man smiling
Keone Nakoa

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law alumnus, Keone Nakoa, is one of the newest additions to President Joe Biden’s Administration.

As deputy assistant secretary for Insular and International Affairs, Nakoa joins the office that oversees the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

“The territories are an integral part of the fabric of America, and the freely associated states, while independent countries, are uniquely interwoven with the United States in terms of a shared history, ongoing partnership, and a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Nakoa.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Nakoa is part Native Hawaiian and now lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Stephanie Lee—also a UH law school graduate. He is 1 of 5 appointees announced by the administration and will add to the interior’s diverse political team, with 70% identifying as women and more than 60% as BIPOC.

Prior to his appointment, Nakoa served as the Washington, D.C. bureau chief at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), advocating for the Native Hawaiian community while working with Congress and federal agencies. As part of OHA, he has spoken on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander affairs, working to raise awareness of inequities faced by the community, including health, education, housing and the criminal justice system.

Nakoa also worked as a speechwriter for the late Sen. Daniel Akaka and later clerked for the chief judge of the Hawaiʻi Intermediate Court of Appeals. He practiced law in Honolulu, specializing in corporate governance and commercial litigation.

Some of the major issues on the administration’s agenda include climate change, honoring Indigenous communities, safeguarding America’s public lands and waters, and creating jobs in a clean energy economy.

“I look forward to working with the Office of Insular Affairs team and leadership from the insular areas and the freely associated states to fulfill our trust and insular responsibilities through efforts to strengthen economic and health capacities in the territories, fulfill U.S. Compacts of Free Association obligations, and address climate resilience, conservation, and clean energy deployment,” said Nakoa.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

For more information, see the UH law school website.

–By Melissa Kim