The Association of Native Americans at Yale is calling for Yale’s all-female Polynesian dance group to disband. ANAAY claims the dance group is appropriating Hawaiian and Tahitian culture.
In a post on their Facebook page, ANAAY demands that the dance group, Shaka, be abolished due to their “continued hypersexualization and appropriation of Hawaiian and Tahitian cultures.”
“Shaka perpetuates stereotypes of Pacific Islanders as ever-welcoming and uncritically ‘open’ to cultural sharing during their performances,” ANAAY the Facebook statement continues.
One of ANAAY's prime concerns is that white men dance with Shaka dancers in select routines, which apparently is reminiscent of historical oppression of Native Indians by English settlers.
“Historically, they have brought white men onto the stage to 'Shake it with Shaka,' which is in line with a history of hula being manipulated and sexualized by settlers in the islands,” ANAAY states. "While they have since cut this routine, the fact that the current leaders did not see a problem with this until we called them out shows that they are not fit to lead this group.”
The Shaka dance group was founded four years ago and is named after the Hawaiian gesture ‘shaka,’ meaning ‘hang loose.’ According to the group, the hand gesture is used to convey “the friendship, love, and compassion of the ‘Aloha Spirit’ among friends and strangers alike.”
Shaka has put out their own statement addressing the accusations of cultural appropriation.
“Shaka does not intend to sexualize Polynesian culture, as we recognize the real harm that comes to indigenous peoples through the commodification and sexualization of their cultures … All of our moves are accepted within Hawaiian and Tahitian culture,” Shaka’s Facebook statement reads in part. “Our costumes are also typical and culturally appropriate.”
According to a recent publication by the Yale Daily News, animosity between ANAAY and the Shaka dance group has been going on for years. Shaka stated in an email to the Yale Daily News that efforts to collaborate with ANAAY in order to establish a “space for a productive discussion” are in progress.
ANAAY, on the other hand, believes that further allowing the dance group to exist will prolong the notion that English settlers have a right to Native-owned property.
Haylee Kushi, a Native Hawaiian and former president of ANAAY, says she doesn't like the dance group representing her culture.
“International hālau are very controversial within the Hawaiian community, so don’t take advantage of Yale students’ ignorance about the subject to act as if they are universally accepted,” Kushi stated. “You get to take off your ‘Hawaiian’ costumes at the end of the day. I don’t, and still have to face the political consequences of what you do.”
Isaiah Denby is a college freshman from Tampa Bay, Florida studying economics and political science.