(HONOLULU--July 7, 2014)--A language dies every 14 days. This sad truth was shared by Smithsonian Institute’s Dr. Michael Mason at the 2014 Native American Languages Summit held in Arlington, Va. last month. In the audience of about 300 Native Americans and Pacific Islanders were four representatives from Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center who are working in Hawaiʻi to teach the Samoan language to students of all ages.
Le Fetuao Executive Director and Founder Elisapeta Tuʻupo-Alaimaleata, Board Chair Dr. Meripa Godinet, Compliance and Financial Officer Rosia Tavita Curry and Communications Coordinator Alice Malepeai Silbanuz are a part of the 14-person staff providing free Samoan language lessons to help ensure that the Samoan language thrives in Hawaiʻi.
“Each year, 40 million dollars is provided to communities through the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) with one-third going toward language preservation and maintenance,” stated ANA Commission Lillian Sparks Robinson at the language summit held June 20.
On behalf of the children and families at Le Fetuao, Godinet and Tu'upo-Alaimaleata presented Robinson with a tanoa 'ava made in Samoa and a canvas photo of Samoan children taken May 17, 2014 at Le Fetuao's End of School Year Celebration. The photo is a reminder to ANA staff that the work they do and funds they provide are helping to improve the lives of children and families not only in Hawaiʻi, but in every grantee community in the Pacific and across the nation.
Le Fetuao is one of only 13 projects out of more than 90 applications in the nation that received ANA language maintenance and preservation grant funding in 2013. The funding is to create a community-based Samoan language curriculum, develop a Samoan language teacher training model, integrate technology and expand their popular services to be provided in two additional locations in Hawaiʻi.
While visiting the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. for grantee meetings and the summit, Le Fetuao staff took the opportunity to brief staff from some of Hawaiʻi's Congressional delegates: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Brian Schatz. The congressional visits concluded with a productive meeting with American Samoa Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, who is very supportive of Le Fetuao's efforts in language preservation and maintenance.
At the meetings, Le Fetuao shared how it is providing employment opportunities for the Samoan community in Hawaiʻi, bringing academics and community members together to document a Samoan language curriculum that can be used by other Aoga Samoa (Samoan language schools). Additionally, the free Samoan language courses offered on Saturdays and during Hawaiʻi DOE breaks have become so popular that Le Fetuao has had to placed a number of families on a waitlist. In August, with the assistance of the ANA grant they plan to open a new A'oga Samoa at the Waiʻanae First Samoan Methodist Church under the directorship of Rev. Pesi and Tala Vitale.
In 2015, a third unnamed location will open providing much needed Samoan language lessons, and jobs for the Samoan community.
“We are so thankful to ANA for providing the resources that help us to give more students the opportunity to learn the Samoan language and culture and be proud of their Samoan heritage,” said Tuʻupo-Alaimaleata.