Council establishes Hawaiian Language Communications Specialist

The Maui County Council approved the appointment of a Hawaiian Language Communications Specialist on Aug. 5, providing ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi as a medium in the council’s public-information efforts. 

Council Vice-Chair Keani N.W. Rawlins-Fernandez initiated the position in the Office of Council Services and a similar position in the executive branch’s Department of Management. The effort was made to ensure ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi has a regular presence in local government as one of the state’s official languages. Rawlins-Fernandez said Maui County is the first county in the state to appoint a communications specialist whose routine responsibilities include Hawaiian translation of some official documents.

“So much of our culture will not be able to be practiced if the resources are not there—if the streams do not run, there will be no ʻoʻopu or hīhīwai,” said Rawlins-Fernandez in a press release announcement. “The muliwai will not have limu to teach the next generation how to properly identify, harvest, prepare and enjoy the limu that was once everywhere.”

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Kamehameha Schools Maui alumna Riann “Nālani” Fujihara started as the council’s Hawaiian Language Communications Specialist on Aug. 8. Fujihara, who graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian Language, leads the Office of Council Services’ efforts to share legislative information with public and will translate selected documents upon councilmembers’ requests.

“It is invaluable to have advocates for ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and moʻomeheu Hawaiʻi in spaces where people are making important decisions for our community,” Fujihara said. “I’m grateful because this position opens the door to produce more public documents written in Hawaiian and create more Hawaiʻi-centered learning environments within Maui County and elsewhere.”

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi has been an official language of Hawaiʻi since 1978, when the updated state constitution validated all public records that were or will be written in Hawaiian.

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The council collaborated with Kumu Hula Cody Pueo Pata to issue their first press release in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi on Aug. 11. The release by Councilmember Tamara Paltin, was titled “He hālāwai pūnaewele no nā aloha ʻāina.”

Rawlins-Fernandez said that there will be additional collaborative efforts, among Maui County government officials and others across state, to create a Hawaiian vocabulary for technical English terms on governmental affairs. 

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