Nakoa and Sylva Appointed to Dept. of Interior Positions


Photo: Keone Nakoa

Two Native Hawaiian leaders were among five new Biden-Harris appointees announced by the Department of the Interior in September.

Keone Nakoa, formerly the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Washington, D.C., bureau chief, has been appointed the deputy assistant secretary for Insular and International Affairs. Summer Sylva, who most recently served as the executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, has been appointed the senior advisor for Native Hawaiian Affairs.

They will work toward advancing President Biden’s agenda to tackle climate change, create good-paying union jobs in a clean energy economy, steward America’s public lands and waters, and honor relationships and trust responsibilities with Indigenous communities.

“This is wonderful news for the Native Hawaiian community to see these leaders uplifted and representing us at the national administration level. They are both well-versed in the issues affecting Native Hawaiians and they will do a great job in bringing a Native Hawaiian perspective to the issues that are challenging this country. I applaud the Biden-Harris administration for their efforts to reflect the diversity of America,” said Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, board chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Nakoa previously served as speechwriter for the late Sen. Daniel Akaka, clerk for the Chief Judge of the Hawai‘i Intermediate Court of Appeals, and as a lawyer at a private firm in Honolulu.

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.

“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,” Nakoa said.

Photo: Summer Sylva

Sylva, an attorney from Waimānalo, Oʻahu, begins her new post with more than a decade of experience litigating before federal and state courts in Hawaiʻi, New York and New Jersey.

“This appointment has the potential to meaningfully repair and strengthen the federal government’s trust responsibility to Native Hawaiians. To have a Native Hawaiian voice and perspective at the table when critical decisions about our people are being made better ensures that our lived experiences, our values, and our shared priorities inform that decision-making process,” Sylva said.

“The fact that the Biden-Harris Administration and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland created a senior advisor for Native Hawaiian Affairs position demonstrates their commitment to elevating and prioritizing Native Hawaiian affairs within the highest levels of the executive branch.

“It honestly feels like an extension and amplification of the work I’ve been privileged to do at the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation – aloha-filled advocacy that lifts the voices of our people to bring justice to our people. It’s pono work and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue this kuleana at the federal level.”