CNHA celebrates the appointment of two Native Hawaiians to the U. S. Department of the Interior

Updated: Sep 2


The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is elated at the appointment of Summer Lee Haunani Sylva as the Senior Advisor for Native Hawaiian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior and Keone Nakoa as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Insular and International Affairs in the Department of the Interior.

CNHA President and CEO Kūhiō Lewis issued the statement below following the announcement out of Washington, D.C.

“During their campaign, President Biden and Vice President Harris released their “Plan for Tribal Nations,” in which they committed to, among other things, honoring the federal trust responsibility to the country’s native peoples and appoint Native Americans to high-level government positions. We are grateful to President Biden and Vice President Harris for taking steps today to meaningfully deliver on that campaign promise by establishing this senior position in the Department of the Interior.

Moreover, we are excited for the selection of Ms. Sylva to represent our people and our interests to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Ms. Sylva is uniquely qualified for this position, having worked as a litigator for seven years at the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC), the only law firm dedicated exclusively to protecting Native Hawaiian rights, customs, and practices. As NHLC Executive Director for the last two years, she also served on CNHA’s board.

We are confident that Native Hawaiian voices will be well heard and considered by this White House with the country’s first Native American Secretary of the Interior being directly counseled on Native Hawaiian issues by a Native Hawaiian.

CNHA is also encouraged by the appointment today of Keone Nakoa. He will serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Insular and International Affairs in the Department of the Interior. Mr. Nakoa had been OHA’s Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief, working with Congress and federal agencies. He previously served as speechwriter for the late Senator Daniel Akaka and as attorney in Honolulu.

We extend a warm mahalo to President Biden for ensuring that, with today’s appointments, Native Hawaiians will not be invisible in his administration.”

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