Brower wrote her book around her experience working within the Hawai'i resistance.

The Humanities Building Commons echoed with words like “cancer,” “capitalism” and “seeds” on Friday evening.

The event, led by sociology lecturer Andrea Brower, addressed the subject of her most recent publication, "Seeds of Occupation, Seeds of Possibility." The book is a comprehensive analysis of the domination of the chemical-seed and GMO industry in Hawai’i, as well as the social movements that have grown to resist the corporate forces.  

“It’s turned into the biggest issue the island has ever seen,” Brower said.

The book comes from her experience working within the Hawai’i resistance, in addition to her research of the history and current context of the islands’ food sovereignty movement.  

“This book aims to do a few things," Brower said. "First is just to understand the rise of this industry and situate it within the dynamics of capitalism. This is so that we can say, ‘this is no accident’ and then what I really want to do was understand why they’re in Hawai’i.” 

Brower started the book talk by asking students and faculty in the audience what comes to mind when thinking about agriculture in Hawai’i.

Brower then outlined the main arguments within her book. She said that corporate giants like Monsanto (recently acquired by and known as Bayer), driven by capitalism and neoliberal ideologies, have exploited the agricultural industry in Hawai’i due to decades of systemic oppression of the islands’ Indigenous peoples.  

Corporations like Bayer not only have a history of producing toxic pesticides but also currently maintain a vast monopoly on the world’s seed patents. According to Brower, these "Big-Ag” companies control the majority of the food that is consumed by Americans. 

Brower said having an understanding of Hawai’i’s history, along with the history of companies like Monsanto, is important to have a holistic comprehension of the issue. Brower said recognizing historical context is the basis for creating change. 

“Looking at the history provides an explanation for what we’re seeing now,” Brower said.

She then highlighted the human health issues that have arisen as a result of the highly unregulated use of pesticides on Hawai’i. She has over 10 years of experience working on the issue and said this is a classic case of environmental injustice.

“You have these big polluting industries that are located primarily in communities of color and working-class communities,” Brower said.  

Presenting aerial landscape pictures, Brower showed how agricultural companies would spray pesticides upwind from residential areas, schools and hospitals. Brower said there is an undeniable correlation between unprecedented cancer, birth defects and illness rates in the areas adjacent to heavy pesticide use.  

The problem, Brower said, is that it has been difficult for people to create a strong collective legal case against these companies because of the lack of credible data and comprehensive studies done on the issue. 

“The onus of truth is put upon the people most impacted,” Brower said.  

Brower invited Noralis Rodriguez-Coss to the podium to present on the effects of the agricultural industry on Puerto Rico. Rodriguez-Coss is a Women's & Gender Studies assistant professor at GU who conducts research on Puerto Rico.  

Rodriguez-Coss addressed the similarities between Hawai’i and Puerto Rico. Her argument supported Brower's presentation but also added a different case study of the issue.  

Wendy Thompson, the director of the Office of Tribal Relations, closed the book talk. Thompson spoke to her experience witnessing the effects of European colonialism within her own tribe’s history and she thanked Brower for hosting the conversation around the issue of exploitation. 

“Before, this wouldn’t be something that would be talked about,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing to see that this conversation is happening now.”

Rachel Hokkanen, a GU student, reflected on the event.

“Dr. Brower’s confidence and intelligence filled the room. I am incredibly moved,” Hokkanen said.

First year student Alastar Collins also echoed this sentiment.

“It was really impactful and insightful,” Collins said.

Brower said the main message she wants people to take away from her book is that what’s happening in Hawai’i is not a one-off. 

“Even though what I’m talking about is a very specific topic and example, I’m trying to emphasize the deeper roots that all of us are up against in every other social struggle,” Brower said. “It’s entirely related to any struggle here in the local community of Spokane. It’s only when we build a mass movement, that’s attending to these roots, that we can create real change.” 


Lily Johnson is a staff writer.