The Role of the University of Hawaiʻi

Greg Pōmaikaʻi Gushiken and Katherine Achacoso


Image above: UH Mānoa students organizing for Mauna Kea

The University of Hawaiʻi System’s flagship campus, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, was established in 1907 when the Hawaiʻi Territorial Legislature created the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Honolulu under terms of the Morrill Act, the notorious U.S. land grant legislation that still funds public universities in the U.S. today. Across the United States, the Morrill Act turned land expropriated from Indigenous nations into funding streams for institutions of higher education, liquidating the assets of 10.7 million acres belonging to almost 250 tribes into funds that were designated to be used in-perpetuity, all of which stolen by American settlers. As "in perpetuity" funds, based on the genocide and conquest of what is currently known as the United States of America, the "assets" stolen and liquidated by the Morrill Act are still on each land grant university’s ledger, including the University of Hawaiʻi. This is the historical moment at which the University of Hawaiʻi emerges; a moment of Indigenous dispossession, colonial terror, and ongoing violence against Black and Indigenous life in what is currently known as the United States of America.

This unit combines case studies of primary source documents alongside critical writings about and around the University of Hawaiʻi to better understand the relationship that the UH has to the Hawaiian community, including its implications in scientific and institutional racism, settler colonial enclosure upon Hawaiian land, and, of course, the Thirty Meter Telescope. This unit is broken down into (3) sections:The Establishment of the University of Hawaiʻi, which will take students through the political and social context under which the University of Hawaiʻi emerged; Scientific and Institutional Racism at the University of Hawaiʻi, which places UH involvement in the TMT in a larger historical trajectory of both institutional and scientific racism; and, finally, A Hawaiian Place of Learning is Possible: Kanaka ʻŌiwi Scholars(hip) Puʻuhuluhulu University follows the freedom school, Puʻuhuluhulu University, that emerged amidst the 2019 standoff on Mauna Kea, a space that, as kiaʻi and leader of Puʻuhuluhulu University Presley Keʻalaanuhea Ah Mook Sang writes, “encouraged individuals of our kaiāulu (community) to take ownership of the ʻike (knowledge) they possess, and transfer those knowledge sys­tems to the lāhui.”

This unit is suited primarily for learners in grades 9-20, with a particular usefulness for undergraduate courses and introductory graduate-level seminars in the fields of higher education, critical university studies, Indigenous studies, ethnic studies, and beyond. Primary source documents are selected to bring in both a direct voice from Kanaka ʻŌiwi communities and, additionally, to bring in difficult, often racist, and settler colonial documents from the University of Hawaiʻi that demonstrate the precise scope and depth of the kinds of harm that the University has perpetrated in its role in the settlement and colonization of the Hawaiian Islands. Secondary sources range from writings on these topics to theoretical texts that might frame the discussion of these primary sources. This unit is an introduction to the role of the University of Hawaiʻi in the TMT and the larger project of colonialism in the Hawaiian Islands, and is by no means a comprehensive examination of the history or scope of this complex topic.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the role of the university in the Thirty Meter Telescope and, by extension, the project of settler colonialism? How do we navigate this complicated history?

  2. The University of Hawaiʻi has been directly involved in the Thirty Meter Telescope––and all other telescopes on Mauna Kea––but what is talked less about is its longer involvement in the settler colonial project of Hawaiʻi more broadly. How is the TMT related to the longer history of science, law, and settler colonialism in Hawaiʻi?

  3. As Sandy Grande (2018) writes in “Refusing the University,” in order for Black and Indigenous people to move beyond the scarcity of the university, their/our communities need to 1) commit to collectivity, 2) commit to reciprocity, and 3) commit to mutuality—projects that require us to center land and its attendant relations. In the context of the University of Hawaiʻi, how have the university’s attempts to perpetuate individualism rather than collectivity, self-interest rather than reciprocity, and transaction rather than mutuality effected settler colonial projects like the TMT and Indigenous peoples’ capacity to organize against it in the University?

  4. From the violence experienced by Haunani Kay Trask in her tenure at the University of Hawaiʻi to the attempted construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, how can we read across these various contexts (institutional, interpersonal, environmental, and otherwise) to think about the structural form of racial formation and racism in Hawaiʻi’s educational system?

  5. What possibilities lie beyond the University? Learning from writers like Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, la paperson, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and others, what possibilities lie in working through––and not inside––the University? How, in the words of lapaperson, might we be more like the scyborg––an assemblage of individuals within the university, riding positions and funding streams towards more subversive ends dedicated to Black and Indigenous freedom?

The Establishment of the University of Hawaiʻi

Primary Sources

“A Brief History of UH Mānoa.” University of Hawaiʻi System.

"Fifty Years of Mismanaging Mauna Kea." Kanaeokana.

"University of Hawaiʻi – Mānoa" Images of Old Hawaiʻi.

Morrill Act.

