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Lawmakers adopt resolution apologizing for ban on Hawaiian language in schools

The state Legislature has adopted a resolution that apologizes to Native Hawaiians for a law that effectively banned the use of Hawaiian in schools.
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 9:19 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 27, 2022 at 10:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Legislature has adopted a resolution that apologizes to Native Hawaiians for a law that effectively banned the use of the Hawaiian language in schools.

House Concurrent Resolution 130 is written in both English and ‘Olelo Hawai’i, apologizing for what was seen as an effort to erase the native language — an effort that nearly succeeded.

Act 57 of the Laws of the Republic of Hawaii in 1896 stated, “The English Language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools.”

“The law basically promoted the English language as the medium of education and teaching, but it effectively banned the use of ‘Olelo Hawai’i in public, and it also had effects in private use as well,” said state Rep. Patrick Branco, who introduced the measure.

The law didn’t explicitly say that the Hawaiian language was banned, but students faced consequences for speaking it.

“I can share with you my grandfather’s story,” said Branco. “He went to school and he spoke ‘Olelo Hawai’i and he got punished for speaking Hawaiian at school. And then he went home and he was in a Hawaiian-speaking household and he spoke English, and he also got punished there.”

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano got drawn into a social media controversy when he posted that he didn’t see anyone being punished for speaking Hawaiian in school.

But he later apologized, saying that by the time he started grade school in the 1940s, there were no Hawaiian children left speaking the language — basically because of the law.

“I think this was a very teachable moment with Governor Cayetano in a sense that there’s still a lot of work that we have to do out in the community in terms of our Hawaiian history, our Hawaiian language, our Hawaiian culture,” said Branco.

The law actually stayed on the books well into statehood and was largely forgotten until Larry Kimura, an associate professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, helped start a program for preschoolers to be taught in ‘Olelo Hawai’i.

“We had started our preschools in 1984 and continuing into ‘85, and then we found in ‘86 that, hey, there’s something here that says you’re not supposed to be using Hawaiian as a medium of instruction,” Kimura said.

Once that came to light, the law was finally repealed.

Now, ‘Olelo Hawai’i is celebrated, as when Miss Aloha Hula 2022 Pi’ikea Lopes conducted an interview at the Merrie Monarch Festival using only the Hawaiian language.

Kimura estimates there are some 20,000 speakers of the language, with the number growing every day with the Hawaiian language immersion program.

“I think there’s 23 programs in the Department of Education, with over 3,600 students, tomorrow morning in school, all speaking in Hawaiian.”

The resolution was adopted by both the House and the Senate, and is now on the officially on the books.

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