Between 1898 and 1941, dozens of petitions from across the islands sent by Hawaiians living in rural communities reached the desk of the territorial superintendent. Their claims ranged from issues related to teacher and principal appointments, requests for more resources (teaching supplies, books), desires for greater local influence over classroom curriculum, and infrastructure improvement requests (school buildings, field maintenance). From 1901 to 1939, Native politicians in the territorial legislature submitted nearly two dozen pieces of legislation that focused on reviving the Hawaiian language as part of the curriculum or as a medium of instruction, providing funding for creating Hawaiian-language learning materials, and offering financial support for Hawaiian students pursuing advanced degrees.
These Native-led initiatives enhance our historical understanding of Native Hawaiian social and political activism during the territorial period by including the dynamic and unique ways those outside the classroom actively sought to shape what happened inside the classroom. Doing so reveals new “grounds of struggle” that forces us to reimagine the Native Hawaiian response to Americanization and American education during Hawaiʻi’s territorial period (1900-1959) as more complex and extensive than previously understood. This understanding helps demonstrate how the culture wars in Hawaiʻi’s public education system were not confined only to Natives inside schoolrooms and on school campuses but existed simultaneously outside of formal instructional spaces. Indigenous parents, grandparents, neighbors, community members, and politicians acted collectively to influence public schooling in culturally sustaining ways that benefited their children and future as a people.