Haunani-Kay Trask, Hawaiian scholar and activist, dies at 71

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Published: Jul. 3, 2021 at 2:24 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 3, 2021 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An iconic Native Hawaiian scholar and activist, Haunani-Kay Trask, has died Saturday morning, according to family, friends and the University of Hawaii.

In a statement, Jonathan Osorio, Dean Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge said:

“Our teacher, colleague and friend, Haunani Kay Trask passed away this morning. Professor Trask was a fearless advocate for the Kanaka Maoli and was responsible for inspiring thousands of brilliant and talented Hawaiians to come to the University of Hawaii.”

Trask was most well-known in the community for her activism, especially for her work in promoting Native Hawaiian rights and indigenous sovereignty.

One of Trask’s former students, Healani Sonoda-Pale, heard the news from Trask’s family, who said she died “peacefully.”

“It is sad news for our Hawaiian community because she has been such an important voice,” Sonoda-Pale said.

“She helped to open the minds of hundreds, perhaps thousands of young Hawaiian scholars, and many of our allies. She’s helped to build those bridges with allies around the world for the plight of Hawaiians.”

Tenured as a professor for more than 30 years at the UH Manoa, Trask worked in co-founding the contemporary field of Hawaiian studies.

She retired in 2010, having begun her academic career at UH Manoa in 1981 as an assistant professor in the American studies department with expertise in feminist theory and indigenous studies.

Trask also received one of the highest honors bestowed in academia in April. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which is among the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies.

In addition to her career in activism and academia, Trask also wrote two poetry books — “Light in the Crevice Never Seen” and “Night is a Sharkskin Drum” — and a collection of politically provocative essays, “From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii.”

“Her books that she’s written has been groundbreaking work scholarly work,” said Sonoda-Pale. “So it’s important that people realize that her legacy will live.”

She also co-wrote and co-produced the award-winning documentary “Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation,” which premiered in 1994.

Many community members said they revered Trask as one of the most influential women in Hawaiian history.

Community members and organizations took to social media to celebrate her life and her impact on Hawaii.

“I dreamt of meeting Haunani for so long, this news hit me so hard. I’ll forever hold a place for her in my heart. She was and forever will be my hero,” said a community member on Twitter.

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