Secondary Sources

Akee, Randall. “Stolen Lands and Stolen Opportunities.” Native American and Indigenous Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, Spring 2021, pp. 123-128.

Ambo, Theresa. “The Future Is in the Past: How Land-Grab Universities Can Shape the Future of Higher Education.” University of Minnesota Press. Native American and Indigenous Studies. Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2021), pp. 162-168.

Grande, Sandy. “Refusing the University.” in Toward What Justice? : Describing Diverse Dreams of Justice in Education. Routledge, 2018.

“Land Grab Universities”

Tuck, Eve, and Ruben Gaztambide-Fernandez. "Curriculum, Replacement, and Settler Futurity." Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. Vol. 29, no. 1, 2013.

Scientific and Institutional Racism at the University of Hawaiʻi

Primary Sources

Arvin, Maile. "Mauna Kea Protests Aren’t New. They’re Part of a Long Fight Against Colonialism." Truthout. 2019.


Carter & Trask Files 1990-1991. Ka Leo o Hawaiʻi.

Facing Hawai‘i’s Future Essential Information about GMOs.

Jacobs, Rebecca. "Kalo is More than a Native Hawaiian Plant––It's an Ancestor to Hawaiian Culture." Indian Country Today.

"Maunakea – 2021 and Beyond." University of Hawaii.

Secondary Sources

Arvin, Maile. “Hating Hawaiians, Celebrating Hybrid Hawaiian Girls: Sociology and the Fictions of Racial Mixture.” in Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʻi and Oceania. Duke University Press. 2019.

Casumbal-Salazar, Iokepa. "A Fictive Kinship: Making “Modernity,” “Ancient Hawaiians,” and the Telescopes on Mauna Kea." Native American and Indigenous Studies Vol. 4, No. 2 (2017), pp. 1-30.

Maile, David Uahikeaikaleiʻohu. “Threats of Violence: Refusing the Thirty Meter Telescope and Dakota Access Pipeline.” In Standing With Standing Rock: Voices From the #NoDAPL Movement, edited by Nick Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon, 328-343. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Trask, Haunani Kay. “Racism against Native Hawaiians at the University of Hawaiʻi: A Personal and Political View.” From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1993.

Trask, Haunani Kay. “The Politics of Academic Freedom as the Politics of White Racism.” From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1993.

Image above: December 8, 2018, Faculty and Students at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa protest against the Thirty Meter Telescope (From Star Advertiser)

MAUNA a WĀKEA faculty and staff statement long version Jan 2019.pdf

A Hawaiian Place of Learning is Possible: Kanaka ʻŌiwi Scholars(hip), Puʻuhuluhulu University, and Other Horizons

Primary Sources

Ah Mook Sang, Presley Keʻalaanuhea. “Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu University: He Kīpuka Aloha ʻĀina no ka ʻImi Naʻauao.” The Value of Hawaiʻi 3: Hulihia. 2021.

"KAʻŪ: Universtiy of Hawaiʻi Hawaiian Studies Task Force Report." December 1986.


Kanaka Maoli Scholars Against Desecration Statement on Mauna Kea - February 17, 2009.


Perry, Kekailoa. "Make‘e Pono Lāhui Hawai‘i: A Student Liberation Moment." A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty. Edited by Noelani Goodyear-Ka’opua, Ikaika Hussey, and Erin Kahunawaika'ala Kahunawaika’ala Wright. Duke University Press. 2014.

“Pu‘uhuluhulu University Bibliography.” Hawaiʻi Review.

Trask, Haunani Kay. “Native Student Organizing: The Case of the University of Hawaiʻi: A Personal and Political View.” From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1993.

"SENATE RESOLUTION 04-20 IN SUPPORT OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES AT MAUNA KEA." Associated Students of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

"Mauna Kea Town Hall." University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Graduate Student Organization.

"Mauna Kea: University of Hawaiʻi, its President and Board of Regents." University of Hawaiʻi Maui College.

Secondary Sources

Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Noelani. "Reproducing the Ropes of Resistance: Hawaiian Studies Methodologies." in Kanaka ʻŌiwi Methodologies: Moolelo and Metaphor. Edited by Katrina-Ann R. Kapa'anaokalaokeola Nakoa Oliveira and Erin Kahunawaika'ala Wright. University of Hawaii Press. 2015.

Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Noelani. "Indigenous Oceanic Futures: Challenging Settler Colonialisms & Militarization." In Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education Mapping the Long View. Routledge. 2019.

la paperson. A Third University is Possible. University of Minnesota Press. 2017.

Moten, Fred, and Stefano Harney. the undercommons: fugitive planning & black study. Minor Compositions. 2013.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd edition, Zed Books, 2012.

White, Louellyn. Free to Be Mohawk: Indigenous Education at the Akwesasne Freedom School. University of Oklahoma Press. 2015.

9780824889159 (dragged).pdf