“Encouraging Hawaiian Revitalization with Immersion Education” by Keriann Koizumi

Posted: July 3, 2015 in Vol. 7: Spring Essays 2015

file711280241883“I ka ʻōlelo ke ola, i ka ʻōlelo nō ka make.” (In language there is life, in language there is death.) This Hawaiian noʻeau or proverb can be used figuratively to embody the importance of language within a culture. Throughout the written Hawaiian history, arguments can be concluded that non-native Hawaiian people have “English versions of Hawaiian writings [which] have created and perpetuated gross misrepresentations of the lives and culture of the Hawaiian people” (Kuwada 2009). As a result, the means and origins of Hawaiian translations have garnered controversy, thus challenging the focus on the Hawaiian language, culture, and uncertain process of educating native Hawaiians and non-natives.

Within the education system and surrounding community, whether made up of native Hawaiians or non-Hawaiians, individuals suffer from a lack of complete education of the Hawaiian language and culture. Decreasing usage and appreciation of the Hawaiian language, culture and history took center stage following the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian government.  S. Warner states in Anthropology & Education Quarterly,

“The illegal government, formed by a small group of U.S. businessmen and called the Republic of Hawaii, banned the Hawaiian language as a medium of instruction in the public schools in 1896. This ban was effectively enforced after the subsequent annexation of Hawai’i by the United States in 1898.” (1999)

With increasing influence from European and American ideas, the Hawaiian language was not only banned from schools and speakers, but violators were also punished. Private schools with English-only instruction were created and controlled the enrollment by allowing only Native Hawaiian nobility and European children of part or pure descent as students. This resulted in a stratified social class where the Hawaiian-speaking community became associated with low socioeconomic status; the Hawaiian people, once the most literate ethnic group,  were then displayed as the least literate.

Recognition of the importance of revitalizing the near-endangered Hawaiian language and culture resulted in changes made during the 1978 Hawaii State convention. Amongst the changes was the addition of Article XV that addresses the state boundaries, capital, flag, language and motto. In giving “full recognition and honor to the rich cultural inheritance that Hawaiians have given to all ethnic groups of this State” (Lee 2011), the Standing Committee on Hawaiian Affairs proposed to have the official Hawaii state languages to include the Hawaiian language with an intention to “overcome certain insults of the past where the speaking of Hawaiian was forbidden in the public school system” (Lee 2011). The Hawaii State Constitution Article X, Section 4 specifically addressed a Hawaiian Education program. This section states that,

“The State shall promote the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language. The State shall provide for a Hawaiian education program consisting of language, culture and history in the public schools. The use of community expertise shall be encouraged as a suitable and essential means in furtherance of the Hawaiian education program” (Lee 2011).

This addition to the Hawaii State Constitution yields an opportunity for the governing body to provide the public a Hawaiian education program. However, establishing a Hawaiian-language education program has proven to be a daunting task since many individuals in the community accept that “the broader structure of the educational community sets the language and identity of a school” (Kawaiʻaeʻa & Wilson 2007). Still many are on a mission to protect, develop, expand and revitalize the community of Hawaiian-language speakers. These respected Hawaiian-language education professionals optimistically see the revitalization of the Hawaiian language as a way to assist in cultural restoration, pride in one’s ethnicity, and the possibility of receiving a respectable view from the non-native community.

Research argues the importance of providing the children and adults of Hawaii with Hawaiian-language knowledge in the classroom. To avoid extinction of the Hawaiian culture and language, the education system should recognize and promote its value and importance. A comprehensive education and instruction given in the Hawaiian language and culture should be an option for students in PreK-12 and higher education.

“ʻO ke kahua ma mua, ma hope ke kūkulu.”

(The foundation first, and then the building — learn all you can, then practice.)

