UH Hilo political science department to launch new course on Indigenous conflict resolution

“Students get excited when the wisdom of their ancestors is acknowledged and celebrated,” says political scientist and educator Tim Hansen about teaching the culturally-infused course. 

By Riana Jicha.

Tim Hansen pictured
Timothy Hansen

A course on Indigenous conflict resolution has recently been approved to start this fall at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The course, housed in the Department of Political Science and taught by political scientist and lecturer Timothy Hansen, is the first of its kind at UH Hilo. The class is created as part of the Certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution program that will also begin this fall.

The new course centers on the conflict resolution practices of Indigenous and Native peoples spanning the Asia-Pacific region to Europe. Studies will focus on where old practices meet the systems of today to transform and improve current processes through common values found in Indigenous traditions such as the principles of mutual trust, respect, equality, and honesty.

Guest speakers will also lecture and facilitate further conversation during the course.

Hansen’s classes often bridge the gap for Native students to connect to their culture and place in justice; prior courses he’s taught have also focused on Indigenous practices. As a strong proponent of restorative justice, where the victims of crime are given a voice in the criminal justice system including directly speaking to the offender, Hansen often talks about Native American, Hawaiian, and other groups’ methods of dealing with an offender from peace circles to ho‘oponopono.

“Students get excited when the wisdom of their ancestors is acknowledged and celebrated,” Hansen says about teaching culturally-infused courses. “My hope is that awakening that acknowledgment will remind them to look back as they look forward.”

Hansen formed his first connection between the land and community in Minnesota where he was born. He says he still identifies as a “farm boy” as it keeps him grounded in his past and future. He was the first in his family of 10 kids to attend college and he hit the ground seeking any cultural experiences he could.

He studied abroad and spent extended time in several different countries, including England, Russia, Kenya, and Türkiye. He came to Hawai‘i in 2008 with his husband and earned his master’s in social work at UH Mānoa with the explicit goal of teaching at UH Hilo.

Hansen believes the cultural adventures in his life opened his mind and interest in Indigenous history and systems. And from this, he came to believe that academia must meet the human experience in students so they can truly thrive and go on to make meaningful change in people’s lives.

“Things need to be challenged, questioned, explored, and encouraged to continue to grow and expand,” he says. “That growth can be informed by the wisdom of our ancestors.”

Developing better citizenship and studentship

Frank Kuo
Frank Kuo

Hansen’s Indigenous focus within his courses is especially fulfilling for the students at UH Hilo, ranked one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse public universities in the country. Frank Kuo, director of counseling services at UH Hilo, explains that this culturally-aware questioning provided in course content helps students develop their own identity and ideas.

“When an individual takes it upon themselves to dive deep into their own family’s history, they can understand how their family interacted with larger historical change,” says Kuo. He says that benefits student development as it increases critical thinking skills.

“The study of Native history and culture is a non-negotiable aspect of better citizenship and studentship,” explains Kuo. “This is one of the main reasons why it is taught as a part of school curricula.”

Kuo goes on to say that students’ ability to assess and investigate their own behaviors and reflect on Indigenous roots or practices is essential to growth within academia and their personal lives. He mentions that indigenous peoples commonly trace their lineages and origins from names and traditions, aiding in self-reflection. That can especially be seen within political science, where self-reflection is pivotal to forming tomorrow’s leaders. “We all need to be reminded that our peoples are survivors of this human experience.”

The coursework in the new conflict resolution class includes a research paper, where students are encouraged to research their own cultural histories around Indigenous conflict resolutions. Kuo says this type of project directly benefits the students’ community and honors their culture.

“[It also helps] students apply their learning to real-life situations, deepening their understanding of academic concepts, and strengthening their collaboration and communication skills,” says Kuo, adding that when students are creating cultural connections inside the classroom, a link is made between the past and future, showing the student possible new roles in their own community.

Finding commonality

Line drawing of a singular spiral.
Political scientist and educator Timothy Hansen says the motion reflected in a spiral, both inward and outward, perfectly symbolizes the journey in education and in life. (Image provided by Tim Hansen)

Hansen says one symbol he is drawn to is anything with a spiral.

“It feels fluid, moving dynamic,” he explains in an email with an attached line drawing of a spiral. “And the motion reflected is both inward and outward, like our journey in education and in life. We need to nurture our inward growth as well as nurturing our connections and purpose in the broader community and the world!”

He says students sometimes come to higher education institutions expecting to be spoon-fed “modern knowledge” in order to excel in the modern world. He goes on to say that students must develop through the lens of the past to understand the present, something he connects to having come from a diverse background in his journey to UH Hilo and creating the Indigenous conflict resolution course.

Hansen hopes the course will help students carefully consider the necessary balance between individual rights and freedoms within public safety, and find commonality in the shared principles of all cultures. The course will, most importantly, offer an example of representation, a learning outcome that will serve as an example inside and outside the classroom.

“There is so much to rediscover, to pay attention to, to celebrate,” he says. “The university approving the Indigenous conflict resolution class speaks volumes to the recognition and honoring of our collective human experience and deep wisdom.”

By Riana Jicha, a double major in administration of justice and political science at UH Hilo.