Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie '76

  • Associate Professor of Law
  • Director, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law


  • BA cum laude Beloit College 1970
  • JD William S. Richardson School of Law 1976


After receiving her law degree, Professor MacKenzie served as a law clerk to Chief Justice William S. Richardson of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court. In 1980, she joined the staff of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC), a public interest law firm protecting and advancing the rights of Native Hawaiians. She served as NHLC's Executive Director from 1982-1986 and as a senior staff attorney from 1986-1992. From 1992-1999, she was the Executive Director of the Hawaiian Claims Office, a state program established to review and make recommendations on claims by Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries.

Professor MacKenzie has worked on cases asserting Hawaiian traditional and customary rights, dealing with land issues, and defending the constitutionality of Hawaiian programs.  She currently teaches Native Hawaiian Rights, the Native Hawaiian Rights Clinic, the Second Year Seminar legal writing course, and specific topics courses in Native Hawaiian law.  Prof. MacKenzie is the current President of the Native Hawaiian Bar Association, which she helped to establish in 1992.  She also serves on the Board of Directors of Nāonealaʻa/Hikaʻalani, a Native Hawaiian cultural organization.

Prof. MacKenzie is project coordinator and chief editor for an upcoming treatise on Native Hawaiian law, a revised and expanded edition of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook, which she originally edited and co-authored.  She is also a contributing author to the latest edition of Felix S. Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law. 


  • Ke Ala Loa – The Long Road: Native Hawaiian Sovereignty and the State of Hawai‘i, 47 Tulsa L. Rev. 621 (2012), Symposium: State-Tribal Relations: Past, Present, and Future.
  • Ke Ala Pono – The Path of Justice: The Moon Court’s Native Hawaiian Rights Decisions, 33 U. Haw. L. Rev. 447 (2011)).
  • Hawaiian Custom in Hawai‘i State Law, Conference Paper from Tūhonohono:  The State and Custom, Tainui Endowed College and Te Mātāhauariki Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Aotearoa/New Zealand, published in The Yearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence (2010).

Other Recent Works

  • “The Trial of Queen Liliʻuokalani,” short essay for program accompanying performances of the play, The Trial of a Queen (October 2013). 
  • Haliʻa Aloha: A Tribute to Jon M. Van Dyke, forthcoming in University of Hawaiʻi Law Review.
  • Ka Lama Kū O Ka Noʻeau, a tribute to Chief Justice William S. Richardson, 33 U. Haw. L. Rev. 3 (Winter 2011).
  • “But for the Overthrow-Imagining an Alternate Future,” short essay for Mai Poina, a guided walking tour illustrating the events leading up to and during the 1893 overthrow (September 2010).
  • “Law and the Courts,” essay in The Value of Hawai‘i: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future (Craig Howes and Jonathan Osorio, eds., August 2010).

Selected Presentations

  • Panel Member:  Canadian First Nations, Native American Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiians:  Sovereignty and Full Faith & Credit, American Judges Association Annual Education Conference, Kona, Hawaiʻi (September 2013).  
  • Panel Member:  Utilizing Indigenous Tradition and Custom in Decision Making, He Haliʻa No Jon, Symposium Tribute to Jon Markham Van Dyke, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (February 2013).
  • Panel Member:  Law and the Right of Self-Determination, Federal Bar Association Hawai'i Conference, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (December 2012).
  • Scholar providing commentary for the Mai Poina Guided Walking Tours, a free walking tour sponsored by the Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī Coalition, illustrating the events leading up to and during the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom (September 2010-2013).
  • Invited Witness:  Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, on the trust relationship between the federal government and the Native Hawaiian community (April 2012).
  • Presentation:  Native Hawaiian Legal History and Traditional and Customary Rights, for panel entitled “Native Hawaiian Legal Issues You Need to Know to Practice Law in Hawaiʻi,” HSBA Annual Convention, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (September 2011).
  • Presentation:  Honoring Chief Justice Richardson, at Hoʻokupu Mākou Iā Richardson, U.H. Law Review and Hawaiʻi State Judiciary tribute to Chief Justice Wm. S. Richardson, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (August 2011).
  • Presentation:  The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: ʻĀina and Sovereignty, Emerging Leaders Workshop, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Annual Convention, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (August 2011).
  • Presenting Scholar at Challenges of American Citizenship for Native Peoples: A Workshop for Hawaiʻi and Alaska State Teachers, Hawaiʻi Judiciary Center, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (July 2011). 
  • Presentation:  Ke Ala Pono – New Cases in Native Hawaiian Law, UH Faculty Lecture Series - Sharing Our Work and Knowledge, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (April 2011).
  • Presentation:  Ke Ala Pono – The Path of Justice, UH Law Review Symposium on the Moon Court Era, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (March 2011).
  • Presentation:  Ke Ala Loa – The Long Road: Native Hawaiians and the State of Hawaiʻi, AALS Section on Indian Nations & Indigenous Peoples, San Francisco, California (January 2011).
  • Panel member:  Hawaiian Law and the State: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future, Judiciary History Center, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (October 2010).
  • Presentation:  Highlighting Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, Annual Convention of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (October 2010).


  • Native Hawaiian Bar Association - Founding member and current President 
  • Nāonealaʻa-Hikaʻalani - Founding member and current Board member of Native Hawaiian cultural and educational non-profit organization
  • Member, Kūali‘i Council at UH Mānoa (faculty, staff and students from Native Hawaiian programs)
  • Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima – 1989 kumu hula graduate, current student and kakoʻo


  • ʻAhahui o Hawaiʻi Native Hawaiian Award of Excellence (September 2013).
  • Regents' Medal for Excellence in Teaching, University of Hawaiʻi (March 2013)
  • Public Service Award, William S. Richardson School of Law Alumni Association, Honolulu, Hawai‘i  (October 2009).
  • YWCA Leadership Luncheon Awardee (April 2009)
  • Student Choice Award, William S. Richardson School of Law (April 2008)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Hawai‘i Women Lawyers (March 2006)



Grants and Contracts

  • Negotiated a $150,000 contract with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to create materials and curriculum and conduct a training for members of state and county boards and commissions on Native Hawaiian legal issues and the responsibilities of state entities in relation to Native Hawaiian lands, resources, and cultural practices (2012-13).
  • Wrote proposal for and administered a $1.5 million grant under the Native Hawaiian Education Act (NHEA) from the U.S. Dept. of Education (2010-11).
  • Primarily responsible for administering a four-year $750,000 grant from Kamehameha Schools for Ka Huli Ao’s Post-J.D. research fellowship program (2009-13).