Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (

Title Page, Acknowledgements, Abstract, Table of Contents, Preface


Title Page, Acknowledgements, Abstract, Table of Contents, Preface

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Inbetween I
Chapter 2 -Approaching Scholarship
Inbetween II
Chapter 3 - The Western Academy Described: Purpose and Means
Inbetween III
Chapter 4 - Objectivity
Inbetween IV
Chapter 5 - Externalization of Viewpoint Unwillingness to be Affected
Inbetween V
Chapter 6 - Fact and Fiction Written vs. Oral Linear Argument
Inbetween VI
Chapter 7 - Modes of Thought Effects
Inbetween VII
Chapter 8 - Examples
Inbetween VIII
Chapter 9 - What Are Our Options?
Inbetween IX
Chapter 10 - Conclusion Responsibility






MAY 2003

Gabrielle Welford

Dissertation Committee:
LaRene Despain, Chairperson
Laura Lyons
Susan Schultz
Kathryn Takara
Paula Gunn Allen
Jon Kamakawiwo'ole Osorio

(c) Copyright 2003
Gabrielle Welford

I dedicate this work
my father, James Welford,
who supported me in the effort
and died before he could see me finish.


This dissertation has been, more than anything, a collaborative effort and a work of the heart of many. I am told a dissertation is the work of one scholar. I do not believe it. Many hands, many minds, many hearts always. One person may sit for hours and days and months putting the stuff into one piece, but it is always multiple work, vision, and words.

Among the many, beginning from the beginning, are the late Peter Winch, brilliant teacher and scholar of Wittgenstein who helped me start on this path, and Carolyn Wilde, who gently helped me see how much I didn't know; friends and sisters in transformation, Jenny James, Becky Garcia, and the women of Atlantis community, without whom I might not have survived; my dear teachers and friends, Paula Gunn Allen and Mary TallMountain, who showed me my own worth, told me I could finish, and helped me do so; my mother, Dorothy Welford, artist, friend, role model for sticking to it through things that are hard, and who has always believed in me; my sisters, Jane, Virginia, Mary, and Sheila, who love and want the best for me; my children, Annie Rowan Elfing and Tolemy Nyle Kneally, and their father, Robert Spaulding, who gave me solid help and grounding, inspiration and joy on the way; great-hearted friend and help-mate, David Purseglove, whose vision and inspiration lifted me; my dear friend Rebekah Levy, who shares so much and has always seen me; my late partner, Bill Krock, who encouraged and supported me, loved my children, and took us camping; my partner, Doug Minnick, who has continued to stand by me when I vanished into the cave of writing, helped me with ideas, and brought me cups of tea; Mary TallMountain's biographer, Yvonne Yarber who knew I would find wonderful women friends in Hawai'i and advised me to come here; my first friend on O'ahu, Dhira DiBiase, who took us into her home when we first arrived and remains staunch support and community; Donna Cashell, friend, vision spinner, who knows what I am seeing; my first friend at the university, the late Mahealani Dudoit, who helped me land here and welcomed me into her world; Marie Hara and Lorna Hershinow, who nudged and endeared me into the Hawai'i Literary Arts Council, and who are always glad when I do well; my good friend Epi Enari, without whose integrity and fearlessness this dissertation would not have been possible; my dear friends, Lynette Cruz, Keala Kelly, Noenoe Silva, and Mahealani Kamauu, who spent hours and hours of their precious time reading what I had written, giving me feedback, walking on the beach, talking and beading, talking and eating, talking and talking, who have taken me in as a friend, asked for my help, given me help, shared sorrows and joys, and without whom this dissertation would not have happened or been what it is; Manu Meyer for reading my work early on and telling me it was worth it and for providing such inspiration in her own work; Kaipo and Debbie Gorai, who open the lo'i at Kahana to hundreds of people every year and who opened their hearts and home to Doug and me; Seeti Douglass, Maria Orr, Didi Lee Kwai, June Shimokawa, Ku'ualoha Ho'omanawanui, and Gordon Lee, who have all had input and encouraged me; my office mate and friend Tia Ballantine, who has taken hours to help me tone down my words, corral huge generalizations, and who has fed me at her home many times despite being as poor as me; Houston Wood, friend and colleague, who has generously given his time and input; ally and friend, Kathy Phillips, who gifted me a scholarship when I badly needed it; and my colleague Ruth Hsu for her encouragement when I was ready to give up.

Last but not least, I want to thank the members of my committee who have stuck by me and more: LaRene Despain, my committee chair, who has seen me through every start and re-start, the permutations, triumphs and miseries of this process, who has stood behind what I wanted, trusted my judgement, and allowed me to follow a course that few others would have supported; Laura Lyons for coming along with me even when it was painful, for listening, encouraging, inspiring, for the idea of the Inbetweens; Susan Schultz for her steady and specific insistence on quality, her kind questioning, her faith in and encouragement of my writing; Kathryn Takara, my poet friend, for her vision, caring, and her deep understanding, belief and support for what I am doing; Jon Osorio for bringing me back from the brink of despair when I most needed it, for his honesty and own self-searching, for the Preface, and for the idea for Chapter 1; and, last but not least, Paula Gunn Allen, who came in to the committee late but has been with me since early, and whose mentorship and staunch friendship over the years have nurtured me and helped bring me back to my roots.

If I have forgotten anyone, it is not because you are unimportant but because I have lost my brain in this long cogitation. Please let me know, and we can go write you in at the library!


This dissertation addresses ongoing colonialism in the western academy, especially in continued analysis by non-indigenous scholars of indigenous cultures. As the daughter of colonials, my seeking to understand some of the manifestations of colonialism, to open up discussion of its mechanisms and of possibilities for change, has been the focus of years of exploration, writing, reading, talking, experimentation, re-thinking, a multitude of exchanges with others, and dreaming. The dissertation is the culmination of these endeavors in the present moment but not an end to the search.

Chapter 1 begins with a quote from Haunani-Kay Trask's From a Native Daughter: "There should be a moratorium on studying, unearthing, slicing, crushing, and analyzing us" and asks the question: "What is it to behave ethically in the context of literary studies--including, currently, in cultural studies?" The chapter then introduces problems such as appropriation, silencing, hierarchical structures, universalization of culture-specific concepts such as objectivity, along with exploration of solutions such as self-scrutiny (what Edward Said calls a "consciousness of what one really is"), engagement, and friendship as concepts helpful in decolonizing.

Chapter 2 looks at examples of current indigenous responses to western scholarship and research. These responses point to the need for serious re-evaluation of where western academics stand on research and teaching on indigenous cultures. Chapters 3 through 7 explore 10 aspects of western academic culture: purpose and means (Ch.3); objectivity (Ch.4); externalization of self and being unaffected by what one studies (Ch.5); fact and fiction, written vs. oral, and linear thought (Ch.6); and modes of thought and effects (Ch.7).

Chapter 8 examines two examples of western "metropolitan" commentary on indigenous writing and two examples of indigenous commentary, one using western theory and one based in the culture. Chapter 9 discusses possible alternative strategies to those presently accepted, and Chapter 10 concludes with a continued inventory of this author's process.

Interleaved between chapters, I have included unpaginated "Inbetweens," which offer an utterance of the problems from a more personal viewpoint.


Acknowledgments . . . . . v

Abstract . . . . . viii

Preface: From "Exchanging Hierarchy for Kinship: An O'Iwi-inspired Educational Model," by Jon K. Osorio . . . . . xii

Chapter 1 Introduction . . . . . 1

Inbetween I

Chapter 2 Approaching Scholarship . . . . . 29

Inbetween II

Chapter 3 The Western Academy Described: Purpose and Means . . . . . 50

Inbetween III

Chapter 4 Objectivity . . . . . 68

Inbetween IV

Chapter 5 Externalization of Viewpoint; Unwillingness to be Affected . . . . . 120

Inbetween V

Chapter 6 Fact and Fiction; Written vs. Oral; Linear Argument . . . . . 146

Inbetween VI

Chapter 7 Modes of Thought; Effects . . . . . 186

Inbetween VII

Chapter 8 Examples . . . . . 214

Inbetween VIII

Chapter 9 What Are Our Options? . . . . . 249

Inbetween IX

Chapter 10 Conclusion . . . . . 287

Bibliography . . . . . 296

Index . . . . . 321


by Jon Kamakawiwo'ole Osorio
"Exchanging Hierarchy for Kinship: An O'Iwi-inspired Educational Model"

I believe it is time for a major overhaul in the way our society thinks about education. In particular, I think the case can be made that most social problems attributed to the imperial expansions of the past five millenia of human history are actually rooted in our insistence on seeing the world and human beings as part of a hierarchy. Even the democratic United States with its historic opposition to European elitism has its own history of exclusions and a deep faith that meritocracy is preferable to aristocracy.

But meritocracy perpetuates many of the same kinds of disparities in income, social position and access to power and influence that the old aristocracies promoted, only with a slightly different justification, that is, if one is willing to work and sacrifice, his/her place in society could be improved, with theoretically, nothing standing in the way of achieving wealth and political power. In America today that idea has largely been refuted by the nation's history with slavery and racial discrimination, not to mention persisting gender inequalities. But competition in education continues to support a meritocracy based model.

The key question is whether education is a competitive enterprise. In a hierarchical model, there must be an individual or small group of individuals who occupy an upper strata, while the masses make up the merely good and somewhat average. One belief that undergirds this model is that the best work, the brilliant innovations, leadership in the field will naturally come from an individual or an elite, and that education should be designed to facilitate their work--to give them the freedom and the resources to create.

