It is an especially rewarding time of transition for the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law, where 15 law students graduated at this year’s annual Spring commencement ceremony on May 15 with the Native Hawaiian Law Certificate. (A number that doubled from the previous year.)
The Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law is the first and only program to offer a Native Hawaiian Law Certificate. The program aims to nurture education by actively reaching out and collaborating with the community on issues of law, culture and justice for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific and indigenous populations.
Although Ka Huli Ao’s history traces back to just six years ago, many advancing leaps have been made; Melody MacKenzie, an associate professor of Law and Director for Ka Huli Ao, says “Last year was the first year we offered a full stand-alone certificate program. Beginning in 2007, students wanting to concentrate in Native Hawaiian Law were able to get a Pacific & Asian Legal Studies (PALS) with a specialty in Native Hawaiian Law. In 2009, the Law School faculty approved a full stand-alone certificate; so 2010 was the first year we offered the stand-alone certificate.”
Recent law graduate Mark Jensen echoes this sentiment and says, “I am a Mainland haole who moved here to go to school and practice law. I did not come up in Hawaiʻi’s school system and I knew little of the unique legal issues in the state and among our indigenous population. In my opinion, it is appropriate, if not crucial, for outsiders like me to educate themselves on local issues.”
Amy Binker, a leading force in the legislative effort to “legalize paʻiʻai” is just one example from this unique and diverse group of graduates to make a direct impact on the community.
Derek Kauanoe, the Community and Student Outreach coordinator at Ka Huli Ao Center and 2008 law graduate says, “The Native Hawaiian Law Certificate fills a unique need here in Hawaiʻi and provides guidance for some of our students from other pacific islands. For example, traditional and customary rights in Hawaiʻi are different from those in other states. People want to better understand and advocate for traditional and customary rights. They also understand that the values underlying native cultures are consistent with good environmental practices, and they see indigenous societies as offering some answers to the environmental and social problems that plague us.”