Malia Akutagawa '97

  • Assistant Professor of Law
  • Hui ʻĀina Momona


  • BA Whitworth University 1993
  • JD William S. Richardson School of Law 1997


William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Juris Doctor.  Environmental Law Certificate.  1997

Western Washington University, Shannon Point Marine Center – Anacortes, Washington
Multicultural Initiative in the Marine Science, a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation and awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring.  1993

Whitworth University - Spokane, Washington
Biology, BAPhilosophy, BA.  1993

Malia Akutagawa is an Assistant Professor of Law with both the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law and Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge.  Malia is part of Hui ʻĀina Momona, a consortium of scholars throughout the university community charged with addressing compelling issues of indigenous Hawaiian knowledge and practices, including the legal regime and Native Hawaiian rights associated with mālama ʻāina, and with focus on cross-disciplinary solutions to natural and cultural resource management, sustainability, and food security. 

Before joining the law school and Hawaiʻinuiākea faculty, Malia was the Director of the Molokai Rural Development Project.  She led training and education initiatives through the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College - Molokai and partnered with a number of community organizations to strengthen the capacity of the workforce and local economy. 

Malia was a staff attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation where she worked on Hawaiian access, gathering, burial, land use and water rights cases.  She represented Protect Keopuka ʻOhana in the Kelly v. Oceanside case regarding improper use of agriculture land and the destruction of the ancient Alaloa trail and numerous ancient Hawaiian burials in South Kona, Hawaiʻi Island.  She also assisted Aunty Pele Hanoa and ʻohana of Punaluʻu Preservation in their bid to care for and manage Punaluʻu on Hawaiʻi Island.   Malia worked with clients of Na Moku Aupuni o Koʻolau Hui, taro growers and cultural practitioners of multiple east Maui ahupuaʻa from Honopou to Hana, in their opposition to continued stream and watershed diversions by former sugar plantation operations.

She engaged in environmental and Hawaiian advocacy work through testifying at the legislature on numerous occasions and conducting presentations in communities Statewide.  She volunteered with Earth Justice to gather and transcribe interviews of kūpuna and other cultural informants as part of the Waiāhole Ditch Contested Case proceedings. 

Malia has a degree in Biology and has integrated science into her legal work, community-based resource management, and sustainability initiatives. Malia conducted research on anthropogenic impacts to coral reef ecology, the algal-symbiont relationship in corals and sea anemones, and behavioral ecology studies of butterflyfish as bio-indicators of reef health.  She received certification from the Oceanic Institute in Marine Finfish Hatchery, Live Larval Feeds Culture, Nursery & Grow-out, and Broodstock Management.  She conducted limu (seaweed) aquaculture extension work on Molokai for Ke Kuaʻāina  Hānauna Hou, a nonprofit that trained families in limu aquaculture and created a limu buy-back program among its network of growers to market raw and value-added products.  She worked with Project Loko Iʻa for the restoration of Molokai fishponds and training a cadre of local and native Hawaiian mariculturists to manage these ponds and make them commercially productive. She assisted in a NOAA study of traditional fishing practices associated with Kaho`olawe that was incorporated into a management plan for the island.

Malia coordinated the 1993 Molokai Subsistence Study which served as the impetus for passage of Act 271 by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature in 1994 allowing for the designation of “community-based subsistence fishing areas” and a successful pilot project run by Hawaiian Homesteaders of Hui Mālama O Mo`omomi of an important traditional subsistence fishery on Molokai’s northwest shore.

Malia is actively involved in the ʻAha Kiole o Molokai which focuses on the integration of Hawaiian traditional ecological knowledge and best practices into natural resource management at the local level and in collaboration with government.  The ʻAha Kiole provides a Statewide structure of representation within the Department of Land and Natural Resources, with also local leadership on each island at the moku (regional districts) and ahupuaʻa level.  Malia’s ongoing legal scholarship is currently centered around her work with the ʻAha Kiole.   She is interested in:

  • Determining community capacity and needs in areas of building local leadership; understanding and implementing management practices based on indigenous knowledge and integration of conventional science and technology where appropriate; interfacing with government (county, state, and federal agencies decision- and policy-makers) to realize common aims; understanding legal mechanisms and parameters found in Hawaiian Rights law; environmental, land use, and water laws that will aid them in the strategic management of resources in collaboration with government.
  • Creating opportunities for the University to learn from the native Hawaiian community as well as give back by providing knowledge and expertise that help to build community capacity and leadership.
  • Identifying Hawaiian, indigenous best practices in sustainability, natural resource management, farming and food security, and cultural stewardship that are capable of replication throughout the `Aha Kiole on other islands and for which new mālama `āina curriculum can be built at the University.

Malia has become involved in climate change issues and was invited to participate in the Island Climate Adaptation and Policy’s Native Hawaiian Symposium on Climate Change and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Climate Change Workshop.  Malia presented testimony as an invited panelist before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ Oversight Hearing on Impacts of Environmental Changes on Treaty Rights, Traditional Lifestyles, and Tribal Homelands. 

