By Kalāmanamana Harman
When Hawaiian language immersion schools began nearly 40 years ago, many people believed that their students would not be able to speak English or attend college. As a recent graduate of Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university, I can attest that those assumptions were incorrect. My parents raised me entirely in Hawaiian at home and sent me to a school taught through my native language. According to researchers, students who attend my alma mater, have higher high school graduation and college attendance rates than the state average.
Aloha pumehana kākou. My name is Kalāmanamana Harman. I am an alumna of the Pūnana Leo o Hilo and Ke Kula ʻo Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu (Nāwahī), a K-12 Hawaiian medium school in Keaʻau, Puna. In June 2023, I obtained a B.A. from Dartmouth College, double majoring in Native American & Indigenous studies and anthropology.
When I first started at Dartmouth, I experienced many things that any college student from Hawaiʻi would – a bit of culture shock and homesickness. Living in New Hampshire was nothing like living at home in Hawaiʻi. I took my first writing class that fall and had to adapt to hearing and speaking English all day. Even my high school English classes at Nāwahī had been taught through Hawaiian. Furthermore, I was not accustomed to the size of the university and classes. My graduating high school class consisted of 10 students. However, I was soon thriving in my new home. I passed that English course with an “A.” I fulfilled my language requirement with what was considered at Dartmouth to be a hard language – Japanese – and did an independent study where I focused on creating a curriculum to teach Japanese through Hawaiian at schools like Nāwahī. I took on the leadership of the Dartmouth Pan-Pacific organization and we successfully revived events such as the annual lūʻau, hosting over 500 people.
Although I made many friends at Dartmouth, I missed speaking Hawaiian. No one, including the few other Hawaiians at Dartmouth, could carry on an extended conversation in our language. My circle of friends included Hawaiians from the diaspora who were eager to learn Hawaiian. We decided to have informal gatherings to develop their fluency and use Hawaiian conversationally. This outreach then extended to other friends including Native peoples from various tribes, including Zuni, Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Arapaho, and more. Observing us, they became interested in learning the Hawaiian language and culture and joined in with our group. Those Native peoples did not have the opportunity to go to school totally in their traditional language as is possible for us in Hawaiʻi.
While I enjoyed my time at Dartmouth, I’m ecstatic to be home and to be a role model for other Hawaiian students that have attended schools like Nāwahī. I’m also proud to be using my experiences at Dartmouth working for the National Native American Language Resource Center at UH Hilo as I prepare to pursue my studies in law.