Submit testimony in support of a name change to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature by Wednesday, March 17

The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association, as approved by its Board of Directors, supports the call to change the name of President William McKinley High School and remove his statue from the school grounds.

As educators, we are deeply committed to supporting our keiki and our community. We are proud to live in a vibrant tapestry of cultures with shared values rooted in ʻohana and ʻāina. We lift our students with knowledge, awareness, skill, and confidence; creating an environment of equity that allows every student to thrive.

Here, we explain why the name President William McKinley does not honor this commitment.

The school’s name glorifies a man who illegally annexed a country against the will of her queen and people.

On Jan. 16, 1893, U.S. troops invaded the Hawaiian Kingdom, which led to a conditional surrender by the Hawaiian Kingdom’s executive monarch, Her Majesty Queen Lili‘uokalani. An investigation initiated by President Grover Cleveland called this invasion “an act of war.” President Cleveland agreed to restore the Hawaiian Kingdom if Queen Lili‘uokalani granted amnesty to the provisional government that overthrew her. She ultimately agreed, but unfortunately, President Cleveland did not get elected to a second term and could not restore her to her rightful position.

When McKinley took office, he proceeded to annex Hawaiʻi, ignoring protests by Queen Liliʻuokalani, two Hawaiian political organizations — Hui Aloha ʻĀina and Hui Kālaiʻāina — and a petition of more than 21,000 signatures from Hawaiian citizens and residents submitted by Hui Aloha ʻĀina. Hui Kālaiʻāina collected an additional 17,000 signatures.

When he could not obtain a two-thirds vote in the Senate to ratify a “treaty” of annexation with the illegal Republic of Hawaiʻi, McKinley pushed for a joint resolution in the U.S. Congress, a domestic measure that required a simple majority, but had no lawful authority beyond U.S. borders. McKinley signed the resolution into law on July 7, 1898.

The name reflects an indoctrination of Hawaiian students and a movement that obliterated Native Hawaiian identity in favor of American patriotism.

To enforce the annexation, the government implemented a “methodical plan of Americanization” that “sought to obliterate the national consciousness of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the minds of the school children throughout the islands. It was developed by the Territory of Hawai‘i’s Department of Public Instruction and called ‘Programme for Patriotic Exercises in the Public Schools.’”

The government made it illegal for anyone to have a Native Hawaiian first name, or even speak the Hawaiian language in public. Native Hawaiians were forced to suppress their Hawaiian cultural and national identity in favor of American allegiance.

If students weren’t “Americanized” enough, they weren’t allowed to attend high school and entered the workforce instead. In 1907, Harper’s Weekly correspondent William Inglis noted the “astounding” difference in student body from grade school to Honolulu High School: “Below were all the hues of the human spectrum, with brown and yellow predominating; here the tone was clearly white.”

Honolulu High School was the former name of what is now President William McKinley High School. The school itself was originally established in 1833 as the Oahu Charity School. Its name was subsequently changed to Honolulu Town School then Fort Street School. In 1895, it moved from Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani’s former residence to its current location and was renamed Honolulu High School.

The change from Honolulu High School to President William McKinley High School in 1907 and the installation of McKinley’s statue in 1911 reflect the government’s targeted indoctrination in schools.

An article published in The Hawaiian Star on Nov. 22, 1901, said:

“It is believed that the project of erecting a local memorial to Mr. McKinley, if carried out by all classes of the Hawaiian population, and participated in by the school children, will tend to develop partiotism (sic) and go to strengthen the interest of our people in American institutions and principles.”

This indoctrination also impacted teachers, many of whom were Native Hawaiian women, forced to teach curriculum that handcuffed their personal beliefs and identity. According to a 2017 Office of Hawaiian Affairs report, Native Hawaiian teachers made up 41.1 percent of the total number of teachers prior to 1893. “The combination of non-Hawaiian teacher recruitment, lower pay for Native Hawaiian teachers, and the mandate of using only the English language in schools led to the decline of Native Hawaiian teachers,” the OHA report concluded.

The devastating loss of Native Hawaiian identity, culture, and language has yet to fully recover.

Though the overthrow and annexation occurred more than a century ago, their destructive impacts continue to fester. Those who did not live through this era may never fully understand the far-reaching damage and trauma colonization has on its people.

Americanization and the denial of Native Hawaiian names, language, and learning made many Native Hawaiians ashamed of their cultural identity. They believed they were worth less — a mentality that has been passed down and continues to cripple successive generations.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs stated, “The practice of using Western standards to validate Hawaiian culturally-based activities and behaviors led to the devaluing of the traditional Hawaiian system and caused shame and embarrassment among Native Hawaiians. Navigating the immense cultural shifts and the depreciation of Hawaiian values and traditions caused internal moral conflicts between preserving the old and embracing the new. These effects can still be seen today.”

Public schools were established by the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1840 by King Kamehameha III. As of 1834, the literacy rate among Hawaiians was estimated between 91 percent and 95 percent. Now, one in every six adults in Hawaiʻi, or more than 16 percent of the adult population, cannot read or write at a basic level.

This statistic, while not isolated to the Native Hawaiian population, indicates a disconnect from language and education. In 2016, Native Hawaiian reading proficiency percentages ranged from high of 41.2 percent in grade 5 to a low of 29.2 percent in grade 7, far below the non-Hawaiian range of 60.3 percent in grade 5 through 50.5 percent in grade 7; and the largest proficiency gap of 20.8 percentage points occurred in grade 11. This loss of literacy leads to higher dropout rates, unemployment, low wages, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration.

Continued suppression of Hawaiian culture and identity further exacerbates the challenges Native Hawaiians face today in areas including sustainability, land use, and resources management. No group should be forced to prove themselves on their own land, or left to struggle and fail.

It is our kuleana (responsibility) to restore pono (righteousness).

Changing the name of McKinley High School back to Honolulu High School restores pono and pride to Hawaiʻi, our ʻāina, and our people, especially our youth. We must teach our keiki to fully embrace their true history and identity if we want them to thrive.

This need is not exclusive to Native Hawaiians. Staying true to our values and righting our wrongs heals our ʻohana and uplifts our entire community. We must brave the first step by removing a prominent figure who was instrumental in the harm and trauma of our collective history.

A similar change occurred in Alaska in 2015 when President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell restored the name Denali to what had been called Mount McKinley for nearly a century. Denali, or “deenaalee,” means “the tall one” in the Koyukon language, spoken for thousands of years by an indigenous Athabaskan group.

“Denali’s name has long been seen as one such slight, regarded as an example of cultural imperialism in which a Native American name with historical roots was replaced by an American one having little to do with the place,” according to The New York Times.

“There’s no denying that for some Americans, the deck’s been stacked against them, sometimes for generations, and that’s been true of many Native Americans,” said President Obama. “But if we’re working together, we can make things better.”

Names have great significance to us. A school’s name should honor its greatness.

Names are a cornerstone of our identity. In Hawaiian culture, names are chosen with great deliberation to imbue their possessors with sacred story and energy.

Eōmailani K. Kukahiko, Ph.D., a University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty member in the Curriculum Studies Department who specializes in Hawaiian language immersion, wrote, “Hawaiian names tell the stories of our people. Names are usually given by kūpuna, or to honor kūpuna. Sometimes names appear in a dream, inoa pō, yet other times as a recording of a specific event.”

McKinley High is an incredible school with impressive accomplishments and prominent alumni. It serves and supports our community. Its halls are steeped in spirit, honor, and pride. It’s important that we recognize the true source of this excellence: the students, the educators, the community, the ʻāina.

This great school deserves a better name.

McKinley High School is located in the ahupuaʻa of Honolulu, in the moku of Kona, on the mokupuni of Oʻahu. Changing the school’s name back to Honolulu High School honors its life source, the land that feeds it.

We are joining an ongoing movement across Hawaiʻi and the U.S. continent.

