HONOLULU — The Hawaii Conservation Conference this year hosted a panel discussion in the Hawaiian language for the first time.
More than 150 people attended the session featuring nearly a dozen conservation professionals earlier this month, Hawaii Public Radio reported.
“It really put a message out to the rest of the conservation world that it’s not just culture, it’s Hawaiian science. It’s our identity,” said Natalie Kurashima, a Hawaii ethnobotanist. “It’s here to stay. It’s here to grow and it’s here to help all of us, no matter if you’re Hawaiian or not.”
She didn’t grow up speaking the language but was among those on the panel.
The 30-year-old natural resource manager for Kamehameha Schools said her employer mandates Hawaiian language classes — a policy she said was encouraging but rare.
Many of those in the audience listened to the English translation with the help of headsets plugged into portable translation devices.
Noah Haalilio Solomon, the president of the Ahahui Olelo Hawaii, an organization dedicated to the perpetuation of the Hawaiian language, served as interpreter.
He said live translation has its challenges as panelists often speak too quickly and some Hawaiian concepts don’t translate well into English.
Despite the difficulties, hiccups and hard work, he said the panel was a win for Hawaiian language.
Biocultural specialist Pua’ala Pascua, who works at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation in New York, helped organize the panel. She said translation devices are a common sight at other conferences and she didn’t see why they weren’t used in Hawaii.
Ulalia Woodside, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, said the panel represents growth in the field.
“They are conservation professionals for whom the Hawaiian language, and the culture, and the worldview, is the way by which they approach their daily life and it’s changing conservation for the better,” Woodside said.
Woodside says this is making conservation work much more relevant to Hawaii, and can make all the difference in helping Hawaii meet the greatest environmental challenges.