maile Arvin, regeneratively refuse the settler futurity of the TMT and the carceral logics it demands.[2] 

Kanaka ʻŌiwi scholar-activists Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua and Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada remind us that to conceive of Indigenous futurities as practices of collective future-making against the settler state “that often disrupt the linearity of Western liberal-democratic understandings of temporality”[3] is to fundamentally challenge the narrativization of kānaka as backward, savage, and incapable of self-governance. Futurity has an ordering function in settler society; that is, futurity demarcates the trajectory of those subjected to the imaginings of the settler state. In this vein, Eve Tuck and Ruben Gaztambide-Fernandez remind us that a settler futurity “always indivisibly means the continued and complete eradication of the original inhabitants of contested land.”[4] To place these concepts in the context of Hawaiʻi, the future dictated to Kānaka by the settler state is necessarily about our removal––whether it is by dispossession, assimilation, eradication, or incarceration.

Such futurities constituted by these vectors of removal naturalize Kānaka Maoli as, among other things, arrestable. It is quite easy to see how the otherwise extraordinary or upsetting arrests of kūpuna, ʻōpio, and kiaʻi of all ages become naturalized in the minds of those who stand on the side of the TMT, those whose vestments support the continued violation of our land and our bodies. On November 21, 2019, the Facebook page Imua TMT, the social media presence of the pro-TMT group advocating for its construction, wrote:

Nobody wants the protesters [Kānaka ʻŌiwi] to be arrested…But if they refuse, it will be their choice to be arrested…[T]he protesters…should recognize that they are sacrificing their children’s future by encouraging them to protest in a way that create arrest records for them, records that may haunt them for a long time…In the end, any arrests in this situation will be entirely the responsibility of the those who choose to be arrested.[5]

That “it will be [our] choice to be arrested” falsely contends that it is simply a matter of personal choice to put our lives, our bodies, and our livelihoods on the line to stop the desecration of Mauna Kea and the desecration of our communities. The phrase also points towards a certain futurity where Kānaka ʻŌiwi create arrest records for our children, as though such arrest records are simply matters of failure to comply with an allegedly impartial rule of law as opposed to what Kanaka ʻŌiwi scholar Maile Arvin calls a “regenerative refusal,” a refusal that clearly rejects colonial ideologies that order gendered and racial hierarchies, thereby demanding a world beyond these hegemonic orders.[6] Instead of adhering to the image of good and noble savages who are invested in the same settler futurity set forth by the TMT, Kānaka who enact a regenerative refusal choose to stand against the normalizing logics of settler colonialism that disconnect us from our land.

A narrativization of future arrests of Kānaka ʻŌiwi naturalizes the violence of the police, the prison, and the settler state. It projects a future where Kānaka ʻŌiwi will be remembered as those who chose to be arrested, who chose to ruin our children’s futures, as opposed to a future where we are remembered as fighting for our children, for our ʻāina. This settler futurity places us on a path where regenerative refusalsare viewed as savage and irresponsible acts on behalf of Kānaka ʻŌiwi––that our refusal is merely personal choice by, to quote a TMT supporter who commented on the same Facebook post, a people with “no endgame.” Such ascription of agency under false pretenses erases a history of criminalization and coloniality, a history that constitutes a present where 39% of all incarcerated people in Hawaiʻi are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and where dozens of kiaʻi, protectors of our land and waters, are continuing to be arrested each week defending our ʻāina.[7] To regeneratively refuse the naturalization of prisons and the police is necessary in imagining a world beyond the settler state and its carceral logics. To accept these conditions is to accept a world where the prison continues to structure our lives.

Such projections of the future and the present—where Kānaka are arrestable subjects—enact violence that Kānaka have long known. In this vein of thought, Kanaka ʻŌiwi poet leilani portillo writes in her 2018 poem “We Are Mauna Kea” that the violence of the TMT extends far beyond the mauna, deep into our bodies and into our futures.

Telescope after telescope after failure. Thirteen times wasn’t enough to hack this mauna using telescopes like machetes to harvest greed to satisfy your pockets and feed your egos. Spectacular images of the universe will benefit all of mankind with ethnocide.[8]

That “spectacular images of the universe will benefit all of mankind with ethnocide” critically juxtaposes empirical-colonial scientific progress with the realities faced by Kānaka in light of settler colonization. “Progress” that is supposedly guaranteed by the TMT comes at the price of ethnocide, a process that requires the arrest of Kānaka ʻŌiwi who stand against these colonial powers with prayer circles, ancestral chants and dances, and a commitment to nonviolence. In other words, the futurity implicit in “spectacular images” of the stars names a trajectory of continued Indigenous removal. In such a settler futurity, Kānaka ʻŌiwi must disappear to “benefit all of mankind.”

While portillo’s poetry indexes the depth of colonial violence, the final stanza of “We Are Mauna Kea” calls us back to our oceanic roots, to remind us that sinking is not drowning, to remind us that a settler futurity, even with its structures and projections, is not the only path we can walk.

