More than 50 representatives from the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs (NCNALSP) convened at Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Hawaiian language college, and the university’s ʻImiloa Astronomy Center—the world’s only Indigenous bilingual science center—in February.
The summit drew educators from 14 U.S. states and Guam (representing 25 languages) and federal officials from the Office of Indian Education to discuss the achievements and challenges of Native American language medium programs as defined in the Native American Languages Act of 1990.
The group was ceremonially welcomed through an exchange of Hawaiian language and Ojibwe speeches as well as traditional oli (chants) and mele (songs). They were given a tour of the college’s facilities and programs before panel discussions and workshops during the multi-day meeting. The previous day they toured the college’s preschool to grade 12 Hawaiian language medium demonstration laboratory school—Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu.
“It’s imperative that we come together with other champions of Native American languages to share and analyze the various strategies we’re implementing in our home communities,” said Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director of ʻImiloa. “It’s through this kind of collaborative effort across languages and disciplines that we’re able to achieve our common mission of uplifting and giving voice to our Native American languages in every realm of our daily lives.”
The NCNALSP’s mission is to advocate for the use of Native American languages as the medium of instruction in community-led schools and programs across the United States. They empower students, families, teachers and administrators by strengthening public policy.
NCNALSP President Leslie Harper said, “It’s really important for us to come together to discuss the unique conditions and characteristics of Native American language medium education. It’s not the same as English medium—we are charged with developing our programs from our peoples’ distinctive world views.”
The summit was held in partnership between the NCNALSP, Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani, ʻAha Pūnana Leo Hawaiian language medium preschools, Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu School and ʻImiloa Astronomy Center.
The choice of Hawaiʻi as the site of the meeting also honored former U.S. Senators Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka. The two Hawaiʻi senators played key roles in developing federal Native American language legislation that not only includes the Hawaiian language, but highlights the success of Hawaiian language revitalization.