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Our Team

Kīpuka Kuleana was formally established in 2018 by four mothers living and raising their children on the island of Kauaʻi. These women include an associate professor, a lawyer, a GIS specialist and an archival researcher, and a non-profit director with expertise in conservation easements - all dedicated to perpetuating kuleana and connection to ʻāina across generations.

Board of Directors
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Mehana Blaich Vaughan

President and Co-Founder

Mehana Blaich Vaughan grew up in Namahana and Kalihiwai, Kauaʻi, on the border of the moku of Haleleʻa and Koʻolau. A graduate of Kīlauea Elementary School, Mehana went to high school on Oʻahu, then studied sociology and secondary education at Harvard University. After a decade of teaching middle school in Hawaiian charter schools, developing ʻāina-based education programs on Kauaʻi, and training teachers in culturally grounded education, Mehana returned to school herself to pursue a doctorate in environmental studies at Stanford University. Mehana is an associate professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management and U.H. Sea Grant College program. Her research, teaching and outreach focus on understanding and nurturing community care and governance of land and waters in Hawaiʻi. She loves to dance, make lei in the wili style of her grandmother, Amelia Ana Kaʻōpua Bailey, and share moʻolelo shared with her by beloved kūpuna. Mehana's first book Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides was published in 2018. She lives in Kīlauea with her husband Kilipaki, mother Beryl, and three children - Pikomanawa, Piʻinaʻemalina, and Anauleikupuna - who, along with her father, Gary Blaich, inspire this work.

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Christina Aiu

Vice President and Co-Founder

Tina Aiu grew up in Wailua, Kauaʻi, where her family roots go back several generations. Her work with Kīpuka Kuleana is inspired by her kūpuna and stems from her 14 years of experience working with land trusts and other grassroots organizations to protect 'āina for communities across Hawai'i.

After earning her Bachelor's degree in Biology from Loyola Marymount University, Tina returned to Hawaiʻi and worked to connect high school youth to ʻāina as a Team Leader with Kupu's Hawaiʻi Youth Conservation Corps. The experience inspired her to pursue a career in land conservation. Tina earned her J.D. and Environmental Law Certificate from William S. Richardson School of Law in 2013 and then worked as a Food Systems Planner for Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services. She worked alongside the Kalihi community to establish the first farmers market and community garden in Oʻahu's largest public housing neighborhood. Tina then served as O'ahu Island Director with Hawai'i Land Trust, managing conservation real estate transactions and mālama ʻāina projects, including the purchase and permanent protection of Maunawila Heiau in Koʻolauloa, Oʻahu. After practicing as a civil litigation attorney, Tina returned to the conservation sector to manage conservation easement, ʻāina-based education, and community stewardship projects in Maunalua for Livable Hawaii Kai Hui. Working in partnership with Maunalau community leaders, Tina was instrumental in establishing a community ʻohana garden and mala kalo for families residing in Honolulu's urban core. She has also taught Conservation Transactions as a Lecturer in Law at William S. Richardson School of Law. In 2020, Tina's heart called her home to Wailua, Kauaʻi where she currently resides with her husband Franz and daughter Makaʻalohi. Tina is the co-owner of Modesta Media, a digital media production company that primarily services the environmental sector. She maintains a consulting business helping clients to manage community land protection and mālama ʻāina efforts, and she is also a High School Social Studies Teacher at Island School. Having spent much of her career establishing kīpuka for communities of Oʻahu, Tina is glad to bring her expertise home to Kauaʻi through her work with Kīpuka Kuleana. She has volunteered her time to establish and grow Kīpuka Kuleana since 2016. Tina enjoys spending time in the mountains, playing with her 5 year old, and practicing martial arts. 

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Jennifer Luck

Co-Founder

Jennifer Luck is the Chief Operating Officer for Common Ground Kauaʻi. She previously served as Executive Director of the Kauaʻi Public Land Trust, Kauaʻi Island Director of the Hawaiʻi Land Trust, and Managing Director of the Porter Trust and Wai Koa Plantation, where she oversaw the perpetual conservation of a 4-mile walking trail, multi-stakeholder negotiations for a dam remediation project, tenancy contracts and master plan renovations of 500+ acres of agricultural land.  In addition to Kīpuka Kuleana, Jennifer sits on the boards of the Hawaiʻi Land Trust and Namahana Charter School. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. Jennifer lives on the north shore of Kauaʻi with her husband Jason and daughters Midge and Frankie. She is happiest when she is spending time with them and her extended ʻohana, surfing, running and making lei.  

