ʻIhilani Lasconia & Noenoe K. Silva, Ph.D.

Both Native Hawaiian

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is pleased to launch a new online series of essays that focuses on Native justice. With generous support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), First Nations invited multiple experts to discuss the root causes of Native injustice and highlight possible frameworks to move forward toward Native justice.

This essay, co-written by Dr. Noenoe Silva and ‘Ihilani Lasconia, two political science scholars at the University of Hawaiʻi, focuses on gender and sexual oppression among Native Hawaiians. In this essay, Lasconia and Silva critically examine how heteropatriarchal violence, hypermasculinity, and homophobia threaten the current Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

They assert: “Our movements would be even more successful if the talents of all ― queer folx, māhū, women ― were encouraged to rise and flourish. … [To] delay addressing heteropatriarchy in our community is to delay our liberation.”


About Dr. Noenoe K. Silva and ʻIhilani Lasconia

ʻIhilani Lasconia is a Kanaka ʻŌiwi student, artist, and organizer from Waimānalo, Oʻahu. As an activist and transnational feminist, ‘Ihilani is a member of Af3irm Hawai‘i – a wāhine-led organization centered on ending patriarchal violence through decolonization and anti-imperialism. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa studying political science with the hopes of bringing Indigenous knowledge to the forefront of our education system. In the spring of 2021, ʻIhilani graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in ethnic studies, and in the summer of 2022, she graduated with her master’s degree in education. As an artist, ‘Ihilani’s work is rooted in the geopolitical landscape of Hawai‘i and their experience being queer and Native in the 21st century.

Noenoe K. Silva is Kanaka Hawaiʻi from Kailua, Oʻahu. She is a professor of Hawaiian and Indigenous Politics in the department of political science at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and cooperating faculty in the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language. She is the author of “Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism” and “The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History,” both published by Duke University Press. She has also written numerous journal articles. Her research interests include the reclamation of ʻike Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian knowledge) through the furtherance of understanding of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, mele Hawaiʻi, and moʻolelo Hawaiʻi, (Hawaiian language, poetic genres, literature, and history) and the reconstruction of histories of Hawaiʻi through the archives written in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi by kūpuna Hawaiʻi (ancestors).

Native Hawaiians and Justice: A Call to End Heteropatriarchy in Our Native Communities

By ʻIhilani Lasconia and Dr. Noenoe K. Silva

“E wai kahi ka pono i mānalo.”
(Water should be equally sweet for all.[1])

It is out of love for our communities that we bring forward the problems of gender and sexual oppression and abuse in this series on justice. For it is from the most gentle parts of ourselves that we garner the ferocity to bring these words forth. We are not the first to speak to them, nor will we be the last. But in doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to the well-being of everyone in our lāhui.[2]  We are choosing to build a nation with the strongest foundation — and so we broaden the path for dreaming of complete liberation.

Gender and sexual oppression and abuse in our communities is continually documented in social work projects and reports, such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Haumea: “Transforming the Health of Native Hawaiian Women and Empowering Wāhine Well-Being” (OHA 2018) and various works by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence and others (e.g., Asian Pacific 2020; Wong et al. 2020). Such studies are crucial and much appreciated, but also fail to adequately connect these abuses to the underlying ideologies deeply embedded in U.S. settler colonialism in Hawai‘i nei. They have recently tended to focus more on intimate partner violence (IPV) than on the broader political and social ideologies and conditions that foster IPV, as well as misogyny and homo and transphobic abuse and violence.

Heteropatriarchy, the dominance of men over women, and of heterosexuality over any other kind of sexuality, is an integral and inalienable aspect of these ideologies. Heteropatriarchy has been hegemonic in Hawaiʻi nei for a century or more. That is, its beliefs and practices permeate all institutions, from schooling to religion to the so-called justice system, and thus personal and family relationships, as well.

While hegemony is never complete, and Kanaka have resisted and persisted in our own ancestral beliefs and practices in various ways, we have yet to completely reject this belief system. The problems caused by heteropatriarchy go beyond the interpersonal. Heteropatriarchy gives rise to intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence ― but it does more damage than that. Heteropatriarchy hurts our movements for our land and continued life as a lāhui. We have observed, heard for ourselves, and heard from others about attempts at subordination and exclusion of women, māhū, queer folx, and others from ancestral activities, including certain ceremonies, carving, and tattooing.[3]

