Hawaii judge orders arrest of man who spoke Hawaiian language in court

By Ray Downs
Kaleikoa Kaʻeo refused to speak English in a Hawaiian court on Thursday and a judge declared him "not present." Photo by Office of Hawaiian Affairs
Kaleikoa Kaʻeo refused to speak English in a Hawaiian court on Thursday and a judge declared him "not present." Photo by Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A Hawaii judge on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for a man because he spoke the Hawaiian language in the courtroom.

Kaleikoa Kaʻeo, a Hawaiian Studies professor at University of Hawaii Maui College, appeared in court to face three misdemeanor charges stemming from a protest against the construction of a telescope in the Haleakalā National Park last year. The charges include disorderly conduct, obstructing a sidewalk and failure to obey police who were directing traffic. Ka'eo pleaded not guilty to all charges during a previous court appearance.


But on Thursday, when judge Blaine Kobayashi asked Ka'eo to confirm his presence in court, Ka'eo answered only in Hawaiian, which is one of the official state languages, along with English.

"Eia no wau ke ku nei," Ka'eo said, which means, "Here I am standing here."

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Kobayashi asked Ka'eo, who is fluent in English, to speak in English, but the college professor only repeated "Here I am standing here" in Hawaiian.

Kobayashi marked Ka'eo down as "Not present" and issued a bench warrant for his arrest, Maui Now reported.

"I do not want to be held in contempt of court. I don't wanna be fined. I don't want to go to jail for this," Ka'eo told Hawaii Public Radio. "But if there's any reason for me, Kaleikoa Ka'eo, to go to jail, it would be to defend our right as a people to speak our language in our own homeland."


Since Ka'eo was in court on charges related to a protest held to protect a sacred Hawaiian site, he felt it was appropriate to speak in Hawaiian.

"There are things you can say in Hawaiian that you know really express through our cultural view of why its important for us to defend our sacred sites," he said.

Hawaiian courts provide interpreters for nearly 50 languages, including Hawaiian. But Debi Tulang-De Silva, the program director for Hawaii's Judiciary's Office of Equality and Access to the Courts, said Kobayashi wasn't obligated to hire the person because Ka'eo speaks English.

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"In those cases, judges have the discretion to grant or deny a request for an interpreter," Tulang-De Silva said.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency which aims at improving the well-being of Native Hawaiians, said it was "deeply disturbed and offended" by the judge's decision.

"Punishing Native Hawaiians for speaking our native language invokes a disturbing era in Hawaii's history when 'Ōlelo Hawaiʻi was prohibited in schools, a form of cultural suppression that substantially contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian language," the OHA said.

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