Trisha Kehaulani Watson: Don't Raise The Hawaiian Flag In The Name Of Rejecting Vaccines - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


Opinion article badgeThroughout the course of history, no arrow in the quiver of colonization has been more devastating than disease.

From Westerners’ very first steps onto our shores in the 18th century, it was disease, unleashed from ships and sailors, that would cripple the Hawaiian people. Disease emptied our lo’i and our kauhale (extended family living). Disease emptied once healthy wombs and left Hawaiian women devastatingly infertile. More often than not, foreigners never needed to raise arms against Hawaiians — introduced diseases more than sufficiently did the work of killing our people.

I haven’t been able to write lately because I’m angry. I’m so, so angry. I am angry that my own people have so grotesquely perverted their sense of “freedom” that they think subjecting themselves and their families to disease and death by not getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is somehow an expression of freedom.

It’s not.

Not only is an unwillingness to take the steps needed to protect your health and the health of those around you not “free” — it’s also not Hawaiian.

A Colonization Surge

Don’t think of it as Covid-19 — think of it as colonization. It’s colonization that surges across our communities today, for there is nothing in all the world more colonial than native people dying as a result of foreign disease.

I used to do a class exercise when I still taught at the University of Hawaii Manoa. I used to take my class to the lo’i (taro patch) for a few days. Everyone would assign themselves to different roles to keep the lo’i and its community healthy and thriving.

Then I’d randomly hand out colored index cards: red, yellow and green. Green cards meant you were fine. You were healthy and expected to continue your roles and responsibilities. Yellow meant you were sick, and not only were you unable to contribute to helping manage the lo’i, but those with the green cards also needed to care for you. Red cards meant you were dead.

St Ann School sign painted on the sidewalk on campus. Share Aloha Not Germs.
Vaccine refusal is not freedom, and it is not Hawaiian. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

All of a sudden, the entire dynamic of the (hypothetical) social setting changed. The lo’i was no longer manageable with the loss of labor resources and the increased need for those who were healthy to care for those who were sick.

This is the history of these islands. For hundreds of years, Hawaiians fought off not only the individual health impacts of disease, but the devastating cumulative effect disease had on families, communities and our ability to care for our ancestral lands. Part of the result was the migration of Native Hawaiian to urban settings to find work.

Today, this migration continues, only now it is the migration of Hawaiians to the continental United States. This is where the work is. This is where the affordable housing and living is. Even all these decades later – the story hasn’t really changed – Hawaiians are being pushed out of their homelands.

This certainly isn’t all the fault of Covid, but it is certainly in part the result of decades of foreign disease and colonization.

And when I see Hawaiians gathering, raising their Hawaiian flags, in the name of “freedom,” I just get angry and frustrated. Exposing yourself and your family to a deadly virus, when so many of us have been taken by disease, is not something to raise the Hawaiian flag in the name of – not now, not ever.


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About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


Latest Comments (0)

What about the natural immunity our bodies obtain from having recovered from COVID? Is it better, equal, or less than that of the vaccine? I think, in part, hesitation comes from lack of information

JP_pilau · 4 weeks ago

An excellent  article, Dr. Watson. The Hawaiian rulers all embraced scientific advances, from Kamehameha the Great, who united the islands using advanced weapons; to Kauikeaouli ( Kamehameha III), who encouraged the teaching of scientific principles to the children of the ali`i; to Alexander Liholiho and Queen Emma, who went door-to-door gathering donations to establish Queen's Hospital; to King David Kalakaua, a prolific inventor in his own right, who established electric lighting in Iolani Palace and and on the streets of Honolulu before the rest of the world. These Hawaiian leaders embraced scientific advances for the betterment of their people. Every Hawaiian should reflect on the actions of those leaders and embrace the scientific advances that have led to vaccines that are able to save lives.

Eastside_Kupuna · 1 month ago

Mahalo Trisha - absolutely agree with you! I also hope the disgusting radio ad that likens the push for vaccinations to exiling Hawaiians with leprosy to Kalaupapa has been permanently pulled!  

Native_Daughter_52 · 1 month ago

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