Keopulaulani ("Keopu") Reelitz ('09) is originally from Kāne'ohe, Hawai'i on the windward (east) side of O'ahu. She is proud to be part Hawaiian. Attending Loyola University Chicago as an undergraduate, Keopu developed an interest in the intersections between law, politics, and indigenous issues.
In searching for the right law school, she says,
"I wanted to choose a law school where I could learn about how law affects my people and feel like I belonged at the school. University of Arizona's Indigenous People's Law and Policy (IPLP) program stood out. ... I was impressed with the faculty and scholarship that had come out of IPLP."
She is thankful for IPLP and Arizona Law's commitment to native students and says that she and her husband give each year to the
Huerta Scholarship Program
Keopu recalls taking Federal Indian Law I with Professor
Rob Williams in her second year of law school.
"I'll always remember how he walked us through our conversations on Federal Indian Law in a way that was not just engaging but acknowledged how personal laws and legal decisions could feel. ... Professor Williams brought to life ... the real impacts of law and policy. These lessons -- from Professor Williams or my other favorite professor,
Leslye Obiora -- stay with me today in my career and my everyday life."
Arizona Law's legal writing coursework was a game-changer, says Keopu, helping her to realize a love of writing and storytelling and inspiring her as she later pursued a career in writing and editing.
After graduation, and passing the bar in February 2010, Keopu planned to work in Arizona. But when her father died unexpectedly she decided to move home to Hawaii.
The transition was not easy, but she eventually began work as a managing editor at a start-up publication for and about the Hawaiian community called MANA Magazine. She soon was named editor, and MANA Magazine became an award-winning publication. She was also able to cover Hawaiian self-determination efforts and politics.
"Again, my Arizona Law education was priceless in my coverage, [allowing me to effectively help] our readers understand federal recognition and administrative processes."
Then, Keopu says, a position at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (a semi-autonomous state agency) opened in their newly formed governance program.
"I jumped at the opportunity to dive into issues that had driven me to go to law school in the first place. I spent a year with the program (working for a great part-Hawaiian attorney who is actually now at Arizona Law pursuing his SJD through IPLP). "
Since August 2015, Keopu has worked as the public information officer at the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services, leading internal and external communications at the department as part of the executive leadership team.
The department is among the largest in the state, with 2,300 employees statewide and a budget of $3.3 billion, administering public benefits like SNAP and TANF, Hawaii's Medicaid program, Child Welfare Services, Adult Protective Services, Vocational Rehabilitation and juvenile justice. The position has been "a real homecoming" for Keopu, melding her love for storytelling and communicating with her passion for policy and law.
"I love that I'm able to tell our department's story and ... have a significant influence on how our department sets policies and procedures."
In fact, the office is full of non-practicing lawyers. And,
"There's not a day goes by that my legal education does not inform and instruct decisions I make or discussions we have as a team."
Keopu and her husband, Jason Ubay, married in 2014 and welcomed their first child in 2016. They are expecting their second child in September.
"My husband and I did our babymoon in Tucson in 2016 and happened to end up at Hotel Congress on a Thursday night. Who can resist Salvador Duran entertaining, great food at the Cup Café, and drinks at Club Congress?"
This summer, they've been spending lots of time at the beach. Her favorite beach these days is Kahala, "because it's pretty shallow and calm most of the time, making it perfect for my son to run in and out of the water while I wade and stay cool."
Keopu, thank you for joining in our reception this week, for keeping your Arizona Law connection strong, and for sharing your story.