HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke is on a mission to reaffirm that state’s commitment to Hawaiian language learning. Luke visited the Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu Iki Laboratory Public Charter School on Friday, Jan. 27.
In this visit, Luke learned first-hand the incredible achievements but also the enormous challenges to educating preschool to high school aged keiki.
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
The Lt. Governor spent her day talking to students and sharing her own experiences of learning and sharing her Korean language and culture. She said that it is integral to students to be able to speak in their own culture’s language.
“The fact that we have a school that is dedicated to the Hawaiian language medium; to speak ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, it’s not just as simple as language itself,” noted Luke.
“It is really about learning about culture and kuleana through language and the interaction that you have with kids as young as three years old, pre-schoolers to 12th graders and for them to be excited about going to school and for them to learn the culture and all the experiences that ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi delivers; it was just so incredible,” explained Luke.
According to Lt. Gov. Luke, she spent the day touring the campus with students.
She also took the time to sit down with Hawaiian Education leaders in order to learn about the Hawaiian Medium Education Teacher Training Pipeline. This included learning about the work being done at ʻAha Pūnana Leo, the Hawaiian Medium preschool which will soon celebrate its 40 year anniversary. .
“It is nice to see how the resources that the Legislature dedicated in recent years for Hawaiian Language Medium are being put to use,” said Luke.
“I am dedicated to continuing efforts in this area because parents should not only have the choice but they have a constitutional right to have their children educated at a Hawaiian Language Medium preschool and beyond,” added Luke.
“We’re really happy and proud that we made it this far. The beginning of the Pūnana Leo was really about a dream and trying to address the urgency of our native speakers passing away,” said Kauanoe Kamanā, director of Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu.
“We are actually reversing the negative impact of the overthrow of our government 130 years ago by bringing our language back through the voices of our children and to see our Hawaiian worldview in everything that they do,” noted Kamanā.
In 1896, the Republic of Hawai’i, which was led by the U.S. industrialists who had overthrown the sovereign state of Hawai’i and its monarchy in 1893, enacted an English language preference act that financially punished schools that taught in any language other than English.
This tried and true method used for colonization was used in Hawai’i as a means of extirpating sovereignty from the people, replacing their history with a new, Euro-American-oriented one.
According to Paul F. Nahoa Lucas — who wrote E Ola Mau Kākou I Ka ‘Ōlelo Makuahine: Hawaiian Language Policy and the Courts — schools used corporal punishment and social sanctions to deter students from using ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i. Schools began to ban its usage, and it was strictly forbidden to use ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i anywhere within schoolyards or buildings.
By 1917, Lucas found that “[t]here is no child under 15 years of age who can converse correctly in the mother tongue of this land.”
In the 1970s, a resurgence began that pushed Native Hawaiians to connect with their culture, heritage and kuleana. This led the Hawai’i State Legislature to recognize ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i as the state’s official language in 1978.
In 1983, Aha Pūnana Leo was created by a small group of ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi educators who sought to revive ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi as a medium of instruction.
Today, the ʻImiloa is a Hawaiian Language Medium consortium leader that ensures education assets for the growth of Hawaiian Medium Education throughout the State of Hawaiʻi.
Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8
“The Lt. Governor clearly understands the need to perpetuate Hawaiian language and culture through our youngest learners,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director of ʻImiloa. “We look forward to working with her in her efforts to make preschool more accessible to families seeking Hawaiian Medium Education.”