UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College are collaborating to advance and strengthen indigenous education of benefit to all faculty, staff and students.
By Don Straney
The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is one of the most diverse campuses in the United States, and helping students and faculty learn from our diverse cultures and perspectives is a high priority.
At UH Hilo, we have long been cultivating a diverse, multicultural university that is rooted in the indigenous history of Hawai‘i. More broadly, a key mission (Hawai‘i Papa O Ke Ao) shared by the 10 campuses of the UH System is to embrace our responsibilities to the Native Hawaiian people and to Hawai‘i’s indigenous language and culture.
One way we are doing this is through developing indigenous education. UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College have collaborated on many programs over the past few years to advance and strengthen indigenous education of benefit to all faculty, staff and students.
What is indigenous education?
Many of our students are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander—in some disciplines up to 30 percent—and not only are these students required to learn the content we are teaching, but also how to internalize information presented to them from a worldview distinct from their own.
If faculty, advisors, and administrators can learn to appreciate this and even re-orient or start to alter curricula and teaching methods to conform to our students’ learning styles, then we are on our way to becoming a model indigenous higher education institution and far more effective at imparting knowledge to those students.
Further, indigenous education is of benefit to all our students—those who identify as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and also those who are not indigenous but have understandings of Native Hawaiian and indigenous culture just by growing up and/or living here as young adults. All non-native students and faculty benefit from indigenous education by learning through a new context and deepening their understanding.
Let me share a couple of programs we’re doing to develop modes of indigenous curricula and instruction at UH Hilo—these programs are primarily for faculty and staff and are supported by the Office of the Chancellor.
At our Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, ʻōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language) workshops are becoming part of an on-going offering for our campus and for campuses throughout the UH System. A series of workshops recently offered (Papa Hoʻonui ʻIke ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Kulanui) was designed to increase appreciation and comfort of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i CC faculty and staff to the Hawaiian language that is practical and immediately useful.
In addition, both UH Hilo Student Affairs staff at their annual retreat last June and the UH President’s Emerging Leaders Program (PELP) cohort last month participated in this type of special workshop.
Staff from the UH Hilo Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center of the College of Hawaiian Language held an introductory-level Hawaiian language workshop for the PELP cohort. Participants practiced dialogue and communication in Hawaiian and shared ideas about supporting and sustaining ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture at UH.
Also this semester, UH Hilo is holding a series of workshops for faculty in support of indigenous curricula and instruction. The workshops are being sponsored by a Chancellor’s Professional Development grant and will include faculty from both UH Hilo and Hawai‘i CC.
Topics will include creating course content and applied learning opportunities that are relevant to Native Hawaiian and Oceania students. Pacific island and indigenous culture experts are traveling here to share their knowledge and experience. There also will be local experts from the learning community Hoʻoulumau at Hawaiʻi CC. Students will also participate and share.
One of our goals of the workshops is to increase faculty familiarity and ease with the indigenous resources across campus. To this end, we have coordinated the workshops with Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, the Pacific Islander Student Center, and I Ola Hāloa Center for Hawaiʻi Life Styles at Hawaiʻi CC.
Indigenous education is practical education
When learning in an environment shaped by indigenous curricula, students understand and appreciate that the classroom is being oriented to their social worlds and find the materials informative and practical. It makes the completion of a degree worthwhile and relevant to creating livelihoods on the island.
The real benefit of studying at a diverse campus such as ours is learning how people with different perspectives, contexts and cultures understand issues and challenges. We’ll continue to build a learning community that can exchange information and gain further training on how to best serve and educate our diverse and multicultural student body.