When students in Hana filed into the school yard last Wednesday to participate in a national walkout to drive action on gun violence, most were unaware that they had become thrust into a separate protest aligned with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

Jessiah Malaikini, a 16-year-old junior at Hana High And Elementary, had snuck out of class earlier that morning to rearrange the flags on the school flagpole.

In defiance of federal and state protocol requiring the Hawaiian flag to be flown beneath the national colors, Malaikini lowered the flags, swapped their order and re-raised them to display the flag of Hawaii on top.

“It’s a sign of oppression having an American flag over the Hawaiian,” Malaikini said. “It’s like a big middle finger.”

Jesiah Malaikini, a junior at Hana High School, said he was suspended from school after he raised the Hawaiian flag above the American flag on the school flagpole. Contributed by Jesiah Malaikini

Some Native Hawaiians consider the Hawaiian flag to be a symbol of the Hawaiian kingdom. Hawaii state law, however, describes the same flag as an emblem of the state and demarcates its positioning on the flagpole as secondary to the stars and stripes of the United States.

“When the Hawaiian flag is flown from the same halyard as the flag of the United States of America is flown, it shall be underneath the national colors,” reads the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

For Malakini, who is Native Hawaiian, it was offensive go to school every day and see the American flag waving above the same flag adopted in the mid-1800s to represent the Hawaiian kingdom.

When school administrators realized the change in the flags during the walkout last week, Malaikini said he was ordered to undo his actions. He refused.

The exercise in civil disobedience won Malaikini cheers from his peers, he said.

It also got him suspended. Administrators sent him home after fourth period and told him not to attend the next day’s classes as punishment for his acts of disorderly conduct and insubordination, he said.

Speaking on behalf of the school, a spokesperson for the Hawaii State Department of Education said administrators are barred from discussing the disciplinary cases of students due to federal privacy laws. Hana High And Elementary Principal Richard Paul did not respond to requests for comment.

“I am in no ways regretting what I’ve done,” Malaikini said. “It has been bothering me, but only recently it’s been really getting under my skin and I finally decided to take action.”

Last month more than a dozen students at the University of Hawaii Maui Campus seized the flags from a school flagpole to protest the display of the stars and stripes above the Hawaiian flag, according to a report by the Maui News. A similar protest occurred at the University of Hawaii Hilo in December.

In response to these and other similar student protests, a two-flagpole system has been adopted by all UH campuses.

At the State Capitol, the Hawaiian and U.S. flags are already flown from separate poles.

At Hana School, Malaikini said a friend helped him execute the switch at the flagpole, but Malaikini said he took all the blame. He has not divulged to school officials the name of his friend because he doesn’t want his friend to get into trouble, he said.

As part of his own disciplinary action, Malaikini said he was assigned to write an essay about why the American flag flies over the Hawaiian flag.

On Wednesday morning, he told Civil Beat that he plans to write instead about why there should be two flag poles of equal height at the school so that the American and Hawaiian flags can fly side-by-side, thereby not prioritizing students’ allegiances to one flag over the other.

“Seeing that flagpole every day like that is just a daily reminder for us that they whacked our kupuna for speaking our native tongue and they banned our language,” he said. “It all starts with what you learn in school, but we all know the truth.”

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