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Elif C. Beall

Treasurer

Elif Beall is a licensed attorney, community advocate, and budding writer. Elif was founding Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), and has served in many non-profit positions including executive leadership, development, and communications. Elif lives on the north shore of Kauaʻi with her husband, where she has resided since 2004. In addition to Kīpuka Kuleana, Elif also serves on the Kauaʻi Island Council for the Hawaiʻi Land Trust. She's happiest when in nature, or when practicing hula or lei-making, or discussing good questions and hopeful futures with family and friends.

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Malia Akutagawa

Board Member

Malia Akutagawa is from the island of Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi. As a Kanaka ʻŌiwi, she was raised in a traditional, subsistence lifestyle; learning to fish, crab, gather limu (seaweed), prepare traditional foods and lāʻau lapaʻau (traditional herbs for medicinal healing). Malia was influenced strongly by her mākua (parent generation) and kūpuna (elders) in the aloha ʻāina movement to protect traditional lands from developers. This inspired her to become an attorney. Malia focuses her legal advocacy work on Native Hawaiian access, gathering, and religious rights; historic preservation and native burials protection; land use and environmental law issues; climate change law, policy, adaptation, and action planning; indigenous governance; native landback; and peacemaking utilizing traditional hoʻoponopono principles. Malia is an Associate Professor of Law and Hawaiian Studies and is part of Hui ‘Āina Momona, a consortium of scholars at the University of Hawaiʻi - Mānoa charged with addressing compelling issues of Indigenous Hawaiian knowledge and practices.

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Program Staff
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Dominique Leu Cordy

Co-Founder and Consultant

Dominique Leu Cordy grew up all over Oʻahu and now lives and farms kalo with her kāne and their two keiki in Haleleʻa and Koʻolau, Kauaʻi. She does freelance research across the pae ʻāina. Focusing on land in Hawaiʻi, she specializes in archival research and GIS mapping. She has a BA in Cultural Anthropology from University of California at Davis and an MA in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She has over 17 years of experience in the field of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) in Hawaiʻi, archaeology, EA and EIS review, community ethnography, historic land and historical research, and GIS research. She has guest lectured for six years for the Wahi Kūpuna Internship Program (WKIP) as well as the University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu. Ms. Cordy has managed and developed cultural and historical GIS databases for government agencies, including the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE-POH), the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. She engages actively in community organizations that seek to protect, preserve, and educate about Hawaiʻi's precious wahi kūpuna (cultural resources) and is a participating member of the Kaliʻuokapaʻakai Collective, the Waioli Taro Valley Hui. She is a co-founder of Kīpuka Kuleana.

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Sarah Barger

Director of Programs

Hired in 2021 as the nonprofit's first staff person, Sarah Barger leads Kīpuka Kuleana's operations - including grant writing, development, research, strategic communications and program oversight - and provides direct support to families working to protect their ancestral lands. As a newcomer to Kauaʻi, Sarah planted roots in the community through organic farming, working at local farmers markets, and participating in ʻāina restoration and climate resilience projects with Hawaiʻi Land Trust, Mālama Māhāʻulepū and Surfrider. Through community workdays, Sarah came to know the amazing women of Kīpuka Kuleana and stumbled into her dream job of building capacity for the nonprofit and supporting Landback efforts on Kauaʻi

 

Sarah has a BA in Psychology, a BA in American Indian and Indigenous Studies, and a minor in Medical Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her lens is shaped by teachers and mentors around the world - from Aotearoa and Chilean Patagonia to Hawaiʻi - where she's had the privilege of living and working alongside indigenous leaders and allies who are restoring health and balance in community ecosystems. She has over a decade of experience conducting stakeholder engagement in public health research, leading community advisory boards, developing grant proposals, and managing community research projects. Her research has focused on smoking cessation in Māori and Pacific Islander communities, nutrition education and diabetes management in Lumbee Tribe communities in North Carolina, and cancer care delivery research in Washington State. A throughline of Sarah's work is stewarding relationships and fostering collaboration across stakeholders to improve community health. Through Kīpuka Kuleana, she collaborates with tribal leaders and allied groups in Louisiana, California and Borikén working to rematriate and protect indigenous lands and waters and perpetuate cultural practices, which build resilience in the face of climate change. Based in the Pacific Northwest and on Kauaʻi, she is happiest on the water and in the mountains, especially when paddling, running, hiking, biking and climbing with friends. 

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