From Celebration to Codification


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Holo i Mua (To progress, go forward.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

It is an interesting time in the resurgence of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, as we stand poised between two significant decades.

Ten years ago the state declared February as Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. And last year was the first year of the United Nations’ (UN) “Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages.” It is an excellent time to consider our next steps.

After 82 years of social-political-educational suppression, Hawaiian was restored as an official language of Hawaiʻi (equal to English) at the 1978 Hawaiʻi Constitutional Convention. And thanks to the dedicated efforts of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi advocates, the past 45 years have seen tremendous gains toward normalizing the language and expanding the number of speakers.

Still, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi is considered “endangered” with fewer than 5% of ʻŌiwi fluent in the language. And while Hawaiian is equal to English in the constitution, in practice it is not.

During this international decade of Indigenous languages, our lāhui must advocate to expand the state’s support for ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to include new laws that establish real, systemic change and that provide tangible resources to restore ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as a language on par with English in government and business.

As we look ahead, are there opportunities to take the Indigenous language policies developed by the UN in this next decade and adapt them for Hawaiʻi? And can support for ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi be codified so that the state’s commitment extends beyond celebratory annual language events and into the daily life of residents? I think the answer to both questions is “yes.”

E ola mau ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D. | Chief Executive Officer