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James "Kawika" Riley

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Kawika is the Community Change Manager for Liliʻuokalani Trust, leading the trust’s efforts to partner with communities to break the cycle of poverty for Native Hawaiian children. 

He was born and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, and spent his childhood moving back and forth between the districts of Kona and Kohala. Kawika’s childhood included a number of the kinds of challenges that the Queen’s beneficiaries are working to overcome, but he credits his parents for instilling in him a sense of being loved, and he benefited from having an exceptional role model in his maternal grandfather. 

After graduating from Kealakehe High School he moved to Colorado to earn his bachelor’s degree, and then on to Washington DC to serve and learn. During Senator Akaka’s Chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Kawika worked as the committee’s Communications Director.  Later, he was a national spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration during President Obama’s first term, and he was also a lecturer of political management at George Washington University. Kawika happily transitioned from the federal government into the Native Hawaiian-serving sector when he was hired to reopen the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Washington DC Bureau. 

Immediately prior to joining Liliʻuokalani Trust, Kawika spent five years as the Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Along with leading a team of 20 staff, he was the primary executive-level public policy advocate for OHA and its beneficiaries before county, state and federal bodies. Kawika also worked to establish the Native Hawaiian Public Service Pipeline, which has helped Native Hawaiian young adults connect with internships, fellowships, and career opportunities in public service. Additionally, Kawika is the past Chairman of the Hawaiʻi State Commission on Fatherhood. 

While not quite kamaʻāina to Oʻahu, Kawika now calls Kaimukī home. He is happiest when in the presence of his wife and two children, wherever their adventures take them.