Teachers lack a depth of knowledge of the Hawaiian culture and language, stemming from the education system that is provided for public access and where instruction is received in the dominant English language. Teachers’ lack of knowledge in Hawaiian culture and language is recognized by authors Kawaiʻaeʻa and Wilson, who point out that “teaching Hawaiian as a second/foreign language in English medium educational structures has shown that Hawaiian cannot be revitalized in that way” and that “the life of a language exists in the system of structures, not in the instruction of content” (2007). They provide a remedy for the Hawaiian revitalization movement by “seek[ing] to develop [total] Hawaiian medium educational structures that can serve both first language speakers of Hawaiian and those transitioning into dominance in Hawaiian” (Kawaiʻaeʻa & Wilson 2007). Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani is the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s (UHH) Hawaiian language college. Born out of UHH’s Hawaiian Studies Department, the Hawaiian language college provides “structure for Hawaiian medium education from preschool through graduate school along with support offices” (Kawaiʻaeʻa & Wilson 2007). However, it was not until after 1997’s legislative mandate provided the establishment of a Hawaiian language education program that it received assistance for ʻAha Pūnana Leo and federal funds from the federal Native Hawaiian Education Act. The resulting Hawaiian language education program has furthered the revitalization planning to create the accredited Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program.

The UHH Hawaiian language teacher education program has produced multiple contributions in the ongoing process to revitalize the Hawaiian language, culture and identity (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). To understand the benefits of Hawaiian culture and language education, the NHMO guidelines support “the state’s mandate for Hawaiian language and culture education with constructive solutions for implementation” (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). As such, the guidelines focus on supporting educational reform by “shifting the focus from teaching/learning about Hawaiian cultural heritage to teaching/learning through the Hawaiian language and culture benefits of all the citizens of Hawaiʻi because it directs curricular attention to the physical and cultural environment of the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi” (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). Continued access to the Hawaiian culture and language, which includes the ongoing translations of Hawaiian texts into English, allows individuals and families to learn more about their identity and the world.

Along with the creation of UHH’s Hawaiian Studies programs, similar efforts like the Papahana Kaiapuni, a K-12 grade public school Hawaiian Language Immersion program, “is a more culturally compatible form of education for Hawaiians because of its emphasis on Hawaiian language and culture,” yet “the program is open to all students, although the majority of students and their families are part-Hawaiian” (Yamauchi et al. 2008). In reality, to prevent extinction, the Hawaiian revitalization starts with an education that shows the most success when taught, translated, and acquired through an immersion of the local Hawaiian culture and not just the ability to understand the Hawaiian language.

“Ma mua ka hana, ma hope ke walaʻau.”

(Direct experience comes first, discussion comes second.)

As a Kaiapuni program/school uses the Hawaiian language as its instruction medium, benefits to the education of attending students reach out into the families and communities. Important life skills, such as the development of values, family and community bonding, learning the English language, and learning of the Hawaiian culture and issues, shift in both directions between the Kaiapuni and the students’ family. In the article “Family Involvement in a Hawaiian Language Immersion Program,” a school board member was interviewed in support of the Kaiapuni program becoming a Hawaii public school and was referenced for saying “that within the public school system, he thought the Kaiapuni program had the most intensive family involvement in the public schools, second only to athletics” (Yamauchi et al. 2008). The support for children to learn in the Kaiapuni program continues through parental, family and community support. As a goal of the Kaiapuni program is to learn about the Hawaiian culture and issues, political roles in supporting the program have developed in some parents’ minds. Parents of Kaiapuni program students report being actively involved with advocating for Hawaiian immersion programs by attending “rallies at the state capital, provide testimony, and lobby the state legislature and school board” (Yamauchi et al. 2008). This type of active involvement is unique to the Kaiapuni program and has even positively impacted parents and families whose children attend English-speaking schools.

