From Engagement to Evidence


One of the most important tasks the Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) prepares for each December is presenting powerful recommendations on education to the U.S. Department of Education. These recommendations are born from, and for, the community.

NHEC works annually in community consultations and engagement sessions, diverse dialogue, and ongoing education research and advocacy in existing educational programs addressing Native Hawaiians in our process to bring forward these annual recommendations.

The stories and data gathered from the community are synthesized by combining multiple data sources into major findings to understand commonalities between individual data points, analyzed against trends including previous priority recommendations on education by NHEC, and benchmarked with external research sources in education and community wellbeing.

NHEC is focusing this month’s column on our first priority of Hawaiian language- medium instruction. Here is our full priority recommendation write-up from our annual report:

“PRIORITY FUNDING RECOMMENDATION: Assert Hawaiian language-medium instruction and culture-based education programs, frameworks, and values as principal in addressing equity, resiliency, and social-emotional wellbeing for increased Native Hawaiian learner outcomes and closing achievement gaps.

“The ability for a stabilized learning continuum and connection for Native Hawaiian communities to engage in cultural practices in a pandemic crisis of emerging COVID variants remains critical. This is critical to life as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) have the highest death rates from COVID-19 compared with any other racial group (Hofschneider, 2020). This is also critical to healthcare access as NHPIs have the highest rate of COVID-19 cases compared to other racial and ethnic groups (UH News, 2020).

“The pandemic put a historical context of disease population decimation of Native Hawaiians due to American imperialism and its impact on loss of cultural practices, language, and land (NHEA, 2015). Ramifications of this – directly and indirectly – adversely affect long-standing mistrust of government institutions and increased vaccination hesitancy of NHPIs in the pandemic (UH News, 2022). To address this crisis, the Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response, Recovery, and Resilience Team was formed. This multi-agency team understood that culture-based programs and cultural belief systems and practices are powerful tools for helping Native Hawaiian communities make sense of and interpret the pandemic and its effects. For example, the team supported the creation of a Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area to connect culturally based practices, sustainable food systems, and public health benefits for NHPI communities (Kamaka, et al., 2021).

“Native Hawaiians have strong connections to ʻāina (land, place), culture, and language and thus are socially and culturally impacted by the pandemic (Kaholokula, Samoa, Miyamoto, Palafox, & Daniels, 2020). Participants of NHEC’s 2022 community consultations reported a strong connection to culture and language in order to be successful. ʻCultural programming, values, learning ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, ‘āina work is all so necessary,’ reflected an Oʻahu participant, ʻand that’s not what I used to say, but this pandemic has completely changed my perspective.’ (Native Hawaiian Education Council, 2022)

“Priority funding for Hawaiian language-medium education and Hawaiian culture-based education programs in the next NHEP grant competition is paramount for supporting Native Hawaiian learner outcomes including resiliency and social-emotional wellbeing.”

The work that goes into producing these priority recommendations each year is a labor of love. To see our full report and priority recommendations, please visit our website at