Growing up in a family of Native Hawaiian fishermen and farmers, on the rural North Shore of the island of Kauaʻi, Kapua Sproat watched as land in her community was bought up by developers and subdivided into luxury estates. “From an early age, I knew I wanted to become an attorney to provide a voice for my community and protect the areas that I lived in and loved,” she says.
When it came time to choose a college, she looked for a strong, interdisciplinary pre-law major—and she found it at Mills. “I also liked the historical connection of the College’s founders, Cyrus and Susan Mills, to Hawaiʻi, the College’s focus on empowerment of women, and the Bay Area location,” she explains.
Though the College was far from home, Kapua says, “Mills helped shape my identity, my perspective on who I am as a Native Hawaiian woman. . . . It helped me strengthen my voice through exposure to powerful, courageous women of color who came to speak on campus, like political activist Angela Davis.”
Among the most important influences on her personal growth during college, she says, were “the friends I made in my first year—friends I still remain in close contact with. We were part of a student movement to hire more faculty of color at Mills. We explored politics and participated in marches together. . . . Through this movement, I learned how to engage the community in working for change. The organizing I did then informs my approach to litigation today.”
In her current roles as a law professor and attorney for Earthjustice, Kapua teaches and practices Native Hawaiian and environmental law. She has worked with community leaders on litigation that has successfully preserved natural and cultural resources, from mountain streams to ocean beaches. Through her teaching and organizing work, she says, “I am empowering leaders, especially women, to be effective advocates for their communities.”