Interior Department Announces New Guidance to Honor and Elevate Hawaiian Language

Last edited 02/07/2024

Date: Thursday, February 1, 2024

WASHINGTON — In commemoration of Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, or Hawaiian Language Month, and in recognition of its unique relationship with the Native Hawaiian Community, the Department of the Interior today announced new guidance on the use of the Hawaiian language.  

A comprehensive new Departmental Manual chapter underscores the Department’s commitment to further integrating Indigenous Knowledge and cultural practices into conservation stewardship.  

“Prioritizing the preservation of the Hawaiian language and culture and elevating Indigenous Knowledge is central to the Biden-Harris administration's work to meet the unique needs of the Native Hawaiian Community,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “As we deploy historic resources to Hawaiʻi from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Interior Department is committed to ensuring our internal policies and communications use accurate language and data."  

Department bureaus and offices that engage in communication with the Native Hawaiian Community or produce documentation addressing places, resources, actions or interests in Hawaiʻi will use the new guidance on ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) for various identifications and references, including flora and fauna, cultural sites, geographic place names, and government units within the state.  The guidance recognizes the evolving nature of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi and acknowledges the absence of a single authoritative source. While the Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui & Elbert 2003) is designated as the baseline standard for non-geographic words and place names, Department bureaus and offices are encouraged to consult other standard works, as well as the Board on Geographic Names database.  

Developed collaboratively and informed by ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi practitioners, instructors and advocates, the new guidance emerged from virtual consultation sessions and public comment in 2023 with the Native Hawaiian Community. 

The new guidance aligns with the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to strengthening relationships with the Native Hawaiian Community through efforts such as the Kapapahuliau Climate Resilience Program and Hawaiian Forest Bird Keystone Initiative. During her trip to Hawaiʻi in June, Secretary Haaland emphasized recognizing and including Indigenous Knowledge, promoting co-stewardship, protecting sacred sites, and recommitting to meaningful and robust consultation with the Native Hawaiian Community. 

For more information, visit the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations' website.


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