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Cultural Milestone of Hawai’i

girl in snorkeling mask dive underwater with tropical fishes in coral reef sea pool in Hawai'i.

Hawaiian Airlines has marked an important cultural milestone as Hawai‘i’s airline by establishing an ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language) certification program for employees. Launched to coincide with ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i Month, the certification is available free of charge to Hawaiian’s 7,200-plus employees.

“Adding ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i as a recognized language was a natural move for Hawaiian, since the majority of our ‘ohana was either born or raised on our islands,” said Jim Lynde, senior vice president of human resources at Hawaiian Airlines. “We believe the Hawaiian language certification will inspire and empower even more team members to share ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i with our guests.”

The airline developed the certification program in consultation with numerous Hawaiian language experts, including Dr. Larry Kimura and Dr. Leilani Basham. Kimura is considered the grandfather of Hawaiian language revitalization. Basham a professor at the University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu and is renowned for perpetuating Hawaiian culture in academia.

To be eligible, employees must be existing speakers and demonstrate advanced proficiency through an oral and reading exam. Those qualified are recognized with the Hae Hawai‘i (Hawai‘i’s state flag) imprinted on their nametags. This places ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i speakers alongside colleagues at the company who are fluent in a variety of languages, including French, Japanese, Korean, and Samoan. The program was spearheaded by team members in Hawaiian’s In-Flight Services Department, which currently has 13 certified speakers. As more ‘ōlelo speakers are certified, they will help Hawaiian advance the language’s use throughout its operations and workplace and during interactions with guests.

Cultural Initiative

Previous cultural initiatives at Hawaiian have included offering complimentary introductory Hawaiian language and hula lessons to employees, giving its aircraft Hawaiian names, and celebrating new routes and special events with Hawaiian blessings. Last month, the airline unveiled a Hawaiian Culture Resource Center at its Honolulu headquarters. Employees and visitors may explore Hawai‘i’s culture, language, geography, and history via native Hawaiian books, artwork, lauhala (woven leaf) mats and baskets, and instruments. It is being showcased through March. Last year, Hawaiian operated seven flights in which crewmembers incorporated Hawaiian language into their standard boarding and in-flight announcements. “He pō‘aiapili hou nā huaka‘i mokulele ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, kahi e ola hou aku ai ka ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i,” flight attendant Punahele Kealanahele Querubin said during a flight. This translates to “‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i flights are another opportunity for our Hawaiian language to thrive.”

In October, Hawaiian Airlines earned the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s Legacy Award. This prestigious accolade honors local organizations that are revitalizing ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. Upon accepting the award at the Global Tourism Summit in Honolulu, Debbie Nakanelua-Richards said, “We believe it is through our language that aloha becomes more than a greeting; it becomes a story about our present, our past, and our future.” ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i was banned in Hawai‘i’s classrooms in 1896, three years after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

n the 1970s, a group of passionate college students, including Dr. Kimura, and the last fluent Hawaiian-speaking elders came together to bring back the language. Their persistent efforts at the Hawai‘i State Legislature eventually led to the creation of the Hawaiian language revitalization movement. Since then, Hawaiian language has joined English as a state designated official language. It is studied and spoken by students in schools and universities statewide as it regains its place in everyday business and life in Hawai‘i.

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