But what if that assumption is merely the result of the educational model? What would happen if we assumed that innovation, creativity and brilliant observations are as likely to occur when larger numbers of people are given the same kinds of encouragement and resources to succeed as we give the honors student? I believe that learning programs designed to separate and isolate students from one another on the basis of performance enhance and perpetuate hierarchical thinking and behavior. Whether or not one creates an elite based on race or on performance matters rather little because the disparities in opportunities that any sort of elitism creates is sustained over generations.

Academic communities, from admissions to the professors writing syllabi, assume that academic excellence can be predicted and evaluated strictly on what the student produces. By encouraging students to pursue high grade points and test for prestigious graduate schools, we force them to conclude that academic achievement is everything. But I have come to understand that education, when effective, is kuleana--is about responsibilities. That is, when we place our own aspirations and educational goals within the context of our families' needs, we find powerful motivations to success.

Traditional societies, and especially those in Polynesia, place a strong emphasis on family relationships and responsibilities. For a thousand years in Hawai'i, the significance of the elder sibling, or kua'ana, was reflected in the chiefly system of rank and rule. Ali'i Nui had authority over junior lineages and over the maka'ainana, but they also were believed to possess enormous responsibilities for their welfare. This is a cultural value that is not simply an historic relic but very much alive in the present. While the ali'i are no longer acknowledged, many of our families still operate on the principle that elders are to be respected and the young are to be guided to learn and accept responsibilities within the family. In fact, we tend to see these responsibilities as privileges. Kuleana is not simply a task one is forced to take on. When done properly, a kuleana is handed to a child as a task that belongs to him or her. No one else can tell that person how to do that job and this confers status and identity to the recipient.

Following on this, I describe a different model of teaching and learning which, I believe, should replace our system of leftover colonial beliefs about class and entitlement. Briefly, I see an education that addresses the very human need to feel a sense of connection and belonging, but instead of emphasizing a connection to class and our separation from other classes, our education should emphasize our connection to kin. That kinship, depending on how extensively it is defined, can connect us to our families, our ancestry, the entire race of human beings, and every organic and non-organic thing in the universe.

I am not prepared to argue that developing a sense of kinship will end ethnic or cultural differences or that it will usher in a world in which we are blind to color or differences of any kind. But I will argue that a family model of education can effectively challenge the more despicable aspects of racism that have to do with power and superiority, apartheid, and hierarchy, by accentuating a sense of responsibility, a kuleana, for our communities, by calling on us to behave as elders to those who are less well-placed.

Designing a higher education model that treats seriously the family relationships that O'Iwi (Native Hawaiians) understand and cherish means we should begin with an admission system that encourages Native people to enroll. So rather than establish an honors college in which status is conferred upon elite, achieving students simply by admitting them, I prefer admission open to anyone who wishes to try. Status in this model is earned, not just by past achievement but through maturation in the college from a kaikaina to a kua'ana, an elder in a program, part of whose responsibilities includes assisting and mentoring younger ones. The focus of this kind of academic community would be not only on personal achievement but on the successful maturation of an entire group. As such, this model encourages developing one's ability to relate to others, to lead and to follow, and to be responsible for more than one's own self.

It is worth pointing out that while western scholars are fond of criticizing the older hierarchies of nobles, kings and chiefs, those ranked systems really no longer exist. But the system of privilege that is vested in this capitalist society has not ended hierarchies so much as it has replaced them with a system in which the very wealthy are more greatly removed from the everyday experience of ordinary people than the ali'i or medieval kings ever were. And it is no wonder since hierarchy is so woven into the cloak of modern society that many people assume, without questioning, that exclusivity is universally valued. This particular form of privilege by merit also allows those with the greatest status to pretend there was nothing unfair about their privilege, nothing manipulated about their access to wealth and power. At least the old Ali'i Nui were honest and open about where their power came from.

These are only models of course. Americans can be and are motivated by public service, just as individual Natives can be and are motivated to seek nothing but personal gain. But which model is more appropriate for a globe as crowded as any island, and that appears to demand more international cooperation than ever before? If our education system projects one model over the other, what sort of citizen should we expect?

The key to transforming our colleges and universities lies not only in liberalizing admissions but in insisting our students take responsibility for their education by exerting leadership and mentorship over the younger and less experienced. I have no doubt that many professors and deans will find this prospect less than attractive since we tend to promote the very elitism I find troubling in the academy. We think we derive our status from the hierarchy. I think, however, that our status is defined by the knowledge that has changed us, and our roles are defined by our kuleana with that knowledge.

In fact, our ancestors' sense of their roles as kumu (teacher and foundation) was more appropriate to what I understand as real education. They held and mediated knowledge with a clear understanding of its importance to the society. It had to be handed over, it had to be transmitted, and the knowledge was really the center of education. How fundamentally might we change not just education, but the whole society if we began to de-center the academic in favor of the knowledge and then focus on making that knowledge available and real to everyone? Will some students rise in achievement and distinguish themselves from others? No question. But perhaps by modeling a different kind of education we can encourage them not to divorce themselves from everyone else.


Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (