With Hilo’s Support Other Native American Languages are Being Revived

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

By William H. Wilson and Kaʻiu Kimura

In 1896, those who overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy banned Hawaiian medium education. The ban aligned with U.S. American Indian language policies. Today, however, the federal government is encouraging Native peoples to follow Hawaiʻi’s long-standing language revitalization leadership – in particular, that of our consortium in Hilo. The consortium consists of the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu laboratory school, the Hawaiian Language College and ʻImiloa Center. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education chose the Hilo Consortium to lead the new National Native American Language Resource Center.

Photo: Representatives from the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs
Representatives from the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs visited Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu to experience Hawaii’s demonstration laboratory Hawaiian medium education school.

In 1986, after a three-year lobbying campaign, the ʻAha Pūnana Leo convinced Hawaiʻi’s legislature to remove the old language ban. It then began lobbying Congress for parallel action. The result was the 1990 federal American Languages Act recognizing and protecting all U.S. Indigenous languages, including Hawaiian.

In 1990, most tribes were following the “bilingual education” model, which ultimately failed to protect against Native American language loss. Renamed and adapted under the term “dual language education” it is increasingly common for immigrant languages. However, “dual language education” depends on support from foreign countries – something unavailable to Native American languages. Increasingly, Native Americans are turning to the Hilo Consortium’s “total Indigenous language medium” model. That P-12 model protects a child’s Indigenous language use from assimilation to English dominance, while teaching sufficient English for students to thrive in elite universities. (See article by K. Harman.)

Today, there are programs following the Hilo model in 17 states and Guam. Guam had found that a program of seven years of compulsory Chamorro [language] courses in all public schools has failed to produce any young proficient speakers. Guam’s successful use of the Hilo model is now entering middle school, as are continental U.S. programs. Ayuprun Yup’ik charter school in Alaska is one such program. Another is Waadookodaading, an Ojibwe program in a Bureau of Indian Education school in Wisconsin.

Private Red Cloud School on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota exemplifies the history of Native language policy progression. Founded in 1888, it long followed U.S. Indian boarding school policy – punishing use of the Lakota language, banning Native cultural activities and focusing on “industrial education.” In the 1960s, Red Cloud switched to a college preparatory model and began requiring Lakota courses in high school. That model failed to reverse boarding school-initiated language loss.

Now, after incorporating the Hilo model under its Lakota name, Maȟpíya Lúta is experiencing language revitalization success. Already known for producing Gates Scholars, it has also found that its Lakota medium-educated children are scoring higher on assessments. Its improved outcomes in early reading have been ascribed to incorporation of the Pūnana Leo Hakalama syllabic method of teaching Indigenous literacy.

The above are only a few examples of the growing efforts to revitalize Native American languages that have received support from the P-20 Hawaiian Language Consortium in Hilo. The Hilo Consortium will be able to provide increased support now that it is the lead entity in the new federal National Native American Language Resource Center.