by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui

About J. Kēhaulani Kauanui

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui is Associate Professor in the Departments of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity.


The keyword “indigenous” has varied genealogies in the fields of American studies and cultural studies. American studies scholarship has tended to use the terms “Indian” and “Native” to refer to indigenous peoples of North America, whereas the field of cultural studies has typically used the terms “Native,” “Indigenous,” and, in some contexts, “Aboriginal” interchangeably. “Indigenous” peoples in what is regarded by most people as the United States (although the very boundaries of the nation-state are contested by enduring indigenous presence and assertions of sovereignty) include American Indians and Alaska Natives (including Inuits and Aleutians) who constitute 566 federally recognized tribal nations and villages (Bureau of Indian Affairs 2012). From the island Pacific and Caribbean, there are also Native Hawaiians, American Samoans, Chamorros (Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), and Taino/Jibara-identified people (Puerto Rico). While all of these peoples can make cases for distinct political statuses based on their indigeneity, four historical and political realities set American Indians apart: they were the original inhabitants of what is now considered the United States; their existence necessitated the negotiation of political compacts, treaties, and alliances with European nations and the United States; they are recognized sovereigns and subject to the U.S. trust doctrine, a unique legal relationship with the U.S. federal government that entails protection; the United States asserts plenary power over tribal nations that is exclusive and preemptive (Wilkins and Stark 2011, 33–37).