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The movement to preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian language—that started decades ago—took another step forward in 2014 with the opening of Haleʻōlelo, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

Previously, the college’s programs and operations were scattered throughout the campus.

“Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani has now a honua, an environment where language, Hawaiian language, can sustain and be used, at all times,” said Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa, the College of Hawaiian Language director.

The $21 million dollar, two story, 36,000 square foot complex features a performing arts auditorium, classrooms, library, media resource room, computer lab, meeting rooms and offices.

“A lot of my teachers have been fighting for this, for years, years and years, decades, way before I was even thought of,” said UH Hilo student ʻĀlika Guerrero. “So to be a part of it, this new building, I mean it is a victory, not only for me, but my parents, my grandparents, and my kids to come, my grandkids.”

group of students
The Haleʻōlelo blessing ceremony at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo on January 11, 2014.

The Haleʻōlelo blessing and grand opening was steeped in Hawaiian tradition with a ʻOki Piko ceremony, symbolizing the severing of the umbilical cord and the start of the building’s new life; heahea, or calls of welcome and singing of traditional Hawaiian songs.

The festivities then moved to the college’s new auditorium for hula performances and speeches.

“This building represents, to the members of UH Hilo, our dedication to being a Hawaiian university and all of the meanings of those words,” said UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney. “A university where you learn all subjects in Hawaiian, a university where Hawaiian language and values inform what we do.”

“This is a beautiful and spectacular building and traditional building,” said UH System Interim President David Lassner. “And it is also a modern building. This is a building that will connect Hawaiʻi, Hawaiians and Hawaiian language to the world.”

The College of Hawaiian Language is already internationally recognized for its undergraduate, master’s and PhD programs; indigenous teacher training, distance learning programs and Ulukau electronic library.

Alongside the Hawaiian curriculum work and the Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center, the college serves as an important example for other indigenous language efforts around the world.

Haleʻōlelo provides needed state-of-the-art infrastructure that will allow the college to grow, develop and expand and further perpetuate the Hawaiian language and culture.

“It is a huge contribution into moving us to that that next level,” said Kawaiʻaeʻa.

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