UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages Includes ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi


On Dec. 18, 2019, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution proclaiming 2022-2032 as the “International Decade of Indigenous Languages.”

The purpose of this resolution is to draw attention to, and create action around, the critical loss of Indigenous languages across the globe with an urgent call to preserve, revitalize and promote them at the local, national and international levels.

The UN resolution has mobilized a coalition of Hawaiian language speakers, students, teachers, scholars, and communities around this mandate to assess, plan, and act to preserve, revitalize and promote ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

The Steering Committee and Advisory Group of UNESCO’s Global Task Force for the Pacific region have established a Kanaeokana ad-hoc committee and is currently seeking Hawaiian language organizations, proponents, and stakeholders to join the committee and commence with strategic planning.

Hawaiian language is key to ensuring the continuation and transmission of culture, customs and history as part of the heritage and identity of Kānaka Maoli.

Yet despite the amazing progress our communities have made to strengthen and increase Hawaiian language here in Hawaiʻi, the enduring health and vitality of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi remain a concern. UNESCO’s efforts provide an opportunity for Hawaiian language proponents, organizations, communities, and the government to create an action plan to preserve, promote and revitalize Hawaiian language.

As language advocates work towards the normalization of the Hawaiian language, there is hope that the Decade of Indigenous Languages will help achieve this outcome.

“The Hawaiian language represents a complex system of knowledge that has been developed over thousands of years and is inextricably linked to the care of our lands, waters, and cultural resources,” said ad-hoc committee member J. Hauʻoli Elarco-Lorenzo, a Hawaiian language instructor at Honolulu Community College.

“Our language represents a unique framework for understanding the world in all its complexity and is a repository of traditional knowledge that is vital for sustaining the Earth’s biological diversity, finding effective responses to the challenges presented by climate change and providing important contributions to sustainable development, peacebuilding and reconciliation processes.”

Kanaeokana Network Facilitator Manuwai Peters echoed these sentiments adding, “We will be meeting for the next 10 months to seek community input to build an action plan that can prepare us to reach a set of ambitious goals in the next 10 years. We look forward to hearing from Hawaiian language communities in Hawaiʻi and abroad who are eager to join this initiative.”

Individuals or organizations who would like to join the effort should email Kanaeokana at advocacy@kanaeokana.net.