Dr Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi

Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi

Assistant Vice Chancellor Pacific

Qualifications: AA (Social Sciences) Citrus College, LLB (First Class Hons) Waikato PhD Waikato

About Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner

Dr Keakaokawai Varner Hemi is the first Assistant Vice Chancellor Pacific appointed by the University of Waikato.  She is Kanaka Maoli and part of Na ‘Ohana o Kalama from Lāʻie, Oahu, Hawaiʻi through her mother, as well as Cherokee/Tsalagi from Bohannon Mountain in Northwest Arkansas through her father.

Dr Hemi has a background in small business ownership and administration, as well as non-profit work.   She earned her Bachelor of Laws with first class honours from Te Piringa – Faculty of Law, University of Waikato in 2007.  After completing her doctorate at Waikato in 2016, Dr Hemi taught as a lecturer at Te Piringa where she also served as Associate Dean Undergraduate and Faculty Pacific Island Adviser.  She is a Research Fellow of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit and a member of the Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre at Te Piringa.

Dr Hemi’s 2016 doctoral thesis departs from the 2006 US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case Doe v Kamehameha Schools where a Native Hawaiian school was sued for racial discrimination because it preferred Native Hawaiians in admissions.  The thesis traverses US constitutional law, legal theory, international human rights, international and domestic indigenous rights, and New Zealand constitutional law.   She has also taught in these areas. Dr Hemi’s research interest areas continue to include Pacific peoples and the law, Pacific and indigenous education rights, and equality and non-discrimination in relation to indigenous peoples.  Dr Hemi is currently a co-leader with Dr Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai on the Ako Aotearoa project "Data-informed Initiatives to Enhance Māori and Pacific Student Achievement". Her recent publications include: “Closing Geographical Distances: The Value of a New Zealand Perspective on the Admission Policy of a Native Hawaiian School” (Waikato Law Review 2016), “Daniels, Disability and the Human Right to Education” (NZ Law Journal 2017) and the book chapter, “Reclaiming Hawaiian Sovereignty” (S Ratuva (ed) Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity (Palgrave Macmillan 2019)).

Papers Taught

Research Interests

Pacific peoples and the law

Pacific and indigenous education rights

Equality and non-discrimination in relation to indigenous peoples

Human rights and indigenous peoples

Indigenous self-determination

Legal theory

Constitutional law

Recent Publications

  • Hemi, K. V. (2017). Daniels, disability and the human right to education. New Zealand Law Journal, 404-409.

  • Hemi, K. V. (2017). Māori education as justice and reckoning. New Zealand Yearbook of Jurisprudence, 15, 79-101. Open Access version:

  • Hemi, K. V. (2016). Closing geographical distance: The value of a New Zealand perspective on the admission policy of a Native Hawaiian School. Waikato Law Review: Taumauri, 24, 14-42.

  • Hemi, K. V. (2016). Everyone, no-one, someone and the Native Hawaiian learner. (PhD Thesis, University of Waikato). Retrieved from

Find more research publications by Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi


Human Rights; Indigenous Education; Indigenous Rights; Law; Maori Education; Maori Legal Issues; Pacific Issues; Pacific/Pacifica Education; Treaty of Waitangi

Legal Theory; Constitutional Law; Education Law