We, therefore, feel it is crucial to make this call, but not to target anyone specifically. The paramount problem is not with any individuals as human beings, but the evidence that this system persists. While “justice” in the hegemonic settler colonial society we are forced to live in implies punishment or retribution, in alignment with our Native concept of pono,[4] we seek to rematriate, that is, restore relationships with people and land (see e.g., Gray 2022). We are in solidarity here with abolition feminism, which asserts: “It is critical that we develop responses to gender violence that do not depend on a sexist, racist, classist, and homophobic criminal justice system.” (INCITE! in Davis et al. 2022, x) We are not looking for retribution, but reconnection. We do not seek to isolate anyone from our community, for we also mourn the pilina[5] we could have if it weren’t for colonization. We affirm what Haunani-Kay Trask wrote in 1984:[6]

“As I fight American imperialism and its agonizing effects on my people, I must work and live with my Hawaiian brothers who would add to the burden of colonialism another burden of sexual oppression and domination. Yet, l will not leave my people — women and men — in the face of their oppression. But neither will I cede to my Hawaiian brothers the sovereignty of my Hawaiian sisters. (Trask 1984, 27)

This is a perennial issue in ours and other movements. In that same essay, Trask noted the sexism in the movement to stop the bombing of the island of Kahoʻolawe. She described patriarchal behaviors that included not taking women seriously as leaders unless they were respected elders, expecting women to do domestic and unskilled work, and what she called “sexual baiting.” She wrote:

“I have always responded by pointing out to these brothers that the same system which exploits them also exploits Hawaiian women. In fact, our exploitation is worse, given work discrimination, bad social services, and general social violence against women. But my basic argument is that as Hawaiians, we cannot convince others of the superiority of our values, of our traditional cultural ways of caring for the land and the people of the land unless we practice these values amongst ourselves.” (Trask 1984, 23–24)

In the history of movement work, folks have posited reasons for choosing not to address patriarchy. In just one example, in 2007, Renya Ramirez argued:

“…too often, the assumption in Native communities is that we, as Indigenous women, should defend a tribal nationalism that ignores sexism as part of our very survival as women, as well as our liberation from colonization. This common notion is problematic, since Indigenous women in the United States die from domestic violence at twice the rate of other women.” (Ramirez 2007, 22–23)

The demonization of feminism is absolutely essential to heteropatriarchy continuing. Without the guidance of a rigorous decolonial feminist critique in our movement work, heteropatriarchy goes largely unchecked. In 2009, Lisa Kahaleole Hall reviewed the issues of feminism for the Hawaiian land and sovereignty movements. She writes that one of those issues is that “feminism is seen as creating an artificial distinction between men and women that is inherently divisive to the strength of the ʻpeople’ or nation as a whole.” (Hall 2009, 26)

Indeed, we have heard statements like, “It’s not strategically the right moment to reveal our weaknesses.” And, “Addressing this is divisive and slows the momentum of the movement.” These claims are not thoughtless nor illogical, especially when a majority of movement work can feel like a public relations war between us and our oppressors. The fearmongering of divisiveness, however, distracts from the proven reality that feminism fights for, and strengthens, people of all genders.

Another argument often made against feminism in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is that it is a foreign concept that has no cultural or historical basis. But, as Hall put it, “Whatever egalitarian sexual and gender systems that existed prior to colonial invasion and conquest have been thoroughly colonized by Christianity and capitalism.” (Hall 2009, 27)[7] Especially for Native and Indigenous communities, feminism is not simply about women being equal to men socially, politically, and economically. Hall reminds us that “the heart of the struggle [is] for Indigenous and other women of color to decolonize ourselves from all the elements that damage our lives, no matter what their origin.” (Hall 2009, 26)

Activist organizations within our communities have also tried to address homo- and trans-phobia. In 1994, for example, the LGBTQM[8] group Nā Mamo o Hawaiʻi, at a gathering of multiple organizations, confronted the resistance within the sovereignty movement to openly include these members of our families and communities in the agreed upon goals of the conference. In part, Nā Mamo said:

“Aloha ʻāina … is a familial relationship that requires that we resist all efforts by the U.S. government, the State of Hawaiʻi or anyone else to further separate ANY of us Kanaka Maoli [Native Hawaiians] from our ʻāina, which includes the waters, the oceans, and all natural and cultural resources. Our freedom to use our own ʻāina is linked to the freedom to use our own bodies, to live our lives as we see fit, to live in ʻohana relationships that may be different from American ways of life, to build our communities, and to embrace our culture and traditions. Colonialism brought with it an ideology that tried to invalidate who we are as a people and the diverse ways in which we live on [our] islands. …Our oral and literary traditions tell us that prior to colonialism, the Kanaka Maoli lived in an atmosphere of openness and diversity of sexual thought and behavior. (Nā Mamo o Hawaiʻi 1994)