Hawaiian culture and language should be integrated as early as possible into a child’s school life. Hawaiian immersion schools enrich current learning standards through a comprehensive and traditional education of the Hawaiian culture and language. Within these schools is a comfortable and safe learning environment committed to connecting and integrating traditional Hawaiian values into the curriculum to allow student success in the real world. Experiencing bilingual education and learning the Hawaiian culture from an outsider’s perspective has found success in other cultures and their corresponding languages, such as the Native American and French-Canadian cultures. Who is to say that success is impossible with Hawaiian language education? Contrary to successful bilingual education programs, researcher’s evidence from countries such as Wales, Spain, and New Zealand have revealed that the endangered language is unable to thrive against the main instructional language that also dominates within the community. These country’s efforts to revitalize their endangered language with daily instruction has been ineffective. Also ineffective has been the ongoing attempt of the Hawaii education system to teach the Hawaiian language as a second or foreign language. In cultures scattered around the globe and across the United States, measures have been taken to assist in cultivating and nurturing the indigenous culture and language as seen in native American Indian, Alaska native, New Zealand’s Maori, and native Hawaiian people. For example, the Education Committee of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, or NCNASL, alongside the assistance of education policymakers and stakeholders, met to create a series of policy recommendations that “provide options for all state legislators to consider as they contemplate policies to help close the achievement gap between American Indian, Alaska native and native Hawaiian students and their non-native peers” (NCNASL 2008). The significance of recognizing an educational achievement gap amongst the children in schools today is that approximately “90 percent of American Indian, Alaska native and native Hawaiian students attend public schools, [where] state legislators ultimately are responsible for appropriations and policy that govern a state’s public schools” (NCNASL 2008). This same report makes a clear statement about the type of education that is being delivered in schools:

“[While} it is too early to draw conclusions about the relationship between achievement and culturally based education, it is clear that the kind of education…families want for their children is not being delivered in the schools. This mismatch between the desire of families and the practice of schools may contribute to the achievement difficulties experienced by American Indian, Alaska native and native Hawaiian students.” (NCNASL 2008)

In Hawaii, receiving cultural and educational assistance from the U.S. government differs from American Indians and Alaska natives. As a result, the Hawaii state government has promoted the implementation of educational programs designed to improve the widening achievement gap of Native Hawaiians from their non-native peers.

“Ma ka hana ka ʻike.”

(Knowledge comes from direct experience.)

The argument about teaching the Hawaiian language and culture in schools stands in the shadow of the numerous other issues surfacing in schools. In the community, an issue that has cultural and educational impact is the defining criteria that makes a qualified Hawaiian educator. Many classroom teachers likely lack confidence in Hawaiian Studies instruction, based on findings from interviews conducted by Julie Kaomea. Kaomea addresses concerns about the instruction towards Hawaiian Studies by recognizing that classroom teachers feel unprepared to teach the subject area, lack formal teacher education instruction in Hawaiian Studies, and many teachers are provided with an outdated textbook created by non-Hawaiians. She further emphasizes the need for “non-Hawaiian classroom teachers to take a more proactive role in Hawaiian studies education with a certain amount of ambivalence and apprehension” (Kaomea 2005). Laiana Wong states,

“Any person involved in advancing the goals of Hawaiian language revitalization can be considered an educator. That is, educators range from those who engage in direct teacher-student interaction on one end; to those involved in curriculum and materials development; to those pushing Hawaiian language into new domains such as theater, mass media, and academia; to those individuals who are supporting family members in their acquisition of Hawaiian on the other end.” (1999)

Yet there are some in the community, many of whom are native Hawaiian, who take a stance by maintaining “the position that if people want access to Hawaiian source texts, they must learn to speak Hawaiian” (Kuwada 2009). For instance, the writings of Samuel Kamakau in an 1865 article for the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ke Au Okoa “were viewed through an unapologetically Western lens and translated to fit what Western scholars saw as Hawaiian history and culture” (Kuwada 2009). The bias seen in the nineteenth century continues to be common.

