Restoration of Hawaiian Place Names Rejected


By Lisa Kaneshiro

For the second year in a row, the Hawaii legislature was faced with a resolution to rename McKinley High School and remove the statue of President McKinley on the oval.

Shane Kaneshiro, editor-in-chief

For the second year in a row, the Hawaii legislature was faced with a resolution to rename McKinley High School and remove the statue of President McKinley on the oval.

After hearing testimony on March 24, Representative Jeanne Kapela, vice-chair of the House Education Committee, proposed an amendment to create a working group to make recommendations regarding the restoration of Hawaiian place names throughout Hawaii’s public school system in reference to the injustice to Native Hawaiians.

The committee rejected the resolution and the amendments. Several legislators provided comments on their opposition, including Representative Sean Quinlan of House District 47.
Similar to McKinley’s situation, Kahuku High and Intermediate School were targeted for it’s nickname of “Red Raiders” and it’s traditions. Following recommendations from the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Compliance Branch, the school removed the mascot and controversial traditions, such as the tomahawk chop chant. The nickname “Red Raiders” remains with a new logo.

“I have a fear from my own community,” Quinlan said. “A couple of years ago some folks tried to rename our state championship Red Raiders football team.”

In his opposition statement, Representative Gregg Takayama said that policies regarding names are already in place, citing the Board of Regents for the University of Hawaii system.

Takayama attended Farrington High School and Dole Intermediate School and referenced the roles of Sanford Ballard Dole and Wallace Rider Farrington in Hawaiian history as possible future name controversies. In addition, he mentioned Washington Intermediate and Jefferson Elementary, which are named after major slaveholders in colonial days.

“My concern is that setting this working group sets a path to which I don’t know the end,” Takayama said.

Takayama said he sees an alternative: create a curriculum that encourages students to engage in critical discussions of their school namesakes, positive and negative, and let that be a part of their education.

A former student member on the Board of Education, Representative Troy Hashimoto explained the original intent of Act 51, created in 2004 to reinvent the way that schools are governed, with the establishment of a school community council. Board of Education’s Policy 301-8 asks each of the school community councils to have the responsibility for naming those facilities. Hashimoto reiterated that each community should have that conversation.

“I don’t think it’s us, the legislature, that should be leading the conversation about name change,” Hashimoto said. “It should be each school having that critical conversation and that was the role and the purpose of Act 51. It allows each school’s governance board to kind of have that conversation.”

In response to Chair Justin Woodson’s inquiry about the policy and its process towards the formal discussion, Ken Kakesako, acting director for the Policy, Innovation Planning and Evaluation Branch, elaborated on Policy 301-8.

“We (DOE) like to leave the decision to the School Community Council and the school itself to make the judgment call,” Kakesako said.
 In a Zoom interview with The Pinion, Kakesako explained that Act 51 was implemented for the SCC to advise the principal on matters that affect student achievement and school improvement. The leadership structure enables shared decision-making among principals, teachers, school staff, parents, students, and community members. The SCC strengthens the ties between school and community that provides a voice for all major stakeholder groups. The SCC creates opportunities for collaboration and partnership in the educational system and focuses on a shared goal of improving student achievement and system accountability.

On Nov. 18, 2021, McKinley’s SCC submitted a formal letter to the Board of Education to confirm their vote at a Sept. 29 meeting. The SCC voted nine out of nine against the name change.

McKinley’s principal, Ron Okamura, elaborated on this decision during an interview with Hawaii Public Radio.

“The school community council should be the one that determines the name change. That is what the law is saying. That’s what our policy dictates and procedures dictate,” Okamura said. “And to me, that’s the ultimate decision.”

Okamura emphasized local people were born and raised to have a sense of belonging to a place. McKinley has always been that place and is held in high honor, Okamura told HPR.

“It is truly about looking at education. You don’t censor history. You don’t change it. That’s always been my stance on what’s going on here and the continuation of this movement,” Okamura said. “We teach all sides. The good, bad, the ugly, and we let our kids make the decisions after that, but you have to give them that perspective of every single side. That was the reason why we exist today. And that’s what history teaches us. You don’t make the same mistakes again.”
Aligned to Okamura’s belief of education, Representative Luella Costales applauded Resolution HCR 56 HD1 and HR 50 HD1, a student-initiated force to implement Filipino history, culture, and identity curriculum in high schools for empowerment.

“We saw from this the students who were involved in the Filipino culture and history that they took the matter into their own hands and moved it forward and are really making a lot of accomplishments,” Costales said. “I don’t see this as a stopping place for this discussion.
A student member of McKinley’s SCC, Junior Cayenne-Ayana Dabalos, was in attendance at the meeting when the council voted to keep the name. She said, however, more could be done and this conversation should continue.
“I feel as though it (this decision) should be opened up to more staff and students of McKinley High School,” Dabalos said.

Another student member of the SCC, Erwin Laroco, agrees with Dabalos. He said he wants to hear more from the students. He also wants the students to have an opportunity to speak up, give their opinion, and vote about this controversial topic.