Hawaiian Airlines launched the program in celebration of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Month and announced 13 of its flight services department staff were certified. In 2013, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature passed a law designating February as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Month to celebrate and encourage the use of Hawaiian language.
Leilani Basham, UH West Oʻahu associate professor of Hawaiian-Pacific studies, and UH Hilo associate professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies Larry Kimura, were enlisted along with other consultants to develop the program.
“Through programs like this, Hawaiian Airlines demonstrates true respect for Hawaiʻi’s native people and practices beyond the mere public relations opportunity—by truly listening to, creating space for, and empowering the voices of the people,” said Basham.
The program is free for Hawaiian Airlines’ more than 7,200 employees. To qualify, workers who speak ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi must demonstrate advanced proficiency through an oral and reading exam.
“This is an incredible moment for our ʻohana and an opportunity for employees to share Hawaiʻi’s mother tongue wide and far,” said Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, Hawaiian Airlines director of community relations.
Kimura is often referred to as the grandfather of Hawaiian language revitalization, working for decades to help with the rebirth of the language. Basham has long taught ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi courses on the UH West Oʻahu and UH Mānoa campuses, and researched mele lāhui (nationalist poetry), moʻolelo wahi pana (Hawaiian historical and literary texts) and language curriculum development.
“This is a unique opportunity for the Hawaiian language on multiple levels and an important step to create spaces in our community where Hawaiian language is heard and spoken as a normal part of lives,” said Basham.