A University of Hawaii professor on Maui says a warrant was issued for his arrest because he spoke Hawaiian to a judge in a Wailuku courtroom.
The warrant for Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo’s arrest was issued Wednesday, and swiftly spurred a wave of outrage among his supporters.
After being asked to identify himself, Kaeo did so in Hawaiian — and that led the judge to rule him not present.
“Since the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo, bailiff, make three calls for the defendant,” Judge Blaine Kobayshi said, in court.
A courtroom full of Kaeo’s supporters immediately began yelling from the gallery.
But their outrage didn’t move the judge. A bench warrant for $750 was issued for Kaeo’s arrest.
“I showed up,” Kaeo said, addressing his supporters outside the courtroom. “I dealt with this judge maybe 15 times before. So, obviously, it had nothing to do with they couldn’t recognize me.”
He added, “You see what the issue was? It wasn’t about me. It was about the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian. But these small obstacles are the kinds of things we overcome.”
Kaeo was one of six people arrested following the August 2017 Haleakala protection, and was among hundreds who gathered to try to prevent construction crews from getting through.
Kaeo had requested a Hawaiian translator during his trial, but the judge denied his request. Hawaiian and English are the state’s official languages.
The case also drew rebuke from Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe.
“Punishing Native Hawaiians for speaking our native language invokes a disturbing era in Hawaii’s history when olelo Hawaii was prohibited in schools, a form of cultural suppression that substantially contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian language,” Crabbe said.
“It is disappointing that the state government continues to place barriers on olelo Hawaii, 40 years after Hawaii’s constitution was amended to recognize the Hawaiian language as an official language of the state. We demand that the state Judiciary find an immediate solution to this issue.”
Kaeo is an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
Supporters for Kaeo are organizing a rally for Friday at the Old Wailuku Courthouse from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.