In 1824, the Hawaiian government, at the urging of the Protestant missionaries, established a formal school system in Hawai‘i. Western educators differed on whether Hawaiian or English should be the primary medium of instruction. Some believed that Native Hawaiian pupils could be more effectively influenced through the use of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (the Hawaiian language), and numerous pedagogical materials were produced for that purpose. Others, however, insisted that the imposition of English was imperative in order to eradicate “heathenism” and enable Native Hawaiian youth to become useful workers in a Western-dominated society. Soon after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i was officially banned from the schools, and Native Hawaiians entered a dark period during which the use of their ancestral language almost vanished.
Fortunately, the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s initiated the resurrection of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. Hawaiian-language charter schools and immersion schools were formed, the state constitution was amended to designate ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as one of Hawaiʻi’s two official languages, and several legislative acts were passed to promote the teaching of Hawai‘i’s native tongue. Some of these developments, however, encountered complications, which this chapter addresses.
Studies have consistently shown that Native Hawaiian students with a strong cultural foundation have increased self-confidence, outperform their counterparts at public schools, and have a greater chance of improving their socioeconomic conditions. This chapter outlines ways in which fluency in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i can continue to spread, to the consequent benefit of Native Hawaiians.
“‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and Native Hawaiian Education” is Chapter 20 of Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, a volume that updates and expands on the seminal work of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. The publication is a collaborative effort of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and Kamehameha Publishing.