The Effron Center welcomes Professor J. Kēhaulani Kauanui as the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Professor of Indigenous Studies, Professor of Anthropology

Written by
Effron Center for the Study of America Log
Effron Center
April 1, 2024

Princeton University is thrilled and honored to welcome J. Kēhaulani Kauanui as the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Professor of Indigenous Studies, Professor of Anthropology in the Effron Center for the Study of America and the Department of Anthropology. Kauanui is a renowned scholar and author whose work delves into consequential issues of Hawaiian indigeneity, Indigenous sovereignty, settler colonialism, decolonization, anarchist history and activism, critical race studies, and gender and sexuality studies. A recipient of the 2022 American Indian History Lifetime Achievement Award, Kauanui is internationally recognized for her tireless, inspiring leadership in the fields of Indigenous history and comparative Native and Indigenous studies.

“I'm excited to be part of both the renowned anthropology department and the new Effron Center with its focus on cutting edge interdisciplinary scholarship -- and especially thrilled as part of a campus-wide initiative to build Native American and Indigenous studies. It is a great honor to join the faculty at Princeton."

Kauanui earned her Ph.D. in History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She comes to Princeton from Wesleyan University, where she has been a professor of American studies and anthropology since 2000. Notably, Kauanui was one of the six co-founders of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), where she has served in various leadership roles since its inception. She was also an elected member of the national council of the American Studies Association and President of the New England American Studies Association.

Kauanui’s most recent book, Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (2018), examines contradictions of indigeneity and self-determination in U.S. domestic policy and international law. In the book, she demonstrates how Hawaiian elites’ approaches to reforming and regulating land, gender, and sexuality in the early nineteenth century paved the way for sovereign recognition of the Hawaiian Kingdom, while continuing to complicate contemporary nationalist activism today that can disavow the indigeneity of the Kanaka Maoli (Indigenous Hawaiian) people.

“J. Kēhaulani Kauanui’s leadership and scholarship on Indigenous studies and settler-colonial studies has been field defining,” said Aisha Beliso-De Jesús, Chair of the Effron Center for the Study of America and Olden Street Professor of American Studies. “In her ambitious scholarship, Professor Kauanui draws on a deep understanding of gender and feminism to rethink questions of sovereignty and decolonization in Hawai’i and also worldwide. We are truly fortunate to have her joining the Effron Center faculty and community.”

In addition to Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty, Kauanui is the author of other important books. The edited volume Speaking of Indigenous Politics: Conversations with Activists, Scholars, and Tribal Leaders (2018) features interviews from her public affairs radio show “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,” which aired on WESU from 2007 to 2013. The show was widely syndicated across a dozen states on Pacifica radio affiliate stations.

Kauanui’s first book Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity (2008) is a comprehensive history and analysis of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) of 1921, a federal law that equates Hawaiian cultural identity with a quantifiable amount of blood. This “blood logic,” which has become an entrenched part of the legal system in Hawai‘i, effectively dilutes the number of state-recognized Native Hawaiians, thereby reducing them to a racial minority. Anthropologist Eugene Ogan described the book as “required reading.”

Kauanui co-edits a book series called “Critical Indigeneities” for the University of North Carolina Press, and recently guest-edited a special issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies, “The Politics of Indigeneity, Anarchist Praxis, and Decolonization.” She serves on the editorial boards of the journals AGITATE!, American Indian Quarterly, and Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being, and has co- and guest-edited special issues of journals such as Pacific Studies, The Contemporary Pacific, and Cultural Anthropology.

Currently, Kauanui is working on a new book project, provisionally titled Hawaiian Decolonization and the Dilemma of Feminism, as well as a long-term research project, Hawaiian New England: Christian Conversion and Colonial Grammar.

In addition to the American Indian History Lifetime Achievement Award, Kauanui’s honors are numerous. She is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and has held fellowships from: the School of Advanced Research; Institute for Citizens & Scholars; Smithsonian Institution; Rockefeller Archives Center; National Science Foundation; Fulbright Scholarship in Maori Studies at the University of Auckland; and Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury. She has also held an appointment as an Organization of American Historians (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer.

Kauanui’s scholarly articles appear in dozens of edited collections including: Allotment Stories: Narrating Indigenous Land Relations Under Settler Siege; Keywords for American Cultural Studies; and Ethnographies of U.S. Empire; as well as journals including: Postcolonial Studies, Journal of Popular Music Studies, and South Atlantic Quarterly. She has also written powerfully on Hawaiian sovereignty politics for the Guardian UK, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu Advertiser, and The Honolulu Weekly.

We are thrilled to welcome J. Kēhaulani Kauanui to the Effron Center family, where her expertise and passion will enrich our community, and bring strong leadership to the further development of Native American and Indigenous studies at Princeton.