Hawaiian Activist Refuses to Speak English in Court

ThinkstockPhotos-122458939A group of activists blocked the construction of a large telescope on a mountain that many Native Hawaiians hold sacred. Kahookahi Kanuha, one of three activists arrested, refused to speak English in court. “I’m trying to show that the language is alive,” Kanuha told NPR. “And it’s about time that Hawaiian be truly recognized, at the very least, as an equal language to English. And so one way to do that, I think, is to prove, in the courts, that I do not need to ask for an interpreter. And that’s why the case has been postponed. It is the judge who cannot communicate in my preferred language, which just so happens to be an official language of the state of Hawaii.”

Kanuha, who attended a Hawaiian language immersion school and speaks Hawaiian 80% of the time, argues that refusing to speak English is consistent with his activism. “My opinion is that my case is strengthened. My case is solidified because I – as a Hawaiian standing up for my Hawaiian heritage, for my Hawaiian nationality, for my Hawaiian identity – can defend myself in my Hawaiian language, as well,” he said in an NPR interview.

For now, the permit to build the telescope is suspended, but nothing is set in stone. “They cannot legally do any work on Mauna Kea,” said Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, the plaintiffs’ attorney who filed the emergency request after hearing news reports that telescope crews would be going to the mountain. Kanuha told the Associated Press, “We’re not completely off the hook yet, because we have not received word [they] will stand down. I don’t know if they interpret maintenance as work and construction. From my understanding, they have no right to this mountain.”

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