Keone Nakoa ‘15 joins the Biden Administration’s Office of Insular and International Affairs

Richardson Law School alum Keone Nakoa ’15 is one of the newest additions to the Biden administration.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs, Nakoa joins the office which 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 in an email.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Nakoa is part Native Hawaiian and now lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Stephanie Lee – also a ’15 Richardson grad. He is 1 of 5 appointees announced by the administration and will add to the Interior’s diverse political team, with 70 percent identifying as women and over 60 percent as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of color).

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 the OHA, he has spoken on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander affairs, working to raise awareness of inequities faced by the community, including in 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 Hawai‘i 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.  

The Richardson alum completed MBA and J.D. degrees at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and a bachelor’s degree in biological anthropology from Harvard University.