Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 2, 2001 - Issue 37



Keeping our Language Alive:
Hawaiian Success Story


by Dave Sullivan Northern News Services


Yellowknife - It's not too late to preserve aboriginal languages in the North, says a Hawaiian language advocate whose job is breathing life into a nearly extinct island language.

Namaka Rawlins runs a grassroots education movement that got started nearly 20 years ago, but only recently began to see results of an awakened aboriginal heritage in Hawaii.

Rawlins says there had been resentment there ever since the island's flourishing written and spoken language was banned in the wake of American annexation of the islands in 1893, which included the overthrow of a popular monarchy.

The number of aboriginal families on the islands, at 300,000, is overwhelmed by 1.2 million U.S. citizens without Hawaiian heritage.

Rawlins and other language advocates took action after realizing there were only about 600 elders living who could still speak Hawaiian.

"We were frustrated" at the disappearance of the language. The island's university was the only place to take a Hawaiian language course, Rawlins told about 200 people at Echoes of Language, a three-day conference earlier this month in Yellowknife. Her organization, Aha Punana Leo, started as a loose-knit group of parents 1983.

For years after that they fought the state government for permission to build a Hawaiian school, because the language ban was still on the law books.

It took a boycott of the public school system in 1986 to overturn the law, Rawlins said. The first class graduated two years ago.

"We knew that for our language to be viable, we had to put it in the mouths of babies."

It took "sheer determination" by families determined to "move the government."

What began with eight children at a night school has expanded to 18 publicly-funded immersion schools with over 2000 students between kindergarten and Grade 12.

Rawlins emphasized that family involvement was the key to making the system work.

She said retaining the language helps preserve spiritual beliefs, traditional knowledge and "body movement, the way we stand."

The English curriculum is also taught, ensuring that graduates are fully bilingual.

Rawlins told delegates the next step is training the next generation of teachers.

In the NWT, aboriginal language courses are widely available in schools, mostly outside Yellowknife, said a spokesperson for the Department of Education.

Individual school boards and district education councils decide what level of native-language training should be taught, and GNWT provides funding, said assistant deputy minister Pauline Gordon.

Thanks to:

Haa Ai from Education Nunavut (EC&SS Division)


Aha Punana Leo
Aloha! Welcome to the Web site for 'Aha Pünana Leo, Inc. The 'Aha Pünana Leo is often said to have the most developed set of Native American language revitalization programs in the United States. Our organization assists Native Hawaiians and indigenous peoples world wide who share our quest to maintain and develop traditional languages and cultures for life today.


The Hawaiian Language Website
Ke Kahua Pûnaewele `Ôlelo Hawai`i




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