Malia is President and Founder of Sustʻāinable Molokai, a local, grassroots-led nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that weaves Molokai's rich cultural pathways and legacy of ʻāina momona (abundant land) with responsible, modern sustainability strategies.  Through Sustʻāinable Molokai, Malia provided water law workshops to several Hawaiian Homestead associations. She also conducted a series of workshops to the Molokai Planning Commission to increase their knowledge on different environmental and public trust laws, water law, constitutional mandates for the protection of citizens’ due process rights, Native Hawaiian burials protection, traditional access and rights.  

Malia is a certified permaculture instructor and spearheaded the Molokai Permaculture Initiative as part of Sust`āinable Molokai’s long-term vision to heal the land; stabilize the eroded soil on the mountain and prevent further siltation into fishponds, shoreline, and reefs; restore the watershed; establish food forests in the uplands; and dedicate lands for community agriculture as a way to ensure greater food security.  This initiative has resulted in the training of Molokai farmers, homesteaders, and youth in sustainable agriculture and earth repair.

Malia initiated Molokaʻi-pedia, an ongoing needs assessment and online database project organized along Sustʻāinable Molokaiʻs 12-Spoke Sustainability Wheel for the purpose of creating stronger community networks; informing key stakeholders; increasing equity and access to public and private partnerships and resources; and mobilizing island residents to build as well as measure our progress towards a sustainable future. Moloka`i-pedia demonstrates how various entities can benefit from collaborating and serves as a tool for citizen empowerment:  returning data ownership to community to effect meaningful change and solutions.

Malia worked for the University of Hawaii Environmental Center as an Environmental Reviewer.  She collaborated with many experts in the university community and interfaced with a number of State and County agencies engaged in environmental, land and water use permitting issues. Malia played a significant role in the State Environmental Council’s adoption of cultural assessment guidelines as part of environmental review requirements, prior to legislation enacted that made Cultural Impact Statements a mandatory requirement.

Malia is currently a member of the Hawaiʻi State Environmental Council and Co-Chaired the Environmental Council Annual Report Committee.  She brought together University of Hawaiʻi and Hawaiʻi Pacific University expertise to work alongside government to analyze the State of Hawaiʻiʻs environment through new tools that incorporate green accounting and assessment of genuine progress indicators.


  • Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Climate Change Workshop, June 12-14, 2012
  • Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian National Monument – Native Hawaiian Research Plan Focus Group (Molokai, Oahu), 2012
  • Island Climate Adaptation and Policy’s Native Hawaiian Symposium on Climate Change, March 22-23, 2012
  • ʻAha Kiole o Molokai, 2012 (ongoing)
  • State of Hawaii Environmental Council Member, May 2011 – Present
  • Hawaii People’s Fund Grant Makers Committee, 2011 – 2013
  • Sust ʻāina ble Molokai, President and founding board member, 2008 – Present            
  • Molokai Island Burial Council Chair, 2008 – 2011
  • Molokai Water Working Group, 2007 – 2008
  • Alternatives to La`au Development Committee, 2006
  • Halawa Valley Land Trust, Board Member & Secretary, 2005 - 2011
  • Ka Honua Momona, International, Vice President and founding board member, 2003 – 2005
  • Molokai Planning Commission, Chair, 1999 - 2004  
  • Hawaii State Bar Association, Member Since 1998
  • Hawaii Commission for National & Community Service, Commissioner, 1996 – 2002
  • Native Hawaiian Historic Preservation Council, Member, 1998 - 2000
  • Life of the Land, Board Member, 1995 - 1998
  • Ahupua’a Action Alliance, Steering Committee Member, 1995 – 1997
  • American Society of Limnology & Oceanography, 1993 - 1996


Natasha Baldauf & Malia Akutagawa, HOʻI HOU I KA IWIKUAMOʻO: A LEGAL PRIMER FOR THE PROTECTION OF IWI KŪPUNA IN HAWAIʻI NEI, (Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, 2013).

Akutagawa, Malia, Lahela Han, Harmonee Williams, Emillia Noordhoek, Sustʻāinable Molokai – Molokai Agriculture Needs Assessment, May 2012.

Correlation between Gracilaria parvispora (Rhodophyta) biomass production and water quality factors on a tropical reef in Hawaii. Edward P. Glenn; David Moore, Malia Akutagawa, Anna Himler, Ted Walsh and Stephen G. Nelson - Aquaculture - 178 (3) - 1999/08/01

Cultivation of Gracilaria parvispora (Rhodophyta) in shrimp-farm effluent ditches and floating cages in Hawaii: a two-phase polyculture system. Stephen G. Nelson; Edward P. Glenn, Jeff Conn, David Moore, Ted Walsh and Malia Akutagawa - Aquaculture - IF:1.678 - 193 (3) - 2001/02/01

Matsuoka, Jon, Davianna McGregor, Luciano Minerbi, Malia Akutagawa, "Governor's Moloka'i Subsistence Task Force Report," Moloka'i Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, 1993.