Esther Kia’aina resigns from OIA

Esther Kia’aina had formally resigned as Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas to give the Trump administration a free hand in appointing the new person to head one of the divisions under the U.S. Department of the Interior.

OIA director Nikolao Pula of American Samoa, according to the DOI website, is the acting assistant secretary, pending the official nomination for the post by Trump and the confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Pula is expected to be on Saipan to attend Friday’s ribbon cutting and unveiling of the $23.6-million Puerto Rico Park, whose conversion from a World War II-era dump into a park was funded by OIA. The park would officially open to the public on April 1.

Kia’aina was at the helm of the Office of the Insular Affairs for more than three years after being appointed by former President Barack Obama on Sept. 11, 2013. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 26, 2014.

She was also chosen by Obama to lead the U.S. federal government’s panel in the series of 902 talks with their counterparts from the CNMI, headed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last year.

The talks were based on Section 902 of the Covenant. The final report was submitted to President Obama before his term ended and is now awaiting further action by U.S. congressional leaders.

Recommendations made by both panels concern labor and immigration issues, and planned military activities on the islands of Tinian and Pagan by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Visiting Pagan was one of the highlights of the 902 talks. Kia’aina and U.S. military officials saw first-hand the volcanic island’s natural resources. CNMI officials oppose planned live training and bombing activities on Pagan, which is under the Municipality of the Northern Islands.

Kia’aina was born in Guam to Hawaiian native parents, Leialoha and Lorelei Haunani Kia’aina. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science from the University of Southern California, earned her masters at Johns Hopkins and received her juris doctor degree from the George Washington University.

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