In 2013, kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui, on behalf of the organization called True Aloha, contested the “misrepresent[ation of] traditional Hawaiian values of aloha and ‘ohana as Christian derived ones” by Kanaka opposing same-sex marriage (hoʻomanawanui 2013). Hoʻomanawanui argues that aloha “is an important cultural value inclusive of traditional Hawaiian practices of fluid sexuality, sexual identity, and relationship statuses such as aikāne, māhū, punalua, po‘olua, and hānai” (hoʻomanawanui 2013).[9]

We add our voices to those calling for an end to heteropatriarchal violence and homophobia within our communities now because these are ongoing. Māhealani Ahia has written against the heteropatriarchy displayed by some in the Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu encampment during the extended blockade to protect Maunakea from July 2019 to March 2020, “Although women and queer folx held the majority of leading roles in the camp and the movement, we still needed spaces of our own to confront patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and homophobia, because as with most family reunions, dysfunctional elements were unavoidable.”  (Ahia 2020, 610)

Sovereignty activists made arguments against addressing homophobia at the 1993 Pūalu, where Nā Mamo made their statement, which included that, since our ancestors were not homophobic, homophobia did not exist in our communities, thus there was no reason to address it. Nearly 30 years later, homo- and trans-phobia and instances of abuse and violence continue, and we suspect, may be on the rise because of the increasing popularity of these hateful discourses in U.S. social media.

  1. Kēhaulani Kauanui discusses the ways that various Kanaka, like Ahia, are working on this issue, but also how others “calling for the ʻremasculinization’ of indigeneity as part of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement have in some degree contributed to the marginalization of māhū and condoning of homophobia.” She notes further that “the Hawaiian community is working out these complicated issues … [and] there is a community effort to negotiate these cultural politics.” (Kauanui 2018, 183)

Historically and today, heteropatriarchy reinvents its aesthetic to maintain its hegemonic control. Today, we see this in how heteropatriarchal violence is dismissible, if not enacted by a clearly visible hypermasculinity. Now that hypermasculinity has become largely articulated as unacceptable, especially in movement work, heteropatriarchy cannot rely on this form of masculinity to exert itself. Rather, this violence is carried out through a more palatable misogyny. Enactors of this violence include activists who want the social capital of being perceived as feminist, but do not wish to do the work of unbinding themselves from patriarchy.

This new form of heteropatriarchal violence can be mistaken as less severe because it is not as blatantly forceful as its predecessors. In some cases, this violence can come from humility-posturing and friendly, queer men. Their non-threatening demeanor cloaks the abuse and violence being done. But, in this perceived gentleness upwells the coercive ability for this violence to be mistaken as no harm at all.

This illegibility of violence adds a layer of complexity to its identification and how it should be addressed. Because the traditional warning signs of patriarchal violence are not there, harmful behavior is able to seep into our communities and be enforced by people of all genders. We all need to be aware that heteropatriarchy continues to exist, even in its elusiveness. We must never lose sight of how it demands its way into our lives, no matter the form it takes.


The liberation of all from heteropatriarchy is necessary because it harms even those who benefit from it. The overarching harm is that it steals our potential to have true and meaningful relationships with one another. From intimate relationships to those that make up our collective movement for ea (sovereignty and life), heteropatriarchy is a direct inhibitor to all that we can be as individuals and a lāhui. Our movements would be even more successful if the talents of all – queer folx, māhū, women – were encouraged to rise and flourish.

Thus, to delay addressing heteropatriarchy in our community is to delay our liberation. As Osorio has astutely pointed out:

“Without embodying our vibrant and diverse practices of aloha as a people, there can be no aloha ʻāina. It will not be enough to deoccupy Hawaiʻi now, while assuming that we will deal with issues of gender, pilina, and ‘sexuality’ later. Rather, our specific and diverse articulations of gender, relationality, and pilina must lead us into and through a nation-building movement that truly honors our values and distinct needs as a people. (Osorio 2021, 10–11)

Neither justice nor pono can be achieved without this work to eliminate heteropatriarchy and its violences from our minds, bodies, and movements. We must relearn and re-embrace our ancestors’ open and loving ways of life.


[1] Adapted from Pukui 1986, 384.

[2] “Lāhui” is a term that is used for a whole people, a nation. . . . We are known as the Lāhui Hawaiʻi. Leilani Basham argues that definitions of the Lāhui Hawaiʻi have been based “on mele (chants, songs), moʻolelo (histories, stories, fable), moʻokūʻauhau (genealogy), and ʻāina (land). In addition, loina (cultural practice) and ʻōlelo (language) are also essential, as is ea (sovereignty, life, breath).” She writes further, “From my analytical perspective, it is not that the lāhui possesses these attributes and characteristics; rather, it is that we are these attributes—we are our genealogies; we are our histories and our land; we are our cultural practices and our language; and we are our political independence” (Basham n.d., 5).

[3] The exclusions from certain ceremonies, carving, and tattooing are purportedly based on ancestral gender roles but there is little or no research to support such exclusions; rather they seem to be based on analogous activities in other cultures in the region. . . .

[4] Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa describes “pono” as “a universe in perfect harmony,” which is an ideal in which relationships among Kanaka, and between Kanaka and ʻāina (land) are in balance; the word and concept “pono” were distorted to fit Christian ideas of righteousness by missionaries (Kameʻeleihiwa 1992, 25).

[5] Relationships. See Osorio 2021 for a full and optimistic analysis of this term. . . .

[6] The examples we give in this essay are selected samples and do not constitute a full genealogy or review of previous calls and interventions. . . . Native scholars in Oceania, including Hawaiʻi nei, and Turtle Island have produced a considerable body of work on these issues in the past thirty years.

[7] See also Kauanui 2008.

[8] M stands for māhū, an expansive Hawaiian-language term that includes Kanaka trans women, fluid gender expression, and queerness more generally. . . . For an extended discussion of māhū, see Kauanui 2018, 178–183). . . . In the same work, Kauanui notes that “Founders [of Nā Mamo] identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and māhū (LGBTM)” (184).

[9] “Aikāne recognizes same sex relationships, māhū recognizes a different expression of identity, hānai is the fostering and caring for a child who might otherwise be an orphan, punalua recognizes the need for some to be in a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time, and po‘olua grants multiple genealogical rights to a child born to questionable parentage” (hoʻomanawanui 2013).


Ahia, Māhealani. . . . 2020. “Mālama Mauna:  An Ethics of Care Culture and Kuleana.” Biography 43, no. 3: 607–612.

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. 2020. “Fact Sheet: Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Human Trafficking in Native Hawaiian Communities.”

Basham, Leilani. n.d. “Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi and Peoplehood: Native Hawaiian Identity as Genealogy, Cultural Practice, and Political Independence.”  Unpublished paper, copy in possession of author Silva. . . .

Basham, Leilani. 2010. Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi:  He Moʻolelo, he ʻĀina, he Loina, a he Ea Kākou. Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being 6:37–72.

Davis, Angela Y., Gina Dent, Erica R. Meiners, and Beth E. Richie. 2022. Abolition. Feminism. Now. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Gray, Robin R. R. 2022. . . . “Rematriation: Ts’msyen Law, Rights of Relationality, and Protocols of Return.”  NAIS 9, no. 1: 1–27.

Hall, Lisa Kahaleole. 2009. “Navigating Our Own ‘Sea of Islands’: Remapping a Theoretical Space for Hawaiian Women and Indigenous Feminism.” Wicazo Sa Review 24, no. 2 (Fall): 15–38. . . .

hoʻomanawanui, kuʻualoha. 2013 “Living True Aloha: Using the Core Value of Aloha as a Weapon Against Others is Pure Cultural Hypocrisy.” The Hawaii Independent (October 30).

Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani. 2018. . . . Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty: Land, Sex, and the Colonial Politics of State Nationalism. . . . Durham:  Duke University Press. . . .

Kameʻeleihiwa, Lilikalā. 1992. Native Land and Foreign Desires:  How Shall We Live in Harmony (Ko Hawaiʻi ʻĀina a me nā Koi Puʻumake a ka Poʻe Haole:  Pehea Lā E Pono Ai?). . . . Honolulu:  Bishop Museum Press. . . .

Nā Mamo o Hawaiʻi. 1994. Statement at Pūalu conference on Hawaiian sovereignty. Unpublished paper in possession of author Silva, and quoted in Goldberg-Hiller, Jonathan. 2002. The Limits to Union: Same-Sex Marriage and the Politics of Civil Rights. Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan, 157.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). 2018. . . . “Haumea: Transforming the Health of Native Hawaiian Women and Empowering Wāhine Well-Being.” Honolulu:  Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Osorio, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani. 2021. Remembering Our Intimacies: Moʻolelo, Aloha ʻĀina, and Ea. . . . Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.

Pukui, Mary Kawena. 1986. ʻŌlelo Noʻeau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. . . . Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

Ramirez, Renya. 2007. “Race, Tribal Nation, and Gender.” Meridians 7, no. 2: 22–40.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. 1984. “Fighting the Battle of Double Colonization: The View of a Hawaiian Feminist.” Working paper #52, Michigan State University Office of Women in International Development. . . .

Wong, Jennifer W. H., Vincent V. La, Steph E. Lee, and Shandhini Raidoo. 2020. “The ALOHA Study: Intimate Partner Violence in Hawai’i’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community.” Hawaii Journal of Health & Social Welfare 79, no. 6 (June 1):187-193.