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Congresswoman Hirono Successfully Defends Native Hawaiian Education Program

Posted February 20, 2011, 11:15 AM HST
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Congresswoman Mazie Hirono. File photo by Wendy Osher.

By Sonia Isotov

In a vote Friday, the U.S. House passed the Young-Hirono Amendment, 313-117 saving the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Education Equity Act.

The amendment was offered in a spirit of bipartisanship by Congresswoman Hirono and her colleague from across the aisle Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska).

“I appreciate the opportunity to work with him [Young] on this amendment.  For many years, Congressman Young has been a leader on issues of importance to the indigenous, aboriginal peoples of the United States.  He understands that we have a special trust responsibility to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.  And while we sit on different sides of the aisle, the bond between the native peoples of Alaska and Hawaii transcends political party,” said Congresswoman Hirono in a statement Wednesday. 

The Young-Hirono Amendment restored the eligibility of Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education programs for federal funding. Congresswoman Hirono spoke on the House floor late Wednesday night urging her colleagues to support the bipartisan Young-Hirono Amendment that promotes innovative projects that enhance educational services available to Native Hawaiian children, young adults, and educators.

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In a statement, Congresswoman Hirono spoke about the importance of the amendment to the existence and continuation of the Hawaiian culture, “One of the successes of the program has been the flourishing of the Hawaiian language.  Following the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, use of the Hawaiian language in public classrooms was banned.  Like all too many native languages, Hawaiian was on the brink of extinction.  It was only in 1986 that the ban on Hawaiian language in schools was removed. Now, with funds from the Native Hawaiian Education Act, Hawaiian language is taught through immersion schools, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school. We now have a growing cadre of young people who are fluent in the Hawaiian language – thanks in great part to the existence of the Native Hawaiian Education Program.  Several tribes have looked to the success of the Hawaiian language program as a model for how they can ensure the survival of their language.”

The legislation now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

Last October, Native Hawaiian education also got a boost, when Inouye notified the University of Hawaii Maui College that a grant totaling $4 million over five years had been awarded from the U. S. Department of Education for Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions. The allocations are for curriculum development and faculty support in setting up extended services for Native Hawaiian students to achieve their academic goals in college and to graduate.

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