The world has changed.

I’ve often written about the many ways in which Hawaii changed over my lifetime. I’ve often been critical of those changes, but the Mauna Kea Movement has highlighted the many ways in which Hawaii changed for the better over the last four decades.

In 1977, George Helm spoke at Iolani Palace during the height of the Kahoolawe Movement. He spoke of revolution, he said then, “This is a seed, today, of a new revolution … The kind of revolution we’re talking about is one of consciousness — the consciousness, awareness, facts, figures.”

In the many years since that day, Hawaiians and experts in Hawaiian history, language, and culture committed themselves to scholarship and research that would contribute to Helm’s “Revolution of Consciousness.” Scholars traveled the world to uncover and share information from archives lost for decades.

TMT Mauna Kea demonstrators hold their hands up and gesture the Mauna Kea hand symbol.
The symbol of the mountain has come to illustrate solidarity for the Mauna Kea protesters. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Hawaiians fought to protect and revive their native language. The 1978 Constitutional Convention would make Hawaiian an official language of the State of Hawaii. The Hawaiian language immersion preschools, Aha Punana Leo, would be formed and offer instruction in Hawaiian language to children across the islands.

Recognizing the fundamental importance of the native language to the Hawaiian people, advocates fiercely fight to make language instruction as accessible as possible in an effort to reverse late 19th century policies that targeted use of the Hawaiian language. As the Aha Punana Leo timeline explains, in 1896 “Education through the Hawaiian language in both public and private schools is outlawed on the model of U.S. policy towards the use of American Indian languages in education. Teachers are told use of Hawaiian with children will result in termination of employment. Children are harshly punished for speaking Hawaiian in school.”

Over time, more and more families began to communicate in Hawaiian again. Education flourishes. Music flourishes. Hula flourishes. A cultural renaissance continues to grow and strengthen.

Millions of pages of text from Hawaiian language newspapers and resources were preserved, digitized and made accessible to a larger audience. Historic facts flooded discourses as access to archives intersected with a growing number of Hawaiians who relearned their native tongue.

The number of Hawaiian Ph.D.s continued to grow, as more and more Hawaiians achieved advanced degrees at unprecedented rates. Today, Hawaiian Ph.D.s exist in every field and hold academic positions in universities across the world.

Building upon the extraordinary legacy of Haunani Kay-Trask, who became the first tenured professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii in 1986, what began as a provisional program in 1979 has swelled into the Hawaiianuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, led by one of Kamakakuokalani’s founding professors, Jon Osorio.

Growing up, I often was led to believe that being Hawaiian was something shameful.

Trask, who along with Osorio, Lilikala Kameeleihiwa and Kanalu Young, would influence thousands of students coming through the university, helped to build generations of scholars, educators and activists. These people, many of whom are parents today, helped to exponentially grow a movement of informed, educated, confident Hawaiians and accomplices.

What we witness today on the mauna is the direct product of decades of activism and education. Hawaiians are no longer willing to sit idly by when their culture, rights and resources are threatened. Kupuna, steeled by decades of advocacy, are leading the effort and unyielding in their commitment. The most culturally astute Hawaiian youth in over a century are demonstrating that and culture and language are every bit as powerful as we all knew it could be.

Forty-two years ago, George Helm planted a seed. He told Hawaiians to come together. For the activists of that day knew then that the fight would not end with Kahoolawe. No, they knew then that reversing the multi-generational hurt and trauma would require much more than just protecting an island. It would require the restoration of language, the restoration of cultural practices, and the restoration of pride that had been so forcefully stripped from the Hawaiian people.

Growing up, I often was led to believe that being Hawaiian was something shameful. I was taunted, teased and ridiculed – for my dark skin, or my kinky hair, or my flat Hawaiian nose.

When I became a mom, I swore my child would never feel anything but tremendous pride in being Hawaiian. My greatest achievement in life has nothing to do with education or business, it is having raised a child who proudly speaks Hawaiian, who proudly practices his culture, and, according to him, has never once felt anything but proud to be Hawaiian.

What you see on the mauna is not merely resistance – it is pride. It is an unyielding confidence that today we know our language; we know our culture; we know our rights; and we know what is best for these islands.

And we will never have those things stripped from us again.

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About the Author

  • Trisha Kehaulani Watson
    Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.