Introduction: Local Reaction to Global Integration-The Political Economy of Development in Indigenous Communities

By Aikau, Hokulani K.; Spencer, James H. | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, January-March 2007 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Local Reaction to Global Integration-The Political Economy of Development in Indigenous Communities


Aikau, Hokulani K., Spencer, James H., Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


The case studies explored in this volume show how indigenous communities from North America, South America, and Asia have articulated their collective interests within the context of development. This global perspective reveals at least three recurring dilemmas: Who defines the indigenous group and toward what end? How do such groups assert these identities and claims against the nation state, even as they depend on that state for legitimacy? In a fast-globalizing world of placelessness, how and why do they articulate socio-spatial identities? Presenting these cases together offers a constructive platform for better understanding conflicts between globalization and specific localities as well as indigenous reactions to development planning. KEYWORDS: indigenous politics, development, planning, globalization, locality.

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For over thirty years, Moloka'i Island residents have fought to block economic development plans to expand tourism and urbanization. Moloka'i Island is located midway between O'ahu Island to its northeast and Maui Island to its southwest. Many consider Moloka'i to be one of the few "Native Hawaiian" places in the state because the majority of the 7,300 inhabitants are Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians), the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. Despite high rates of unemployment and poverty since the closing of the pineapple industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Moloka'i residents continue to actively challenge large-scale economic development programs. In 2003, residents successfully blocked plans by cruise ship companies to include Moloka'i on their inter-island tours. More recently, in October 2006, approximately 300 activist-residents protested plans to create a large luxury subdivision at La'au Point, a pristine beach on the southwest tip of the island, by physically occupying the land where the development was to take place. Moke Kim, a resident of Moloka'i, expressed the view held by other protestors: "Everyone says that we must assimilate so that we will not be left behind.... I don't want to be assimilated. I want to be left behind." (1) The development plan, proposed by Moloka'i Ranch Ltd., a subsidiary of the multinational corporation BIL International Ltd., was in part intended to create jobs, but according to residents, these jobs would be at the expense of a particular kind of lifestyle that residents want to maintain. Rational development theory is unable to account for perspectives like those of Kim, who sees the entry of such large development plans as a choice between maintaining a rural, subsistence lifestyle and working in a low-paying service job. From the perspective of the state and the developers, Kim and other activists are irrational, and their indigenous perspectives appear to be counterproductive to the more rational project of economic expansion.

This example illustrates many of the factors involved in the political economy of development for indigenous communities. Moloka'i residents use their indigenous position, namely their pre-contact connection to the land and the distinct society that grew out of the relationship between the land, sea, and people, in order to block any further encroachment on those traditional ways of life by the State of Hawai'i, multinational corporations, and others seen as "outsiders." In a political climate in which the interests and demands of indigenous peoples are becoming widely recognized, Moloka'i residents have seen some success. One of the theoretical challenges that this case poses, however, is that by establishing their claims on the grounds of maintaining "tradition," indigeneity becomes counterposed to modernity, development, and globalization. As Frank Hirtz explains, this is one of the dilemmas of indigeneity: "Modernity needs the contrasting concept of indigeneity and tradition, whereas traditional societies in pre-modern or precolonial time did not need to establish their 'otherness' in opposition to modernity or their own history. …

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