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E OLA KA ‘ŌLELO HAWAI‘I: Protecting the Hawaiian Language and Providing Equality for Kānaka Maoli


Hawai‘i’s history is one like many other indigenous communities across the globe: a colonizing regime actively assisted in the illegal overthrow of another internationally recognized sovereign government.  Following the American overthrow in Hawai‘i, the new regime implemented laws in effect banning the teaching of the indigenous language, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i—an act of assimilation that tore the fabric of Hawaiian culture and society.  Since the overthrow in 1893, and the near death of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, Native Hawaiians have been seeking justice.  Over time, the State of Hawai‘i and the United States made some efforts to try to resolve these historical injustices and provide equality for the Native Hawaiian people.  In 1978, for example, the people of the State of Hawai‘i ratified constitutional amendments that tried to revive ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i.  The amendments included making ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i an “official” language of the State and encouraging the teaching and use of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i.  With four decades of resurgence of Hawaiian language speakers, questions have arisen about the use of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i in government spaces, particularly in court.  Yet, the courts have, thus far, been coy to truly embrace the State constitutional mandates.  This Article argues that the courts must allow the use of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i because it is a traditional and customary practice that is protected under the court’s established precedent.  This Article, thus, critically analyzes the history of the laws pertaining to ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i as a way to illuminate how Native Hawaiians can obtain some semblance of equality in their own homeland.

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