Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas
U.S. Department of the Interior
Esther P. Kia’aina
Esther P. Kia’aina was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 26, 2014, as the Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, and was sworn in by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on July 11, 2014.
Ms. Kia’aina executes on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior through the Office of Insular Affairs responsibility for coordinating federal policy with respect to the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and for administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance provided to the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association. The mission of the Office of Insular Affairs is to empower insular communities by improving their quality of life, creating economic opportunities and promoting efficient and effective governance.
Prior to coming to the Department of the Interior, between 2007 and 2014, Ms. Kia’aina served as the First Deputy for Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and Land Asset Manager for the Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii’s largest private landowner.
Previously, she had an extensive career on Capitol Hill starting as a volunteer intern for Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye and later serving between 1990-2007 as Legislative Assistant for Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Guam Congressman Robert Underwood, and Chief of Staff for Hawaii Congressman Ed Case.
An ardent community advocate, Ms. Kia’aina is known for her expertise and knowledge on Native Hawaiian issues, the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States of Micronesia, and Asian and Pacific Islander issues.
Born and raised on the island of Guam to Native Hawaiian parents, Ms. Kia’aina graduated from San Vicente Elementary and Junior High School in Barrigada, Guam (1978); Kamehameha High School in Hawaii (1981); the University of Southern California (1985); and George Washington University Law School (1998). She also attended graduate school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.