Amy Kalili: Bringing Hawaiian Language to the forefront

When eight-year-old Amy Kalili and her family moved to Hilo, she had a southern twang and only a faint understanding of her Hawaiian identity. She never would have guessed that several years later she would be intimately involved in the Hawaiian language movement.

Today, Kalili is known for her work with ʻAha Pūnana Leo, a nonprofit, family-based educational organization devoted to revitalization of the Hawaiian language. Most recently, she’s recognized for her trailblazing work in bringing Hawaiian language to mainstream television.

While her career has no doubt expanded over the years, her primary goal has remained the same—to promote and encourage the use of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Her undergraduate years at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo helped to lay the framework for her future work in education.

A conversation with her Hawaiian language teacher led to her first job at Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center. After graduating with her bachelor of arts and bachelor of business administration from UH Hilo, she went on to work for ʻAha Pūnana Leo.

Kalili later went on to receive her masters of business administration and juris doctor degree through the joint degree program offered by Shidler College of Business and the William S. Richardson School of Law at UH Mānoa. She then returned to ʻAha Pūnana Leo to serve as executive director.

While at ʻAha Pūnana Leo, Kalili was offered a unique opportunity to put Hawaiian language on mainstream television as part of Kamehameha Schools’ 2007 Song Contest broadcast on KGMB. Although she had no previous television broadcasting experience, the segments received overwhelmingly positive response.

“I never thought I’d be doing what I’m doing now,” says Kalili. “I believe it’s the foundation provided because of the work that I’ve done in and around things ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and kuanaʻike, our perspective-wise as a Hawaiian, that has really opened the doors for me for the things that I am doing career-wise.”

University of Hawai‘i Alumni