NEW YORK - Hawaiian language takes center stage at the United Nations this week. On Friday, President Maria Espinosa of the UN General Assembly held a high level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York to launch the "2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages."

The UN General Assembly says it wants to draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages and to take further urgent steps at the national and international levels.

Hawai?i's Amy Kalili represented Aha Punana Leo’s Mokuola Honua: Center for Indigenous Language Excellence and is also the Pacific Region Representative on UNESCO’s 2019 IYIL Steering Committee.

Kalili told the group, “One of the greatest benefits of this distinguished bodies’ declaration of this 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages is the opportunity for us to come together, learn what our collective global indigenous lahui or nation is doing to address and reverse language loss and capitalize on this platform to speak to a global community about the continued importance, relevance and capacity of our olelo oiwi, our indigenous languages.”

Aha Punana Leo is a Native Hawaiian nonprofit established in 1983 with a vision of “E Ola Ka Olelo Hawaii” (The Hawaiian Language Shall Live) and a mission to revitalize the Hawaiian language as a living language in Hawaii and beyond. 

The Mokuola Honua: Global Center for Indigenous Language Excellence is a budding initiative developed in partnership between Aha Punana Leo and the Ka Haka Ula o Keelikolani Hawaiian Language College of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. 

International indigenous language advocates who have spent years of diplomacy and determination getting the year declared are pleased. “We come with humility as your guests to this great house to speak on behalf of 370 million indigenous peoples around the world,” affirmed Grand Chief Edward John, a First Nations leader of Canada.

Hawaii’s indigenous language - olelo Hawaii - was once itself near the brink of extinction with less than 30 speakers under the age of 18 only a short 35 years ago. Use of Hawaiian language is on the rise again, with an estimated 25,000 or more speakers today, and the Hawaiian language movement has become a model for indigenous language revitalization, according to Mokuola Honua.

The UNESCO Action Plan for the 2019 IYIL includes a range of activities, including hundreds of events worldwide, global conferences, a social media campaign (#IndigenousLanguages), and more. For more, visit www.en.iyil2019.org.