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, Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) and part of Na ‘Ohana o Kalama of Lāʻie, Oahu, Hawaiʻi through her mother, as well as Cherokee 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". She is a member of Universities New Zealand's Komiti Pasifika and a member of the NZ Ministry of Education's NCEA Pacific Peoples Review Panel.  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), “Reclaiming Hawaiian Sovereignty” (S Ratuva (ed) Palgrave Handbook of Ethnicity (Palgrave Macmillan 2019)), and "Māori education through a human rights lens: Learners and educators as everyone, no-one, someone, complex, and indigenous rightsholders" (R Joseph & R Benton (eds) Waking the Taniwha: Māori Governance in the 21st Century (Thomson Reuters 2021)).

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

  • Fa'avae, D. T. M., Aporosa, S. A., & Hemi, K. (Eds.) (2021). Waikato Journal of Education. Special Issue: Talanoa Vā: Honouring Pacific Research and Online Engagement. Waikato Journal of Education, (26), 209 pages. doi:10.15663/wje.v26i1

  • Hemi, K. V., & Aporosa, S. A. (2021). In Our Language: Imagining a Pacific research journal in terms of language and stakeholder position and engagement. Waikato Journal of Education: Special Issue: Talanoa Vā: Honouring Pacific Research and Online Engagement,, 26, 45-62. doi:10.15663/wje.v26i1.856

  • Fa’avae, D. T. M., Hemi, K. V., & Aporosa, S. A. (2021). Grounding our collective Talanoa: Enabling open conversations. Waikato Journal of Education, 26, 5-10. doi:10.15663/wje.v26i1.849 Open Access version:

  • Hemi, K. V., Bulisala, S. N., Aporosa, A., & Fa'avae, D. T. M. (2021). Imua: reflections on imua, talanoa-vā and leadership in the ongoing strategic journey of a New Zealand university.. Waikato Journal of Education. Special Issue: Talanoa Vā: Honouring Pacific Research and Online Engagement, 26, 11-34. doi:10.15663/wje.v26i1.855 Open Access version:

Find more research publications by Keakaokawai (Keaka) Varner Hemi


Education; Education Research; Human Rights; Indigenous Education; Indigenous Rights; Law; Maori Education; Maori Legal Issues; Pacific Issues; Pacific/Pacifica Education; Teaching and Learning; Treaty of Waitangi

Legal Theory; Constitutional Law; Education Law