Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi: Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa, new interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, talks about UH Hilo’s commitment to strengthening the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi

Interim Vice Chancellor Kawaiʻaeʻa notes that UH Hilo has played an important role in revitalizing and advancing ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), one of the historic hallmarks of the campus.

Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa pictured with aerial of campus in the background.
Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa

By Susan Enright.

Pepeluali (February) marks Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi or Hawaiian Language Month. This week, UH Hilo Stories features the new vice chancellor for academic affairs, highlighting the ways in which the university community is working to raise the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi profile and footprint on campus.

Last August, Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa was appointed interim vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. Previously, Kawaiʻaeʻa, an associate professor of Hawaiian studies and Hawaiian and Indigenous teacher education, served as director of Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, a position she held since 2013.

Kawaiʻaeʻa, when asked about her overall vision for Hawaiʻi language revitalization efforts from her new campus-wide perspective, first notes that UH Hilo has played an important role in revitalizing and advancing ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), one of the historic hallmarks of the campus.

Group of people gather for photo on steps. Two people in the front of the group each hold a certificate.
In 2018, when Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa (front right) was director of Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, she traveled to Sami University of Applied Sciences, Norway, with a Hawaiʻi delegation for recognition of Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program receiving accreditation from the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium. The graduate certificate program is the first teacher education program in the world to receive accreditation from a prestigious international authority. The consortium also renewed its accreditation for Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

“As the new interim VCAA, I am excited to continue working with our campus to further strengthen our commitment and footprint to ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi through our strategic plans, new and innovative ideas that will also further define our campus as an Indigenous-serving institution,” she says. “Together, we can explore innovative ways to advance our efforts in this area and make our commitment even more visible and evident as an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi space.”

Kawaiʻaeʻa brings a wealth of knowledge to her new position. She has been in the field of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian education for 46 years, with 32 of those years spent at UH Hilo.

“During this time, I have been actively involved in the many efforts to revitalize ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi with education as one of its critical strategies as a student, parent, grandparent, APT (an administrative, professional and/or technical position), faculty, and administrator,” she says.

Kawaiʻaeʻa joined UH Hilo in 1992 as an educational specialist, and, over the years, has served as founding director of the Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program, director of Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center, and founding partner of Ulukau: The Hawaiian Electronic Library.

The Kahuawaiola Hawaiian and Indigenous Teacher Training Program is a three-semester graduate certificate program, delivered primarily through the medium of Hawaiian, specifically designed to prepare Mauli Ola Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian identity nurturing) teachers of the highest quality to teach in Hawaiian language medium schools, Hawaiian language and culture programs in English medium schools, and schools serving students with a strong Hawaiian cultural background. In the video below, learn more about the program:

“It has been a joy and a pleasure to have multiple vantage points from which to see and experience ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi,” says Kawaiʻaeʻa. “I have also been involved with many systemic and community efforts in revitalizing Hawaiian. Those efforts have shaped how I think about and engage with education that is Hawaiʻi-based and Hawaiian and Indigenously-anchored.”


Kawaiʻaeʻa says the UH Hilo campus has multiple strategic plans that provide some direction for which the university community is navigating as a campus ʻohana, including the UH Hilo Papahana Hoʻolālā Hikiāloa – Strategic Plan 2021-2031, the Faculty Congress’s UH Hilo Community-Anchored Strategic Vision for 2030, and the Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao plan.

“[The plans] provide direct and indirect ideas that support ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi actions, practices, and policies,” Kawaiʻaeʻa explains. “From some simple items like increasing signage in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, incorporating more ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in our events like orientation and graduation, and student-led projects to increase ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi on campus, to some challenging topics that will raise our ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi profile and footprint for the campus.”

“At the heart of this process lies the revitalization of the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi,” she says.

Aerial view of Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language building, red roofed, lots of lawn and trees surrounding.
Haleʻōlelo, the building that houses Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at UH Hilo.

When asked how ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi efforts might increase other Indigenous cultures turning to UH Hilo to help them revive their languages, Kawaiʻaeʻa notes that UH Hilo is renowned nationally and internationally for its expertise in Indigenous and endangered language revitalization.

“Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani currently draws students seeking to learn our models and processes for Hawaiian, Indigenous, and endangered language revitalization from around the world,” she explains.

The campus is also expanding ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in some of its programs and curriculum, in the instruction of courses taught through Hawaiian, and more faculty and staff are learning and using ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

“As we continue to implement more tangible ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi revitalization efforts and increase spaces where ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi lives, so we will also be able to articulate the dynamics of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi within our campus model of how a university campus serves as an Indigenous serving model,” Kawaiʻaeʻa says.

Related story

Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa named UH Hilo interim vice chancellor for academic affairs

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.

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