Findings from researchers may not determine a definitive answer, but results do show that a culture-based education shows promise. In 2003, “Yamauchi concluded that Native Hawaiian students are more engaged in traditional public schools that integrate hands-on learning grounded in significant places within the local community” (Kamehameha Schools 2014). This outcome essentially confirms that both the native Hawaiian and non-native communities should agree to provide a Hawaiian culture and language education system which “enables us to understand the knowledge of the past as a foundation for the present to continue our legacy and further develop it for future generations” (Kawaiʻaeʻa 2002). A culturally appropriate, relevant, and immersed instructional program “enhanced by integration of learners’ home culture and community within the educational process” (Kamehameha Schools 2014) has generated evidence that positively impacts the learners.


Arguing for a bigger presence of the Hawaiian language in schools may seem far-fetched; however, revitalizing the Hawaiian language can unite the native Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian communities through an increase in adult and child education and by incorporating the unique Hawaiian culture into the educational environment and curriculum. This research explains the cultural and historical aspects of Hawaiian immersion education’s benefits and disadvantages to argue for the inclusion within the local education system an increase in awareness and knowledge of the Hawaiian culture and language. Providing an education rich in culture and language will do well to both the native Hawaiian people and the non-native Hawaiian outsiders looking to a culture with an unwavering, but misunderstood identity.


Associated Press. (1985 September 22). Hawaiians fear loss of the native language. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1985/09/22/us/ hawaiians-fear-loss-of-the-native-language.html

Associated Press. (2007 April 15). Major effort is under way to revive and preserve Hawaiʻi’s native tongue. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/ 2007/04/15/us/15Hawaii.html?_r=0

Benham, M. (Ed.). (2008). Indigenous educational models for contemporary practice: In our mother’s voice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Celis, W III. (1994 August 17). In school; A language may yet live on as long as children can say. E ʻolelo Hawaiʻi wale no ma ʻaneʻi. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/17/us/school-language-may-yet-live-long-children-can-say-e-olelo-hawai-wale-no-ma-ane.html

Garcia, N. (2014 October 27). Lanai mother sues state over Hawaiian language barriers. KHON2: LIN Television Corporation, a Media General company. Retrieved from http://khon2.com/2014/10/27/lanai-mother-sues-state-over-hawaiian-language-barriers/

Kamehameha Schools. (2014). Ka Huakaʻi: 2014 native Hawaiian educational assessment. Honolulu, HI: Kamehameha Publishing.

Kaomea, J. (2005). Indigenous studies in the elementary curriculum: A cautionary Hawaiian example. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 24-42.

Kawaiʻaeʻa, K. (2002). Nā honua mauli ola-Hawaiʻi guidelines for culturally healthy and responsive learning environments (K. Kelekolio & W. H. Wilson, Trans.). In J. Wright & P. De Morales (Eds.). Hilo, HI: Native Hawaiian Education Council & Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani

Kawaiʻaeʻa, K .,  & Wilson, W. H. (2007). I kumu, i lālā: “Let there be sources; Let there be branches”: Teacher education in the college of Hawaiian language. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(3), 37-53.

Kuwada, B. (2009). To translate or not to translate: Revising the translating of Hawaiian language texts. Biographical: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 32(1), 54-65.

Lee, A. F. (2011). The Hawaii state constitution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

National Caucus of Native American State Legislators. (2008). Striving to achieve: Helping native American students succeed. Denver, CO: National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sulzberger, A. G. (2009 October 8). Transporting a rare language from one island to another. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/ 2009/10/08/transporting-a-rare-language-from-one-island-to-another/

Warner, S. (1999 March). Kuleana: The right, responsibility, and authority of indigenous peoples to speak and make decisions for themselves in language and culture revitalization. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 30(1), 68-93. Retrieved from EBSCO Host.

Wong, L. (1999, March). Authenticity and the revitalization of Hawaiian. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 30(1), 94-115. doi:10.1525/aeq.1999.30.1.94

Yamauchi, L. A., Lau-Smith, J., & Luning, R. (2008). Family involvement in a Hawaiian language immersion program [Electronic version]. The School Community Journal, 18(1), 39-60.

Written for Andy Godefroy’s ENG 200: Composition II


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