When the ocean seems too rough for you, when you feel the waves replace the air you so desperately want to breathe, remember you were born from it, the waters are cleansing you, purging your fears, and rebirthing you into the aloha ʻāina warrior this paeʻāina needs. As the fighting begins, know where you stand. Kū Kiaʻi Mauna.[9] (emphasis original)

Kānaka ʻŌiwi were born from the meeting of the elements. We carry within us earth, ocean, and stars. We are connected genealogically to our ʻāina, and it is because of this connection that we continue to vehemently oppose desecration. In light of settler futurities postulated by the TMT, portillo’s call to “remember you were born from it” tells Kānaka ʻŌiwi that it might just be enough to stand, to exist, to breathe in knowing this moʻokūʻauhau (genealogy). To “know where you stand,” thus, is to not only know whether or not one supports the construction of the TMT but also to know the ancestors upon which one is located. In other words, to know where you stand is to know that your kūpuna signed petitions, took up arms, traveled far and away from home to protect not only our land but also us, their descendants.

Our kūpuna engaged in a radical act of making collective futures in their aloha ʻāina. Encountering extraordinary violence in their pursuit of an independent Hawaiian future that might have located their foresight closer to their dire present, they still made it a point to envision the future they imagined for us. Let us not forget the words on the tip of James Keauiluna Kaulia’s tongue on September 6, 1897 as he stood before thousands of Hawaiian patriots gathered at ʻIolani Palace: “No laila, mai makaʻu, e kūpaʻa ma ke Aloha i ka ʻĀina, a e lokahi e ka manaʻo, e kūʻē loa aku i ka hoʻohui ʻia ʻo Hawaiʻi me Amerika a hiki i ke aloha ʻāina hope loa (Therefore, do not fear. Stand firm in your love of the land and unite with this end in mind: vigorously protest the annexation of Hawaiʻi to America until the very last aloha ʻāina).”[10] Let us remember that the phrase “a hiki i ke aloha ʻāina hope loa” stretches far beyond 1897 through our present day and into the horizons of our futures.

Our kūpuna fought so that we could know of their resistance. They fought so that we could continue their aloha ʻāina for the generations after us. If, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, the project of abolition must also be about the concurrent catalyzing of a future beyond the prison industrial complex, then the radical envisioning of a Hawaiʻi beyond the police, beyond the prison, and beyond mass arrest must be foregrounded.[11] To shift from a state of emergency, where carceral violence against Kānaka is exceptionalized, to a state of emergence thus is to center abolition in the Hawaiian movement for life, land, and sovereignty––an independent Hawaiian future that calls for the end of exceptional state violence.

We must continue the legacy of our kūpuna today as we encounter continued police violence at the hands of the settler state. It is our duty to imagine otherwise, to envision futurities beyond carceral violence for our descendants in the same way our kūpuna did for us. Let us heed the call of Kaulia to protest the occupation of Hawaiʻi until the last aloha ʻāina. Let us stand with portillo and “know where [we] stand” by recognizing the resurgent power that our love of ʻāina has. Through the declaration of our aloha i ka ʻāina across time and space, from the steps of ʻIolani Palace in 1897 and to the base of Mauna Kea Access Road in 2019, let us demand a future beyond the imprisonment and the eradication of Kānaka ʻŌiwi that constitute the settler state of Hawaiʻi.


Mahalo nui loa Dr. Uahikea Maile and Dr. Sarah Marie Wiebe for facilitating this dialogue that is absolutely crucial at this time, Abolition Journal for providing the resources and space, and leilani portillo for the strength and power of her poetry.


Pōmaikaʻi Gushiken (Kanaka ʻŌiwi) is a PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

Feature image: Day Three of TMT protests at Mauna Kea – via Hawaii News Now


[1] ʻĀina is defined literally as land, earth. However, ʻāina can be understood as “that which feeds.” In the context of contemporary movements for Kanaka ʻŌiwi sovereignty, ʻāina is defined by Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua as “land that produces sustenance” (The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School. University of Minnesota Press, 2013, p. 2). ʻĀina, thus, names not just land but the relationship Kānaka ʻŌiwi have to it.

[2] Maile Arvin. Possessing Polynesians : The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʹi and Oceania. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

[3] Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua  and Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada. “Making ‘aha: Independent Hawaiian Pasts, Presents & Futures. (essay).” Daedalus 147, no. 2 (2018): 50.

[4] Eve Tuck and Ruben A. Gaztambide-Fernandez. “Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity.” (essay). Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 29, no. 1 (2013): 80.

[5] Imua TMT. 2019. “Nobody wants the protesters to be arrested.” Facebook, November 21, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/ImuaTMT/posts/2492320407723240

[6] Maile Arvin. Possessing Polynesians : The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʹi and Oceania. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

[7] “After another night of protests, number of arrests linked to wind farm opposition hit 200.” Hawaii News Now (Honolulu, HI). 18 November 2019. https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2019/11/18/more-arrests-made-after-another-large-crowd-wind-farm-protesters-turns-out-kalaeloa/

[8] leilani portillo. “We Are Mauna Kea.” (poem).  Hawaii Review 87 (2018): 20.

[9] Ibid.

[10] James Keauiluna Kaulia. “ʻAhahui Aloha ʻĀina Speech” (speech, Honolulu, HI, September 6, 1897). Hawaiian Patriots Project. https://www.kamakakoi.com/hawaiianpatriots/kaulia.html

[11] Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Golden Gulag : Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. American Crossroads, 21. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

1 thought on ““Know Where You Stand”: ʻŌiwi Refusals of Settler Futurities and Carceral Violence 

  1. As a native Hawaiian, I am ashamed of these views, prevalent among youth and have nots who twist history to spell grievance and pity for a race of people most undeserving. visit my group, new hawaiian for true history and clear perspective. Following these activists, you follow un-Americanism and a destruction to a unified Hawaii.

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