Multiple literacies as an unsettlement: Jennifer Darrah-Okike, ‘”The decision you make today will affect many generations to come”: Environmental assessment law and Indigenous resistance to urbanization’, Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 2019


Abstract: In the early 2000s, the rural and predominantly Native Hawaiian Moloka‘i community faced another episode in a decades-long struggle against the commodification of sacred lands in the context of settler colonialism. In this paper I analyze a decisive moment in the land struggle: a public hearing over a legally mandated environmental impact assessment. Environmental assessments promise to improve environmental outcomes via public participation, but have often fallen short as a means to assert the values and interests of Indigenous communities. This paper adds insight into why this happens and shows how one community overcame the political limitations of the environmental assessments process. Through an analysis of public records and interview data, I show how corporate landowners engaged in extensive community consultation to pursue their commercial interests, in anticipation of the environmental assessments and in hopes of securing land-use approvals. However, in response, community members articulated Indigenous values and agency within (and beyond) a legal setting and environmental review process partially at odds with such values. I argue that defenders of a culturally sacred place, Lā‘au Point, both deployed and resisted Hawai‘i’s land-use and environmental laws. They leveraged the formal legal criteria of the environmental review process, yet they affirmed cultural meanings and relationships of moral responsibility to land by deploying multiple literacies—legal literacies as well as land and culture-based literacies—to protect a cherished place. Overall, this case study reveals the diversity, complexity, and resilience of Native Hawaiian resistance to urbanization and settler colonialism.

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