Big Island woman takes on new role within Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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The Office of Hawaiian Affairs named Hawaiʻi Island native Niniau Kawaihae as its new Director of Community Engagement.

Kawaihae, who started in the new role on Feb. 16, will oversee OHA’s Beneficiary Services division which provides direct assistance to beneficiaries to assist in navigating community-based services and resources. While OHA beneficiary services agents are stationed across the islands, Kawaihae will based at the agency’s Nā Lama Kukui office on Oʻahu.

She will also manage OHA’s grants program, which supports Hawaiʻi-based nonprofit organizations that have projects, programs, and initiatives that serve the lāhui in alignment with the agency’s Mana i Mauli Ola strategic plan.

“It’s important that we ensure a dedicated approach to engaging and serving our community effectively, and I am extremely pleased to welcome Niniau to our leadership team,” said OHA Ka Pouhana/CEO Stacy Kealohalani Ferreira. “Niniau is a visionary leader grounded in Native Hawaiian values, and her vast experience and skill set will not only benefit the Office of Hawaiian Affairs but all of our lāhui as well.”


Over the past 20 years, Kawaihae has served in various leadership roles in addressing Native Hawaiian education, healthcare and housing, and has worked with many Native American partners across the U.S. continent to advocate for opportunities for Indigenous families.

Kawaihae comes to OHA from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, where she served as a special assistant responsible for securing broadband licenses from the Federal Communications Commission for trust lands on the neighbor islands. She had previously served DHHL as the agency manager of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996. She is also a former deputy director of the Office of Housing and Community Development for the County of Hawaiʻi.

Kawaihae said she was drawn to OHA by the directions targeted in its strategic plan, which include a focus on education, economics, health and housing.


“With so many Native Hawaiians being forced out of Hawaiʻi because of the high cost of living found across our pae ʻāina, I see this as a critical time in our history as the first peoples of these islands,” Kawaihae said. “I believe I can contribute to changing the economic status quo and look forward to being a part of the momentum already created by the leadership and staff of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.”

Kawaihae was born and raised on Moku o Keawe. She carries a political science degree from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and a master’s in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. She is a former Harry S. Truman Scholar, a mother of five and grandmother of six.

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