Kahuku High and Intermediate in Windward Oʻahu: The school community council is currently vetting an independent facilitator to help change its mascot. The Hawaii State Department of Education’s Civil Rights Compliance Branch confirmed in November 2020 “that the use of a Native American as the mascot of KHIS, the term ‘Red Raiders,’ and the ‘tomahawk chop,’ is, in fact, discriminatory, as it mocks protected classes (race, color, ancestry and national origin).” In an attempt to address concerns, KHIS made its mascot Polynesian, but the branch found the overall use of an ethnic figure problematic for the same reason. The school is also actively discouraging use of the “tomahawk chop” as a fan cheer, but will keep the name Red Raiders, according to the SCC’s Feb. 4, 2021 meeting minutes.

Central Intermediate in Honolulu, Oʻahu: In an opinion piece for Civil Beat, Kukahiko, a University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty member, calls for Central Intermediate to be named Keʻelikōlani School. “Those unfamiliar may think that this school is located in Anywhere, USA. In fact, it is built upon the ʻāina of Akopua where once stood the grand home of Ruth Keanolani Kanāhoahoa Keʻelikōlani, Keōua Hale,” she wrote. “As a people whose majority is several generations removed from native speakers and disparately dispossessed of land, we have accepted these insidious changes and desecration of ʻāina as commonplace.”

Kaʻōhao Public Charter School in Kailua, Oʻahu: Lanikai Elementary Public Charter School became Kaʻōhao Public Charter School (aka Kaʻōhao School) on July 1, 2017. Kaʻōhao is the true name of the area between Kailua Beach and Waimanalo Beach, which a developer called Lanikai in an incorrect attempt to say heavenly sea. “We believe that our name change represents much of what we stand for as a school. In many ways, we are tying and joining together the past, the present, and the future. We do this humbly, with cultural respect and understanding; and applying knowledge from awareness to action, the chief aim of education,” according to the school’s website.

It’s not just schools. There is a community movement to restore other place names to their inoa ‘ōiwi, such as Puʻuloa instead of Pearl Harbor, or Maunalua instead of Hawaiʻi Kai.

Kīlauea Fissure 8 was named Ahuʻailāʻau through a process that involved the community in thorough, meaningful conversations. “Ahuʻailāʻau, which refers to the altar of the volcano deity ‘Ailā‘au, was selected from dozens of community submitted proposals. Hawaiʻi County Council Resolution 640-18 requested that the Hawaiʻi Board on Geographic Names consult with the communities impacted by the eruption to ensure traditional, cultural, and family ties were considered in order to establish appropriate names for the Fissure 8 vent and any other features of the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano,” as explained in a state-issued news release.

The City and County of Honolulu’s Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, Chapter 22, Article 8 stipulates that all street names shall “consist of Hawaiian names, word or phrases and shall be selected with a view to the appropriateness of the name to historic, cultural, scenic and topographical features of the area.” This law has been in effect since 1978.

According to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, 168 Confederate symbols, including 94 monuments, were removed across the United States in 2020, virtually all of them following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. “Critics argue that removing or renaming tributes to Confederate figures amounts to erasing history, the SPLC points out. But many historians — and public opinion polling — reject this concept, saying it’s time for the symbols to go, and possible to engage with this period of history in other ways,” according to a National Public Radio report.

Let’s take action together!

A resolution to change McKinley High School’s name back to Honolulu High School was heard by the House Committee on Education on Thursday, March 18. Unfortunately, the committee deferred action on House Resolution 148 and House Concurrent Resolution 179.

Instructions:

  1. Register for an account on the Hawaiʻi State Legislature’s website. [Click to view: Instructions | Video]
  2. Prepare and submit your written testimony here. [Click to view: Instructions | Video | Sample testimony]
  3. Under Your position on HR148, check Support.
  4. Under How will you be testifying?, we recommend checking Remotely via Zoom during the hearing & submitting written testimony if you are available to provide remote oral testimony during the hearing.

