Hawaiian Language Issues

The Evolution of the Hawaiian Language Revitalization Movement: Current Issues

By Luʻukia Nakanelua, 2L  & Kealiʻi Sagum, 2L

The Hawaiian language revitalization movement has brought the Hawaiian language from the brink of extinction. The Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s reinvigorated the people’s awareness and pride of the Hawaiian culture and language. Forty years ago, in 1978, Hawaiʻi had a Constitutional Convention which introduced important Constitutional provisions including a provision that made the Hawaiian language an official language of the state (alongside English) and a provision that mandated that Hawaiian culture, history, and language be included in the public school curriculum. The Renaissance and the Constitutional Convention led to the establishment of the first Hawaiian language immersion program in the state and increased enrollment for Hawaiian language classes at the university level. Then, in 2012, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature enacted SB409 officially designating February as Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Language Month).

E ʻike mau a e kapa ʻia ana aʻe ka mahina ʻo Pepeluali ʻo ia ka “Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi” i mea e hoʻomaikaʻi a e paipai aku ai i ka ʻōlelo ʻana o ua ʻōlelo makuahine nei lā.

The month of February shall be known and designated as “ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Month” to celebrate and encourage the use of Hawaiian language.

– Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes § 8-24

The continuously increasing use of the Hawaiian language has been the source of some controversy earlier this year. In January, Kaleikoa Kaʻeo was scheduled for trial in a Maui District Court. Kaleikoa was arrested for protesting the construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Haleakalā by blocking the access road. Court interpreters can be provided when requested prior to trial; thus, a Hawaiian language interpreter was provided for Kaleikoa at the initial court date. However, the prosecutor filed a motion for the trial to be conducted solely in English. The motion was approved by Judge Kobayashi and Kaleikoa’s subsequent request for a Hawaiian language interpreter was denied.

On the date of the trial, when Judge Kobayashi called for Kaleikoa to report for trial, Kaleikoa stood up and proceeded to introduce himself in the Hawaiian langage. Judge Kobayashi refused to acknowledge his presence and issued a bench warrant for Kaleikoa’s “failure to appear in court” even though Kaleikoa was standing right in front of Judge Kobayashi in the court room. The issuance of the bench warrant sparked outrage thoughout the local community and the bench warrant was recalled the following day. However, the damage was already done.

The proceedings in Judge Kobayashi’s courtroom that day in Maui brought back memories of the days when Hawaiian language was banned from use in public schools and Hawaiian language and culture was all but extinct. The issuance of that bench warrant was a huge wake-up call that even though we have made enormous strides in the revitalization of the Hawaiian language, we still have a lot of work to do to make the Hawaiian language accessible at all public forums of the State of Hawaiʻi. Kaleikoa’s situation has initiated a push to establish a training for Hawaiian court interpreters and has inspired Hawaiian language speakers to apply to become court interpreters.

Another court case, this one in the Supreme Court of Hawaiʻi, brought to light a fundamental question: Does the State Constitution provide for a fundamental right to be educated through the Hawaiian language? The Clarabal ʻohana with two daughters in elementary school moved from Maui, where they had been enrolled in Hawaiian immersion schools, to Lānaʻi, where no Hawaiian immersion program currently exists. The mother and daughters were represented by attorneys from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, who argued that the Constitution does mandate that the right to fair and equal education includes the right to a Hawaiian immersion education. The state argued that no such right existed and that the Constitution only provided for education of Hawaiian culture, history, and language, but not necessarily the right to attend schools taught entirely through the Hawaiian language. For more on the Clarabal case, see Hawaiʻi Supreme Court Oral Arguments: Clarabal v. Department of Education (2018), in this issue.

These types of court cases are evidence that the Hawaiian language revitalization movement has evolved. At the 1978 Constitutional Convention, it was a important that the Hawaiian language provisions were adopted into our State Constitution. Now, 40 years later as the demand for widespread use of the Hawaiian language throughout the state increases, we are beginning to see the court room become an important platform in interpreting those Constitutional provisions. This is an exciting time in our courts here in Hawaiʻi and could be a historic milestone for the Hawaiian language revitalization movement. With an exponential growth in Hawaiian language speakers graduating from Hawaiian immersion and university programs, the use of Hawaiian language in more public forums and not just in the classroom is becoming the new norm. Hawaiian is the language of this ʻāina (land) and the people of Hawaiʻi are poised to call on the courts to acknowledge the necessity to provide uniform and widespread access to resources for Hawaiian langauge speakers. E ola ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi!