Pelehonuamea Harman appointed UH Hilo’s inaugural director of Native Hawaiian Engagement

Pele Harman joins a growing statewide team working in concert to develop, implement, and assess strategic actions to make UH a leader in Indigenous education.

Pelehonuamea Harman pictured.
Pelehonuamea Harman (Photo: Daniella Zalcman)

By Susan Enright.

Pelehonuamea Harman is named University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s inaugural director of Native Hawaiian engagement. The appointment was confirmed this week by the UH Board of Regents and UH President David Lassner.

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Bonnie Irwin

“We are confident in her ability to lead in this crucial area,” says Chancellor Bonnie Irwin.

Harman brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the position with two-plus decades of experience in the Hawaiian Immersion Education context, teaching learners of all ages in UH Hilo’s own K-12 laboratory school of Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu through to the UH Hilo Kahuawaiola Teacher Education program of the university’s Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

Harman is an alumna of UH Hilo with a bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies, a teaching certificate from Kahuawaiola, and a master of arts in Hawaiian language and literature.

Kekoa Harman pictured.
Kekoa Harman

As a haumāna ʻuniki (student of intense studies) of Kimo Alama Keaulana, Pelehuonuamea Harman and her kāne (husband) Kekoa Harman are kumu hula of Hālau I Ka Leo Ola O Nā Mamo (Hālau of the Living Voice of Descendants), one of Hawaiʻi Mokupuni (Hawaiʻi Island) hālau hula focused on raising new generations grounded in the practices of hula from a strong foundation of Hawaiian language fluency.

Living what they teach, Pele and Kekoa are raising all four of their children through ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language).

In 2022, the couple were invited to collaborate during a five-day residency at the Kennedy Center in D.C. to create new teachings for their haumāna on Hawaiʻi Island.

Full circle

Harman is scheduled to start in her new role as director of Native Hawaiian engagement, which is of strategic importance to UH Hilo, on July 1, 2024.

“We are deeply honored and grateful to have Ms. Harman return to our UH Hilo ʻohana,” says Chancellor Irwin. “Her acceptance of this role and her willingness to share her rich lineage of Hawaiian language and cultural knowledge as a moʻopuna kuakahi (great-granddaughter) of Mary Kawena Pukui, one of the University of Hawaiʻi’s most esteemed scholars of Hawaiian knowledge, is a testament to her commitment to our shared journey of reclaiming this ʻike (knowledge) in our endeavors moving forward as a university.”

Harman joins the growing Hawai’i Papa o Ke Ao team being established throughout the statewide 10-campus UH System that will be working in concert to develop, implement, and assess strategic actions to make UH a leader in Indigenous education.

Learn more about Pele and Kekoa Harman’s roots in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi:


Susan Enright is 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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