This essay focuses on the case study of Native Hawaiians and the backlash against sovereignty struggles by neoconservatives who appropriate civil rights rhetoric to claim “reverse racism” in order to dismiss indigenous national claims as exclusionary. For indigenous peoples in the United States, along with those in the U.S. territories who may or may not be indigenous, the political project of civil rights throughout the last forty years has always been fraught, given the history of U.S. settler colonialism, distinctly different relationships to the nation-state, as well as different types of citizenship, and especially given the history of forced inclusion within the United States as the American Republic appropriated indigenous territory in the service of imperialist expansion. Thus, issues relating to territory, sovereignty, and nationhood structure colonized peoples' relationship to the nation-state and make for radically different goals than those that emerge from the project of civil rights. The conflation of race and indigeneity is one of the central problems in asserting the distinction between civil rights and sovereignty claims, especially as the racialization of native peoples as both “special interest groups” and “racial minorities” is deployed in the service of undermining the unique legal status of indigenous peoples under both U.S. federal law and international law. This changing political terrain creates the need for multiple interventions on different fronts when challenging the logic and workings of settler colonialism.

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