[Story by Mike Foley: Originally published in KALEO, February 26, 1998]
All the hopes and emotions of a long-time vision being fulfilled were on display the evening of Feb. 12 when the Center for Hawaiian Language and Cultural Studies at Brigham Young University-Hawaii was introduced to the public.
The new program’s introduction occurred on Founders Day — 43 years exactly since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by President David O. McKay, founded the new college in Laie.
Photo caption: Professor William K. Wallace III (right) jumped impromptu into the Moloka‘i Nui Ahina hula as part of the BYUH Hawaiian Studies celebration. —photo by Lester Muranaka
“The start of the Hawaiian Studies Center is one of the proudest and most important moments in the history of this University,” said BYUH President Eric Shumway. “Many residents throughout Laie and the North Shore, including myself, have anxiously waited for the time when a Hawaiian-based educational program would be offered at BYU-Hawaii. This is a great opportunity for the students of today and the future.”
Professor William Kauaiwi’ulaokalani Wallace III will lead the new Center and develop its curriculum, along with Kamoa’e Walk. The Center will work closely with kupuna, educators, students and Koolauloa residents in formulating the scope of the entire program.
Wallace choked up while sharing the vision for the Center and recounting his own cultural experiences growing up on the island of Molokai. “The Center will develop and support a network of Hawaiian language and cultural teachers, educators, and professionals that will actively preserve and perpetuate positive Hawaiian cultural values and practices committed to the principles of lokahi, laulima, kokua, and aloha,” said Wallace.
He added the Center will be a place where Native Hawaiians can fulfill their need for personal or collective strength. “The new Center will provide Native Hawaiian students and community members with a crucial sense of place, be a physical symbol of their cultural identity, and a site of strength and support central to their education and future roles as leaders and teachers,” he said.
Anticipated outdoor classroom activities will include raising Native Hawaiian plants, undertaking projects such as canoe building and navigation—important to the Hawaiian heritage, and identifying and studying historic cultural sites in and around Laie.
A major goal of the Center is to produce qualified educators and professionals who can teach Hawaiian in Hawaiian language schools and immersion programs.
If the kickoff celebration was any indication, the program is off to a great start. The evening was filled with beautiful music and hula, emotion-filled chants from Laie kupuna and the presentation of ho’okupu, draping the Viliami Toluta’u Napela-Cannon sculpture with leis, inspiring cultural demonstrations, and messages of support for a program that begins in the 1998 Fall Semester after years of hoping and planning. Many of the participants, most notably the BYUH students, spoke fluent Hawaiian throughout the evening.
A generous grant of $619,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is providing an impressive measure of financial support for the new Center. The Michigan-based Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for native Americans and other indigenous people. The Foundation’s backing will be instrumental to the Center’s success for many generations.
Community organizations providing their support include the Laie Community Association, Laie Kupuna Council, Lanihuli Hawaiian Civic Club, Friends of Mälaekahana, Polynesian Cultural Center, Institute for Polynesian Studies, Hawaii Reserves, Inc., and Na Pilikana O Ko’olauloa.