UH Law School professor wins international environmental award for expertise, teaching

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Oct 23, 2015

Kapua Sproat
Kapua Sproat

UH Law School Associate Professor D. Kapua‘ala Sproat ‘98 has been recognized with a major international award for her expertise in environmental law, and her inspiring and dynamic teaching abilities.

Sproat, a member of the Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, is the recipient of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law’s 2015 Distinguished Environmental Law Education Award in its Emerging Scholars Category.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an organization for global action with 1,300 member agencies and institutions in 185 countries working to solve environmental challenges involving climate, food and development.

The awards for 2015 were announced during the Academy’s recent 13th Annual Colloquium dinner held at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta, Indonesia.

In recognizing Sproat, the IUCN Academy cited her work in community service that combines classroom teaching as well as leading an environmental law clinic that offers students hands-on work with real clients. Professor Eric Yamamoto, who is the Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice at the UH Law School, nominated Sproat and emphasized her outstanding qualities, ability to inspire students, and leadership in creating exceptional learning opportunities.

“She makes oftentimes overwhelmingly prosaic legal learning both exciting and relevant,” wrote Yamamoto. “She integrates path-forging indigenous peoples’ environmental justice scholarship and deep hands-on environmental litigation experience with an exceptional grasp of the linkage between the theoretical and the practical in law.”   

Yamamoto said that, since Sproat took the helm of the Environmental Law Clinic in 2007, "it has been the only one of its kind at the Law School to use place-based, project-based learning to address environmental and Native Hawaiian issues while also providing free legal advice to underserved communities.”

Yamamoto noted that the clinic has been remarkably effective in strengthening collaboration both within and beyond the Law School. In fact, he added, the clinic has received $650,000 since 2011 from the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs to support travel, training and direct legal services in Hawai‘i’s rural communities.

Sproat has been at Richardson for eight years, during which time she won two Presidential Citations for Meritorious Teaching, the Law School’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and UH’s highest teaching award, the Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching.

She was born and raised in Kalihiwai on Kaua‘i’s north shore and is a member of the Akana and Sproat families of Kaua‘i and Kohala on the Island of Hawai’i.

The graduate of Mills College and the Richardson Law School joined Earthjustice as a staff attorney immediately after graduation in 1998. Nine years later she was lured back to Richardson as a member of Ka Huli Ao, and has taught many subjects and written about water law and other topics in addition to running her clinic.

She recently co-authored and co-edited Native Hawaiian Law, a 1,400-page treatise that covers the vast expanse of Native Hawaiian law in place throughout Hawai‘i’s legal system, and also examines how Hawaiian law and custom interacts with western and international law.

Said Law School Dean Avi Soifer, “Kapua Sproat is amazing and there can be no one more deserving of this prestigious international award. She teaches and serves others with remarkable effectiveness on a daily basis and consistently does the Law School proud, whether noticed or not, for all that she accomplishes.”

Dean Soifer said he is particularly pleased by Sproat’s recognition in light of the next IUCN World Conservation Congress, scheduled for next September at the Hawai‘i Convention Center in Honolulu.  It will be the first time in the Academy’s over 60-year history that the United States has hosted this international gathering.

The IUCN is headquartered at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.  It has held international environmental conferences in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Australia to focus on issues including climate change, biofuels, water and the development of policy for protected areas.

For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/