When facing charges regarding his participation in a 2017 protest against the construction of a new telescope on top of Haleakala (a volcano on Maui), Professor Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo refused to address the judge in English, opting for Hawaiian instead, AP reports. For that, the judge issued a warrant for the University of Hawaii professor’s arrest. Kind of harsh, don’t you think? Oh, and did I mention this went down in Wailuku, Hawaii?
Reportedly, Judge Blaine Kobayshi asked Kaeo to confirm his identity, and Kaeo continued to respond in Hawaiian. So, the judge reasoned, “the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo,” and issued a warrant for his arrest. Kaeo was facing misdemeanor charges of obstructing a sidewalk and disorderly conduct.
Having appeared before the judge before, Kaeo alleged, “it was about the fact I was speaking Hawaiian that he didn’t like.” The Hawaii State Judiciary released a statement confirming that there is no legal requirement “to provide Hawaiian language interpreters to court participants who speak English but prefer to speak in Hawaiian,” and in such instances, it’s up to the judge’s discretion.
However, the chief executive of the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamanaopono Crabben, says the judge’s actions are a means of “punishing Native Hawaiians for speaking our native language.” Crabben said the incident recalls a time in the state’s past when Hawaiian “was prohibited in schools, a form of cultural suppression that substantially contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian language.”
The warrant was eventually rescinded following criticism, Hawaii News Now reports. The state Judiciary also stated that it would reconsider "its polices regarding the provision of Hawaiian language interpreters."