UH Hilo Indigenous educator Makalapua Alencastre receives lifetime achievement award from national association

Associate Professor Makalapua was recognized by the National Indian Education Association for her 40 years of working on the reestablishment of Hawaiian as the primary language of the family and education. Her professional and research interests include Indigenous immersion education-program planning and evaluation, teacher education, and educational reform.

By Susan Enright

Makalapua Alencastre
Makalapua Alencastre

An associate professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has been awarded a prestigious national award for her work in Indigenous education. At ceremonies held earlier this month in Minneapolis, MN, Makalapua Alencastre, coordinator of the UH Hilo Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education graduate program, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Indian Education Association.

“This is their most prestigious award for a lifetime of contribution to Native education,” says Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, director of UH Hilo Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

Alencastre’s life work focuses on the reestablishment of Hawaiian as the primary language of the family and education. Her professional and research interests include Indigenous immersion education-program planning and evaluation, teacher education, and educational reform. In her current work as director of the UH Hilo Indigenous education program, she coordinates graduate level education programs to prepare teachers for P-12 Hawaiian language medium-immersion education.

Alencastre received her bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies, professional diplomas in Hawaiian language and secondary education, her master of arts in English as a second language, and her doctorate in professional education practice from UH Mānoa.

A life dedicated to Hawaiian language revitalization

At the award ceremonies, Alencastre began her remarks by giving thanks, by name, to all those who were “sources of inspiration and support,” including family, teachers, and mentors. “It’s so important to surround ourselves with the support of family and friends to ensure the mauli ola, the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of our collective work propels us forward, to stand together with strength and resolve in challenging ongoing policies of assimilation and instigating the critical changes needed to ensure that our Native language and culture is the firm foundation of our lives.”

As a member of one of the pioneer Hawaiian language immersion families, Alencastre was an early advocate of the Hawaiian language revitalization movement in the 1980s to reestablish Hawaiian as the home language and language of instruction in Hawai‘i schools. She is the founder and former program director for Ke Kula ‘o Samuel Kamakau Laboratory, a Hawaiian language medium public charter school, and currently is a commissioner on the State Public Charter School Commission, which is responsible for 37 schools and 11,000 students throughout the state of Hawai‘i.

“We know that our Native language must be alive in our homes,” she says. “We know that for our Native languages to thrive, to fulfill the the directive of our elders requires a huge, concerted lift, far reaching and expansive to include all of our babies, students, and families through both bottom-up grassroots, community driven and controlled education, as well as top-down commitment and resources to ensure the vision of a living language is fully realized.”

With over 40 years in Hawaiian education, Alencastre has developed and taught in Hawaiian language and educational programs at the preschool, elementary, secondary, and university levels. She also has served in the community as a teacher, director, translator and board member for Hawaiian language medium education. She has taught, trained, developed curriculum and led long range planning for the Hawai‘i Department of Education and has been a member of ‘Aha Kauleo Kaiapuni Hawai‘i: Hawaiian Language Immersion Advisory Council.

“A very important issue in Hawai‘i is securing our right to educational self-determination to establish, control, and resource a Hawaiian language educational system aimed at the survival and renormalization of the Hawaiian language and culture,” says Alencastre. “A call for renewed visioning and strategic actions is working towards parity of learning opportunities and ample resources for our children to acquire cultural, linguistic, and academic competencies essential as kānaka Hawai‘i.”

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Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.