Imagine Otherwise: Maile Arvin on Kuleana and Indigenous Feminist Community

Jun 24, 2021 | Podcast

Community building is a cornerstone of progressive social and intellectual movements. Resisting capitalist individualism, we know how vital social bonds are in sustaining our identities, our dreams, and even our very lives.

But it’s easy to romanticize community and forget the work involved in forging and tending those social bonds—labor that often reflects the very power dynamics that we seek to dismantle.

In episode 136 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview Kānaka Maoli feminist scholar Maile Arvin who explains why she approaches community building through the Native Hawaiian concept of kuleana, or a reciprocal relationship of responsibility.

In our conversation, Maile and I consider the racially gendered labor of community and responsibility as well how Native Hawaiian communities and curators are drawing on both to transform colonial legacies.

We close out the episode with Maile’s vision of imagining otherwise in the classroom through centering decolonization and accessibility in her Indigenous feminist pedagogy.

Maile Arvin wearing a black and white coat. Quote reads: I try to move away from a generalized idea of community to get really specific about relationships and responsibilities. In Hawaiian epistemology, we have this word kuleana, which has a lot of connotations of geneaology and determines relationships and responsibilities that you have to other people and to the land.
Maile Arvin wearing a black and white coat. Quote reads: I’m trying to get students to recognize that Indigenous communities have always had the answers to the problems that they’re facing. The point of my classroom is not to teach students that they need to help Indigenous people but that Indigenous people have a lot to teach them.

Maile Arvin

Maile Arvin is a Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) feminist scholar who works on issues of race, gender, science, and colonialism in Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific.

She is an assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah and the codirector of the Pacific Islands Studies Program.

Maile is the author of Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʻi and Oceania (Duke University Press, 2019) and her scholarship and commentary has been published in Meridians, American Quarterly, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, The Scholar & Feminist, Feminist Formations, and Truthout.

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