DOI Promotes Proper Use of Hawaiian Language


In a monumental step toward increasing cultural inclusion and Indigenous visibility, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a new addition to its Departmental Manual (DM) directed at improving its use of the Hawaiian language.

The first-of-its-kind guide for Indigenous language use in the United States seeks to assist DOI bureaus and offices that communicate with the Native Hawaiian community or produce documentation for places, resources, actions, or interests in Hawaiʻi.

The 1990 Native American Languages Act declares that it is the policy of the U.S. to preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedoms of Native Americans, including the Native Hawaiian community, to use, practice, and develop Native American languages.

Photo: DOI Secretary Deb Haaland with a student
DOI Secretary Deb Haaland learns about growing kalo from a student at Ke Kula ʻo Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u in Keaʻau on Hawaiʻi Island during a 2023 visit. – Courtesy Photo

In a news release, DOI Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) commented on the administration’s efforts in Hawaiʻi saying that “prioritizing the preservation of the Hawaiian language and culture and elevating Indigenous Knowledge is central to the Biden-Harris administration’s work to meet the unique needs of the Native Hawaiian community. As we deploy historic resources to Hawaiʻi from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Interior Department is committed to ensuring our internal policies and communications use accurate language and data.”

The announcement, made on Feb. 1, 2024, coincided with Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian Language Month, and furthers DOI’s recent commitments to integrate Indigenous Knowledge and cultural practices into conservation stewardship.

Photo: Hawaiian immersion kumu familiarize themselves with native plants
Hawaiian immersion kumu familiarize themselves with native plants at Haleakalā National Park. – Photo: Honeygirl Duman, NPS

In June 2023, the DOI committed nearly $16 million as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to prevent the imminent extinction of Hawaiian Forest Birds. The Hawaiian Forest Bird Keystone Initiative prioritized actively engaging Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and experts through consultation, knowledge sharing, protocol, and traditional practices at each significant stage of conservation action.

Then, in November 2023, DOI’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations (ONHR) announced its $20 million climate resiliency grant funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. The Kapapahuliau Climate Resilience Program, named for the imagery of navigating changing winds and currents on a Hawaiian voyaging waʻa, aims to enhance the ability of the Native Hawaiian community to navigate the effects of climate change in ways that maintain their integrity and identity as a people.

“I am grateful to Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Department of the Interior for leading the way to better integrate ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture in authentic and meaningful ways across the federal government,” said Krystal Kaʻai, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. “As the first Native Hawaiian to lead the White House Initiative, this work is deeply personal to me and for so many in our community.”

DOI staff in Hawaiʻi have been identifying and developing resources to guide them through identifications and references, including flora and fauna, cultural sites, geographic place names, and government units within Hawaiʻi. For example, a hui composed primarily of Fish and Wildlife Service staff have shared their knowledge of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi with DOI field offices and incorporated oli protocols into their conservation practices.

At Haleakalā National Park, park service staff recently partnered with Hawaiian language teachers Kaleialoha Kaniaupiʻo-Crozier and Kahealani Colleado from Pāʻia Elementary School, and Kawehi Kammerer from Kamehameha Schools, to develop new educational materials in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi for Hawaiian immersion fourth-grade students.

The virtual materials on ʻāhinahina and hale are available on the park’s website, and the park is planning to pilot field trip materials on Hawaiian forest birds. Haleakalā National Park is also creating a new Hawaiian language website to elevate inclusive storytelling in the National Park Service this year.

“The park’s new Hawaiian language website will include general park information; however, rather than translating the existing site, new content will provide a Hawaiian perspective in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi,” said Honeygirl Duman, education specialist and Hawaiian community liaison for Haleakalā National Park.

“We look forward to continuing to partner with our local and Native Hawaiian community on Hawaiian language for our Haleakalā National Park programs and experiences. I see how this DM chapter will help DOI staff improve their use of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Our experience building a Hawaiian language website will be the framework for other National Park Service sites and hopefully inspire other bureaus and offices.”

To develop the new departmental manual chapter, ONHR staff conducted two virtual consultation sessions in 2023 with the Native Hawaiian community to review and gather input on the guidance.

The final guidelines recognize the origins of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as an oral tradition and acknowledge the absence of a single authoritative source for the language in a printed form.

The 2003 Pukui and Elbert edition of the Hawaiian Dictionary is considered the baseline standard for non-geographic words and place names in the new chapter. However, the guidance leaves room for DOI staff to consult native speakers and other source materials.

“We very much welcome DOI’s new initiative to establish guidelines for using the language that many of us in the community use daily, which also happens to be an official language of our state,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, luna hoʻokele, College of Hawaiian Language, UH-Hilo. “Our college, established by the state legislature and supported by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, is prepared to assist the DOI as they continue to improve their use of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.”

DOI is planning annual meetings with the Native Hawaiian community to learn about different perspectives and developments in the ongoing revitalization of the Hawaiian language.

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