An Open Love Letter to the Native Hawaiian Education Act

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History lives not in books, but in the very lining of our skin and blood.

The longer my journey in the Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC), the more I come to understand my larger and deeper connection to our language and to one another. This might be a given in your immediate circle of relations, but I’m referring to the interwoven stories of multiple layers of relations that can happen over time and space. Often these woven connections are revealed to us when we step back and are able to fully see all the tiny miracles that had to happen in order for us to be standing exactly where we are. Here.

This is my open love letter to the Native Hawaiian Education Act for my identity and knowledge journey.

1979: An Origin Story

In 1979, I was 4 years old, about the same age my daughter was when I first started at NHEC. At that time, the educational status of Native Hawaiians showed that only 5% of the population earned a college degree, while 30% had less than a high school education. Moreover, 1.2% of the Native Hawaiian population were criminal offenders, and of these, 47% were incarcerated. These dismal statistics were part of the testimony to Congress of one Myron Thompson, then Trustee of the Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate.

I was too young to know then that there was a focused movement already in the works to address the wellbeing and educational needs of Native Hawaiians. In Thompson’s testimony to Congress he states that it is the wish of the Hawaiian people “to make the Native Hawaiian Education Act law.” Alongside Thompson included Ronald Tharp of Kamehameha Schools Early Education Program who testified:

“In Hawai’i, there is a will to change schools so that Hawaiian children will no longer be causalities of an ill-fitting educational model…I am confident that if the Native Hawaiian Education Act is enacted and funds appropriated, these funds will be put to quick use, and good use. If the schools are not accommodated to Hawaiian culture, another entire generation of the children of this beleaguered culture are going to fail.”

Hard truths make strong testimony, but it would be another nine years until the Act is passed.

1988: The Native Hawaiian Education Act is Born

At this time I am exiting the eighth grade and preparing to enter high school as a new freshman at Kamehameha Schools, Kapālama. My participation in Hawaiian culture-based education programs like Hoʻomakaʻikaʻi was the spark that fueled my excitement to learn more about my culture.

In this same year, the NHEA funds six programs focused on improving Native Hawaiian educational achievement in early education, elementary education, curriculum development, special education, higher ed., and gifted and talented.

During my time at Kamehameha, I had brief experiences with Trustee Thompson in his kindness and generosity in student gatherings. It would be many years later that I would reflect on his signature on my high school diploma and feel stuck with gratitude on his influence and his design of my lifeʻs path in this work.