When I was a child, I had the fortune to attend a small program run out of the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center in Kalihi called Nā Liko Lehua. It was a program that taught ʻōlelo and culture to keiki ranging in age from eight to ten. It was for eight weeks over the summer in 1978 and was taught by notables in ʻōlelo teaching today such as ʻEkela Kanīʻaupiʻo-Crozier and Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa. This was before Pūnana Leo was ever conceived of, and five months before the 1978 Constitutional Convention that would make Hawaiian an official language of the State of Hawaiʻi.
Last year at a forum at Waiwai Collective, a young wahine asked me how the Office of Hawaiian Affairs could help to normalize the use of the Hawaiian Language. My response was to ask her a series of questions. Do you speak Hawaiian at school? “ʻAe.” Do you speak Hawaiian when you talk with your friends? “ʻAe.” Do you speak Hawaiian at home? “Sometimes.” That is how YOU normalize the use of the Hawaiian Language. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs can advocate for our language all day and help to champion legislative bills, administrative processes and procedures, but at the end of the day it will be our keiki that will make this happen.
When my mother attended Kamehameha there were no Hawaiian language classes. When I attended Kamehameha, we were introduced to the language in elementary. There was one semester of mandatory Hawaiian language in intermediate and it was offered as an elective in high school with only one class in grades 9-10 and two or three in grades 11-12. Today, Hawaiian language is MANDATORY to graduate. If you walk the halls of the Kapālama, Pukalani or Keaʻau campuses you can hear the haumāna speaking Hawaiian casually to one another. This is all within 40-years since the Hawaiian Language was believed to be going extinct outside of Niʻihau.
So, I would like to take a moment to mahalo a few of those whose shoulders our language stands on today – Rona Rodenhurst, ʻEkela Kanīʻaupiʻo-Crozier, Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa, Larry Kimura, Frenchy Desoto, John Waiheʻe III, and countless others who championed our ʻōlelo makuahine all those decades ago. Because of their vision, not only did our language not die, but today it is thriving and well on its way to becoming normalized not just in our schools, but throughout the pae ʻāina.
“Ōʻū ō loa na manu o Kaupeʻa.”