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State formally apologizes for banning Hawaiian language in schools for 90 years

Nick Yee
Nick Yee

State lawmakers have passed a resolution apologizing to the Native Hawaiian people for banning the use of Hawaiian language in state schools for 90 years.

House Concurrent Resolution 130, which offers an official apology for the language ban, was approved by the Legislature and now awaits Gov. David Ige's signature.

The education-based nonprofit ʻAha Pūnana Leo pushed for the apology and hopes the resolution leads to more action in support of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

"The bigger picture is really making everyone understand that speaking Hawaiian language has real value in it," said Kaʻiulani Laeha, head of ʻAha Pūnana Leo. " I think as a community, as a society, we need to figure out ways to value that — you know how do we highlight that thatʻs somethingʻs special, that thatʻs something unique to the point where everybodyʻs doing it, everybody wants to learn it and everybodyʻs speaking it."

"I think for me thatʻs really what we need to do, especially for the families who have committed for so long to ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and they’ve already made that lifelong commitment. I think they deserve more than just an apology," Laeha said.

Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, the new government established Act 57, which instituted an English-only law over public schools in Hawaiʻi in 1896.

Many students were punished for speaking ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in school, and the number of Hawaiian language speakers dwindled from nearly 40,000 speakers in 1896 to just 2,000 in 1978.

Despite systemic efforts to suppress the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, a grassroots movement began in the 1980s to revitalize the language by instituting Hawaiian language immersion schools.

‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi was included in public schools in 1986 with the establishment of the state Department of Education's Hawaiian Language Immersion Program.

HCR 130 also reaffirms the Legislature’s commitment to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow as a foundation for addressing historical and contemporary issues between the state and the Native Hawaiian people.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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