Haunani-Kay Trask, a Hawaiian leader and sovereignty activist with a distinguished career as an academic at the University of Hawaii, died Saturday at age 71.
Trask’s sister, Mililani Trask, addressed her death in a Facebook post and called her a “hero and mentor.”
“I am sending my aloha to all of you at this time for your outpour of love and honoring of my beloved sister and comrade, Dr. Haunani Kay Trask, my kua‘ana, hero and mentor as she ascends into the lewalani to be with Akua, our ‘aumakua and kupuna,” the post said. “She has gone through the Alaula, the portal of the first light of dawn to be embraced and eternally immortalized for the uplifting of her people, the kanaka maoli of this pae‘aina, Hawai‘i nei.”
The sovereignty organization Ka Lahui Hawai‘i on Facebook shared a post recalling Trask’s legacy, “We love you our great kumu, leader, and voice for our Lahui! Ue na lani.”
Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “The image I hold of Haunani-Kay Trask is that of her and sister Mililani leading the March for the Onipa‘a. I remember hearing the words Ku‘e for the first time. I remember studying her and Mili’s work along with Mits Uyehara in the creation of Ka Lahui. May we remember her and irrespective of how you may feel about Haunani-Kay, acknowledge and respect her deep commitment to her people, the Hawaiian culture and the desire to make the rest of us aware.”
State Sen. Dru Mamo Kanuha (D, Naalehu-Kailua-Kona) said: “I am grateful to Dr. Trask’s body of work. As a kanaka, she has advanced our issues in activism, academia and has empowered generations of native Hawaiians to engage politics and education. She passing is a huge loss for Hawaiians and a monumental loss for Hawaii.”
Ka Lahui Hawaii said Haunani-Kay Trask was born Oct. 3, 1949. She was a longtime educator and started teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1981, eventually becoming the founding director of the university’s Center for Hawaiian Studies.
Trask retired from her position at UH in 2010 but remained active in promoting Hawaiian culture and rights. The university in April announced that Trask had been elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
USA Today last year named Trask as one of Hawaii’s Women of the Century for being an “early and fearless leader of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, fighting for self-determination of the Hawaii people.”
Trask was outspoken about Native Hawaiian sovereignty and rights, and brazen about decrying “white racism” and the “genocide of Native people,” as she did in a 1991 speech at UH.
She was not always well-received, as was the case when she appeared on television and referred to Hawaii as “stolen land.” In a 1990 episode of the “Local Issues” television show, Trask also defended the use of the word “haole” after Joey Carter, then a UH student, published an article in the UH campus newspaper, Ka Leo O Hawai‘i, that complained about the use of the word.
Any pushback that came Trask’s way did little to slow her down.
On the show Trask, who at the time was the director of UH’s Center for Hawaiian Studies, said, “Who is Mr. Carter or any other white person to tell a Hawaiian that we cannot use the word haole? That is our word. Now, white people don’t like that because they’re used to being the people who name other people, and so they come here and they think that it’s a bad word, that it’s pejorative. It’s not pejorative — it’s descriptive.”
Trask published essays and books of poetry. In 1993 she published the book “From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii,” a widely read collection of essays about the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
Trask attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in her 1996 essay “Feminism and Indigenous Hawaiian Nationalism” said that her time away from Hawaii helped her understand how “capitalism and racism sustained each other, how the world of hatred the haole had made in the United States originated in the colonial period when the Native-American tribes suffered an onslaught of genocide under the ‘freedom- loving’ presidents Washington, Jefferson, and the rest. An adoration of violence had driven the United States into war after war.”
Jonathan Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, dean of the Hawai‘inuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, said that Trask “inspired people everywhere.”
“Professor Trask was a fearless advocate for the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and was responsible for inspiring thousands of brilliant and talented Hawaiians to come to the University of Hawai‘i,” Osorio said in a statement. “But she also inspired our people everywhere to embrace their ancestry and identity as Hawaiians and to fight for the restoration of our nation. She gave everything she had as a person to our Lahui and her voice, her writing and her unrelenting passion for justice will, like our Queen, always represent our people. E ola mau loa e Haunani Kay Trask, ‘aumakua of the poet warrior.”
U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, in a statement, said Trask “inspired and empowered generations of young scholars. Mahalo nui loa for your immeasurable contributions to the advancement of Native Hawaiians and indigenous people everywhere.”