By Sabrina Rose Kamakakaulani Gramberg
Aloha nui kākou a pau, e ka makamaka heluhelu o Ka Wai Ola, mai ka wai huna a ka pāoʻo aia nō i Kīlauea a hiki aku i ka wai huna a ka pāoʻo aia nō i ka moku o Lehua, aloha nō.
Like the pāoʻo fish known for its active nature, our Hawaiian language communities continually seek to fulfill our kuleana to the vitality of Hawaiʻi’s indigenous language. Today, Hawaiian is once again being used to teach cultural practices, produce scholarship, compose plays, withdraw money, and so much more. Doubtless, it is these unceasing efforts that held the space for Hawaiʻi’s Supreme Court to reaffirm and imbue present meaning to Article X, §4 of our Constitution, mandating that the State provide a Hawaiian medium education.
In Clarabal v. Dept. of Educ. of Haw. ( Clarabal ), the Court’s result is reflective of a fundamental understanding of language which all of our state departments and elected officials should embrace. Namely, that Hawaiian language is a right. The Court reasoned since Hawaiian medium schools are vital sites where language regeneration is nurtured, it is, in fact, this type of school that the creators of Article X, §4 intended. The focus on intention put Hawaiʻi’s current linguistic landscape in context, to simultaneously reveal and reject a history of government-directed English privilege and Hawaiian suppression. Moving forward, the State must make all reasonable efforts to provide access to Hawaiian immersion education.
The ripples being generated by Clarabal should have all state departments and elected officials reassessing their respective kuleana to Hawaiian as an official language. For example, the Court’s instruction to the State to “routinely review” the details of its Hawaiian education program is an exercise that I would extend to all state departments and elected officials. We are now entering the forty-second year since Article XV, §4 of the constitution returned Hawaiian to government domains, yet Hawaiʻi’s legislatures collectively have failed to establish any meaningful implementing statutes. As a result, translations and interpreters are provided piecemeal and there is no holistic approach to language planning from our state leadership. At the same time, the inevitable increase of Hawaiian language speakers will require the tools constitutionally contemplated by the delegates of 1978 to support language acquisition individually, and language normalization collectively.
Languages are able to thrive as long as their communities choose to speak them and are free to make those choices. For many in Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian opens up a range of connections to these lands and the original people who maintained a dialogue with it. As a new decade emerges, may we all continue to seek and create opportunities to learn, speak, and teach Hawaiian.
E oʻu mau makamaka o Hawaiʻi nei, e hoʻoikaika a e hoʻomau ka pono i ka hoʻopuka ʻana i kāu ʻōlelo ponoʻī, ka ʻōlelo o nēia ʻāina, no ka mea, he lāʻau lapaʻau ia no ka puʻuwai.
Sabrina Rose Kamakakaulani Gramberg, Esq., was raised beneath the misty Lehua rain of Mānoa and the sea breeze of Waimānalo. Her ʻohana are the mahi kalo of Mānoa and the lawaiʻa of Pāhonu.