Haunani-Kay Trask, a Hawaiian leader and sovereignty activist with a distinguished career as an academic at the University of Hawaii, died today at age 71.
Trask began teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1981 and became the founding director of the university’s Center for Hawaiian Studies, although her influence was not limited to her academic career.
“She dedicated her life to the plight of Hawaiians, for the return of our lands and for the path toward sovereignty,” said Ka Lahui Hawai‘i spokeswoman Healani Sonoda-Pale in a statement. “Her voice was an important voice in our movement — probably the most important voice in our movement — in terms of uplifting, educating and empowering our people.”
Trask retired from her position at UH in 2010 but remained active in promoting Hawaiian culture and rights. The university in April announced that Trask had been elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Kekuewa Kikiloi, director of the UH Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said in a statement that Trask was a visionary leader of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
“She served her career as tenured professor in our department inspiring critical thinking and making important contributions in areas of settler colonialism and indigenous self-determination,” Kikiloi said in an email. “More importantly, she was a bold, fearless, and vocal leader that our lahui needed in a critical time when Hawaiian political consciousness needed to be nurtured. Our center mourns her passing and sends our aloha and to the Trask ‘ohana. Our department remains committed to carrying on the legacy of Professor Trask in educating and empowering the lahui.”
Hawai‘inuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge Dean Jonathan Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio also provided a statement following the news of Trask’s death.
“Professor Trask was a fearless advocate for the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and was responsible for inspiring thousands of brilliant and talented Hawaiians to come to the University of Hawai‘i,” Osorio said in a statement. “But she also inspired our people everywhere to embrace their ancestry and identity as Hawaiians and to fight for the restoration of our nation. She gave everything she had as a person to our Lahui and her voice, her writing and her unrelenting passion for justice will, like our Queen, always represent our people. E ola mau loa e Haunani Kay Trask, ‘aumakua of the poet warrior.”
Sonoda-Pale said Trask had been sick for some time, but did not disclose the details of her situation.