Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander books

Picture of palm tree silhouette at sunset. Photo by Thomas on

I meant to write this post last week to wrap up Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but the shooting in Texas and needing to reflect on that took precedent. To wrap up an extended AANHPI heritage month, let’s talk about our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander relations.

Asian Americans Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are often grouped together. While there is strength in numbers we must remember Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders need their own justices and visibility to bring these justices forward. When we are grouped together Asian Americans often overshadow their unique contributions and stories.

A few years ago, a large Asian American Pacific Islander organization asked if I would promote their book club. When I reviewed the material the list had amazing Asian authors lined up to speak, but no Pacific Islanders that I could tell. I wrote back to explicitly ask if any of the authors identified as Pacific Islanders and they gave me a weak runaround answer. I declined to share their material. The following year another intern from the same organiztaion reached out with the same request and once again the list appeared devoid of Pacific Islander authors. The poor intern got a crash course on inclusion, and was probably thinking “I’m just doing as I’m told…” I was disappointed this large organization with influence and reach did not do their homework around including Pacific Islanders. If you have Pacific Islander in your name or mission, then do your work and include authentic Pacific Islander representation. I’m pretty sure I won’t get an invitation to this organization’s swanky black-tie event – boo for me. Others have made similar Asian and Pacific Islander lists and forgotten, overlooked, skipped, or ignored including Pacific Islanders.

Here is a short list of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander authors. I’ve read some of these books and others have been recommended to me by friends that have read them.

Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel (Samoan) – A friend raved about this book for its coming of age story and how relatable it is for those with connections to the Pacific Islands’ way of life.

Song of Exile by Kiana Davenport (Native Hawaiian) – Davenport is well known for her book Shark Dialogue. In this book, Davenport writes a tale (fiction) through key moments of Hawaiian history.

Maori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood by Witi Ihimaera (Maori) has an expansive resume and career. His other well-known book and subsequent movie Whale Rider has brought the Pacific Islands to a broader audience.

From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii Revised Edition by Haunani Kay-Trask (Native Hawaiian) – The author is well-known and was her activism and teachings have shaped Hawaii and the broader region. This collection of essays shares her thoughts on Native Hawaiian rights and other topics.

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang (Asian and Native Hawaiian) – This book isn’t about the author’s Native Hawaiian experience. I’m including it because the author is Native Hawaiian AND Asian AND an expert on race. His other book on culture is amazing too. I once heard him speak at a conference and was blown away at how he was the only presenter to infuse pop-culture references (i.e. Beyonce’s Lemonade vid) into his presentation.

IEP Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner (Marshallese) is a book of poetry I found on the shelf of the Seattle Public Library. I’m glad I picked it up. The poet covers everything from her island used for nuclear testing to being on a Pacific Island and reading Little House on the Prairie.

I hope this list gives you a start to being more inclusive of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander authors and books in your reading rotation. I hope to see more Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander writers included in book lists when the heading says API/AAPI/AANHPI – do the work and be inclusive.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.