How Hawai‘i Forces Us to Redefine the Meaning of ‘Native’

An Environmental Historian Argues That Being Indigenous Is More Alchemy Than Fact

I was born in the Territory of Hawai‘i, three weeks before statehood. As a kid I played in its dirt, ran around in the rain (my hometown of Hilo is one of the two or three rainiest cities in the United States), clambered up trees and vines, and swam in the spectacular ocean waters.

I was of the islands; yet I was not. My dad was from Chicago and my mom from Salt Lake City. Certainly, if anyone had asked me, I would have replied that I was a native—after all, …