Speaking Hawaiian inside a Maui courtroom could land a Kula man behind bars. Trial for a Haleakala telescope protestor was scheduled to start at District Court in Wailuku Wednesday morning but it didn’t get very far.
51-year-old defendant Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo identified he was present in court, speaking Hawaiian instead of English. When presiding Judge Blaine Kobayashi told Kaeo he couldn’t understand him, Kaeo continued to speak in his native tongue. The judge refused to recognize Kaeo’s presence in court and issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
According to court records, Kaeo was granted a Hawaiian language translator more than a dozen times for past petty misdemeanor proceedings. Kaeo is able to speak English, and in this case, the judge ordered the trial to be held in English and did not provide a translator.
“It’s really unfortunate. If I spoke Spanish, if I spoke Filipino or Japanese, they would provide an interpreter,” Kaeo said.
When court was dismissed, Kaeo’s supporters shouted and expressed disapproval with the ruling inside the packed courtroom.
“It’s a tragedy. But it’s also important, it wakes people up that really think Hawaii has a sense of equality. You would think Native Hawaiians would have some sense of humanity in this place, knowing the history. Knowing the struggles,” Kaeo exclaimed.
Protestors in favor of Kaeo filled the court’s hallways and exterior with signs and songs. Keiki who attend Hawaiian language immersion program Punana Leo lined the hallways, as well. Some of the children’s parents who were there were in shock. Among them, Kumu Hula Napua Greig who tearfully expressed her frustration during a Facebook live stream.
“I can’t even believe that this is happening today. I can’t even believe it. Why do we educate our kids in our native language if they won’t even be allowed to defend themselves,” said Greig.
Along with English, Hawaiian, is considered an official language of the State of Hawai’i. The Hawai’i State Judiciary told Island News there is no legal requirement to provide Hawaiian language interpreters to court participants who speak English.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe released this statement:
Punishing Native Hawaiians for speaking our native language invokes a disturbing era in Hawai’i’s history when ‘Olelo Hawai’i was prohibited in schools, a form of cultural suppression that substantially contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian language.
Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation’s Executive Director Moses Haia couldn’t believe what took place.
“This is Hawaii. Where else is someone able to be Hawaiian if you can’t be Hawaiian in Hawaii? That’s a sad state of affairs,” Haia told Island News.
As of this writing, Kaeo was not yet served his bench warrant.