Pouhana O Nā Wāhine Organizing Efforts To Increase the Safety of Native Hawaiian Women: An Exercise of Native Hawaiian Sovereignty

By Rosemond K. Pettigrew, Dayna Schultz, NaniFay Paglinawan, Dolly Tatofi, Native Hawaiian, Board of Directors, Pouhana O Nā Wāhine and Paula Julian, Filipina, Editor, Restoration Magazine
Article 12 section 7 of the Hawaii State Constitution is based on access rights to gather from the mountain to the sea. This is photo of the Ahupuaʻa o Kahakuloa on the north side of Maui. Photo courtesy of Rosemond K. Pettigrew

Native Hawaiian women represent the highest percentage of victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking within Hawaiʻi. The Pouhana O Nā Wāhine (PONW)1, a nonprofit collective of Native Hawaiian women, is organizing to change this unacceptable reality. We understand the violence and injustice we have experienced as Native Hawaiians. We are committed to working with Native Hawaiian and non-Native Hawaiian organizations to identify a Native Hawaiian plan of action or platform for change. 

We understand that relying solely on current non-Indigenous responses to domestic violence and sexual assault are short-term, temporary solutions which do not fully address the needs of Native Hawaiians. In partnership with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) and the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC), we are developing an organizing curriculum based on a Native Hawaiian worldview for addressing the injustices and trauma we have suffered. 

The U.S. Apology, signed into law in 1993 (PL 103-150), included recognition of “the long-range economic and social changes in Hawaiʻi over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been devastating to the population and to the health and well-being of the Hawaiian people” and commitment to reconciliation between the U.S. and Native Hawaiian people.

The U.S. Government Acknowledging Responsibility: DOI Final Rule for Reestablishing Government-to-Government  Relationship

Six years ago, on October 14, 2016, the U.S. Department of Interior released a final rule titled Procedures for Reestablishing a Formal Government-to-Government Relationship With the Native Hawaiian Community (43 CFR Part 50). The Final Rule came 23 years after the Apology and decades filled with congressional hearings, public comment, and discussion to understand the injustice of the 1893 overthrow of the Constitutional Monarchy and the Hawaiian Kingdom. The release of the Final Rule was a historic step toward laying a “proper foundation for reconciliation.”2

The final rule establishes the Secretary of the Interior’s process and criteria for “reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community to more effectively implement the special political and trust relationship that Congress established between that community and the United States.” This federal government process includes a process for the Secretary to receive, evaluate, and act on the request, including a process for public comment. 

Recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to serve as the statutorily created Native Hawaiian Resource Center on Domestic Violence, the Pouhana will schedule organizing discussions starting in 2023 with Native Hawaiian communities and organizations. These discussions aim to develop a Native Hawaiian political platform for change removing systemic barriers while addressing microinvalidations facing Native Hawaiian women and communities. The PONW will also educate and strengthen our partnership with policymakers and allies in the state, with Indian tribes and Tribal organizations, and across the nation. These partnerships will help ensure we can remove systemic barriers and effect changes that uphold Native Hawaiian sovereignty, and highlight the need for increasing Native Hawaiian women’s safety. We will also explore the development of a Safety for Native Hawaiian Women Title within the 2027 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Sovereignty and Safety for Native Hawaiian Women

We look forward to discussions about how we exercise our sovereignty and understand the struggles of the past 130 years since the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani and the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, including the high rates of domestic violence and sex trafficking. Western influences and behaviors of misperceived power and control continue to feed the internalized violence and trauma against our people. 

Based on experiences in our Native Hawaiian communities, we see the devastating impact of domestic violence and how our people struggle with non-Native Hawaiian services and system responses—both government and nonprofit. The disparities we experience are reminders of how real oppression and colonization remain in our lives.

Strengthening our way of life to address violence against wāhine is linked to recognizing the identity and authority of Native Hawaiians as a nation.”

The path to safety for Native Hawaiian women is connected to recognizing, restoring, and strengthening the beliefs and lifeways of Native Hawaiian people that did not value such violence, imbalance, and disrespect. We are committed to reawakening a sense of lōkahi (unity, agreement) and being pono (balanced), which is who we are as Native Hawaiian people.

Native Hawaiian people had their government structure and processes overthrown by the United States, including their sacred practices and ceremonies. Native Hawaiian organizations meet the different needs of Native Hawaiians, and we have seen the development of many organizations addressing the disparities in our communities. Strengthening our way of life to address violence against wāhine is linked to recognizing the identity and authority of Native Hawaiians as a nation. We also need resources to implement the programs rooted in Native Hawaiian voices, language, and teachings. Culturally appropriate programs to support Native Hawaiian families are essential to healing and revealing our true way of life. 

Translation of Pouhana O Nā Wāhine is Pillars of Women.
Apology Resolution at 1513.