Native American language educators convene summit at UH Hilo

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.

Large group of people stand on the steps to the Hawaiian language college for a photo. Many are in traditional native attire.
More than 50 representatives from the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs convened at UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language in February, 2023. (Courtesy photo)

Groups is greeted at the entranceway to the college.
Representatives of the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs were greeted in a ho‘okipa or formal welcome ceremony at Hale‘ōlelo, the home of UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. (Courtesy photo)

More than 50 representatives from the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs convened at Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and the university’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center—the world’s only Indigenous bilingual science center—in February.

The coalition’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. The group empowers students, families, teachers and administrators by strengthening public policy.

The summit at UH Hilo 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.


A small group of people sit on the floor in a circle while one person stands to speak.
Members of the summit participated in panel discussions and workshops during the multi-day meeting, Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, UH Hilo. (Courtesy photo)

Kaiu Kimura
Kaʻiu Kimura (File photo)

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 Ke Kula O Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, the college’s laboratory public charter school teaching preschool to grade 12 in Hawaiian language medium.

“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,” says 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.”


A PowerPoint slide on a Zoom screenshot with a quotation about Indigenous curriculum and a photo of children in an indigenous garden.
Meetings and workshop sessions at the summit were livestreamed on Zoom for people from elsewhere to join in. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s really important for us to come together to discuss the unique conditions and characteristics of Native American language medium education,” says Leslie Harper, president of the coalition. “It’s not the same as English medium, we are charged with developing our programs from our peoples’ distinctive world views.”

The choice of Hawaiʻi as the site of the summit honored former U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye and U.S. Senator 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.

The summit was held in partnership between the coalition, Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani, ʻAha Pūnana Leo Hawaiian language medium preschools, Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu Public Charter School, and ʻImiloa Astronomy Center.

UH System News.