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2 Hawaiians appointed to positions in powerful US agency

September 3, 2021 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — President Joe Biden’s appointment of two Native Hawaiians to the U.S. Department of the Interior could influence federal policy for Hawaii’s Indigenous people and other Pacific Islanders.

Summer Sylva, who is currently head of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation was appointed earlier this week as senior advisor for Native Hawaiian affairs.

Keone Nakoa, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, has been appointed deputy assistant secretary for insular and international affairs.

The positions carry a great deal of influence over federal policy involving Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Hawaii Public Radio reported.

Sylva will report directly to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead the agency.

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“She’s in a critical role to be in the secretary’s inner circle,” said Esther Kiaʻāina, a Honolulu City councilwoman who led the department’s Office of Insular Affairs under former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Sylva’s appointment signals the agency’s desire to tackle Native Hawaiian issues, including home lands and self-governance, Kiaʻāina said.

Nakoa will be serving in an office that oversees the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Kiaʻāina noted that Nakoa’s role will also be important because of the Compacts of Free Association. The agreements allow citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau to live and work in the U.S. in exchange for allowing the U.S. military to control strategic land and water areas in the region.