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ES Welcomes Professor Lani Teves

Ethnic Studies is thrilled to welcome Dr. Lani Teves.  She received her Ph.D., from the Program of American Culture at the University of Michigan in 2012, she held a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley from 2012-2013.  Her research areas include Native Pacific Cultural Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies; Decolonization in the Pacific; Comparative Indigeneity; Native and Women of Color Feminisms; Queer of Color Critique; Queer Indigeneity; Sovereignty; Performance Studies; Indigenous Theory.  She is currently working on her manuscript, Defiant Indigeneity: Kānaka Maoli Performance and the Politics of Aloha.

Q. Could you share  a little about your background and how/why you were driven to academia.
I grew up in Hawai’i across the street from Pearl Harbor, so I understood from early on the power of the twin industries of the military and tourism in Hawai’i. I also grew up in a time when the modern Hawaiian sovereignty movement became very prominent. Many of the leaders of that movement were scholars and activists whose books, speeches, and public performances really inspired me to question what was going on in Hawai’i. I began to wonder, how does someone become a professor?

I was also very active in music and performing. As I got more involved in the local music scene I began to make the connection between the pressures of Hawaiian indigeneity and the constraints it puts on expression and creativity. When I went to community college, Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies courses really opened up my world and gave me the space to think about these things and to understand how all culture is political. Luckily, professors (in Ethnic Studies!) encouraged me and eventually helped me go to graduate school in Michigan. Haunani-Kay Trask told me that if I didn’t go, she’d beat me up! So, I went and it was the best thing I ever did. I always associated academia with activism and nurturing future generations of rabble-rousers, so here I am!

Q. Could you describe your research and how you got involved/interested in it?
My research is essentially about how indigeneity is performed. I use performance as a framework to analyze how all identities are imposed and maintained, imagined and real. I look specifically at how Native Hawaiian identity is attached to the Hawaiian concept of “aloha” and how it is used to discipline Native Hawaiians into docile Natives in the service of tourism and ongoing occupation. Rather than dismiss Hawaiian investments in “aloha” as being colonized or duped, I examine how Native Hawaiians retain aloha and rearticulate it to center community connectedness and belonging in unexpected places—such as in a freestyle battle or during a drag performance. My manuscript explores these spaces and other kinds of Hawaiian cultural productions, like ghost tours, plays, and short stories. I became interested in these different sites of performance because of my own experiences performing in punk bands and hanging around the non-Hawaiian music scene in Hawai’i when I was younger. These overlooked spaces got me questioning how “Hawaiianness” and “Nativeness” in general is policed by the State and within our own communities.

Q. What are you most looking forward to in terms of your new career here at the UO, and life in Eugene?
I’m really looking forward to building connections between Native Studies and Pacific Islander issues. I want to expose students to a different story about indigeneity, one that is thriving, complex, and global. The fact that the department has a Native Studies minor really speaks to how indigenous issues are not an afterthought here. So, I’m just elated to be part of this vibrant department with faculty that are intellectually engaged and committed to students. I feel very lucky to be in such a welcoming department and I’m excited to contribute to the intellectual life on campus. Off campus, I am hoping to connect with the surrounding communities of color and increase discussions of race and indigeneity in Eugene.

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