Written testimony tips:

  • Address the committee chair and members: “Chair Woodson, Vice Chair Kapela, and members of the House Committee on Education.”
  • State the resolution and your position: “I am submitting testimony in support of House Resolution 148.”
  • Introduce yourself and the group or organization (if any) you represent.
  • Summarize the reason for your position.
    • Provide factual accounts of the impact the legislation will have.
    • Tell a personal story. Personal stories demonstrating your position can be powerful.
  • Restate your position and provide a recommendation for action: “Please vote in support of House Resolution 148.”
  • Thank the committee for the opportunity to testify.

For oral testimony, follow the above format and note the following tips:

  • Keep your testimony short and simple, approximately 2–3 minutes.
  • Focus on your message and remember to breathe.
  • Use a friendly, relaxed tone of voice.
  • Avoid giving a monologue or a formal speech. Be conversational. Do not read to the committee.
  • Be courteous, respectful, and professional.
  • Anticipate questions you might be asked and practice answering them.

Be sure to also send your testimony directly to your state lawmakers. The Legislature’s website has a search tool in the upper right corner; simply click on Find Your Legislator. Preface your testimony with: “Thank you for being my state representative/senator and for receiving my thoughts on House Resolution 148. I’m asking you to support this as it’s an issue I value greatly, and I want you to be prepared when this resolution comes up for a vote.”

Share this post and encourage others to submit testimony in support of the resolution, especially Native Hawaiian scholars and practitioners, and alumni, colleagues, and community members who have ties to the school.

Voice

Laverne Moore is a special education teacher at McKinley High School and HSTA teacher lobbyist. She shares her personal perspective below:

“As a Native Hawaiian woman who grew up under colonization, I personally experienced what colonization does to a child at a very young age. I was forbidden to speak my native tongue. I was forbidden to have a Hawaiian first name. I lost my language. I lost my cultural practices and beliefs. My values. Colonization made me feel like I had no rights. Growing up, I felt marginalized, and I didn’t understand why. I only learned to be proud of my Native Hawaiian identity as an adult, and I realized I had to fight for my rights.

I started teaching special education at McKinley High School in 2001, and I absolutely love it. But I will always struggle with the name McKinley, because I know what he did, how he illegally took away my government and my freedom as a Native Hawaiian. It still hurts. It will always hurt.

When I look at my indigenous students who are Micronesian and Samoan, I see colonization and how we robbed them of their culture and their way of life. I see the displacement and its impacts, and I can’t ignore that. I’m transported back to my childhood; I see a lost young girl who was stripped of her rights, and my heart aches. We were deprived of so much.

My kūpuna always told me I was born to advocate, and as a proud Native Hawaiian, I am keeping my promise to them. I am standing up for those who don’t have a voice; who are taken advantage of or dismissed because they lack the language, power, and knowledge to fight.

We must change the school’s name for our indigenous people. So many who endured this hardship before me have passed, and I fear once my generation is gone, the desire to regain what was stolen from us will slowly fade away.”

If you would like to share your personal story with us, please do so here.

Reflection: Learn the story behind your school’s name.

Explore the meaning behind your own school’s name, or the names and stories of spaces around you. Here are a few examples:

  • Hauʻula Elementary: Named after the Hau flower. Hauʻula was full of Hau bushes and beautiful flowers.
  • Kealakehe Elementary: Named for the ahupuaʻa in which it is located, Kealakehe is appropriately matched to the location. Ala or keala means “path, road, or highway,” keʻe means crooked or winding, so Kealakehe is “a winding road.”

Reach out to veteran or Hawaiian studies teachers or your school’s cultural practitioner to discover the meaning of your school’s name, then share your findings with us.

Resources and references

View our Google Slides presentation (preview below).

National Education Association series on the U.S. occupation and overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom

Additional resources and references

This post was written by HSTA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee with support from the HSTA Government Relations Committee and Laverne Moore, HSTA teacher lobbyist and a McKinley High School special education teacher. It follows an initiative launched in 2015 by Kohala High School teacher Aoloa Patao.