Valli Kalei Kanuha was born and raised in a rural town in Hawaiʻi in the 1950s. She is the daughter of a Native Hawaiian father and Nisei mother. Dr. Kanuha considers herself a critical, indigenous, feminist, activist-practitioner scholar with a focus on gender violence against women and children, and the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender and sexual identity. For the past 45 years, she has worked as a community-based researcher and consultant with organizations in Hawaiʻi and the continental U.S., and lectures widely on violence against women and social justice issues. Her research and community interests include using indigenous, culturally-based interventions for family and domestic violence; intimate violence in women's same-sex and queer relationships; and alternative, community-based justice innovations to address interpersonal and S/state violence, including critiques of carceral systems, transformative and restorative justice, and abolition feminism.
Kalei has taught 30 different courses in community health, social work, sociology and women’s studies over her teaching career. Professor Kanuha received the NASW Presidential Award for Excellence in Research and the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching Award. She is a founding member of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Women’s Center, Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS in New York, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. She is currently a Board member of the Joyful Heart Foundation and API Chaya, and serves as an advisor on many community and national projects. Kalei received her BA in social work from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, MSW from the University of Minnesota and PhD in social welfare from the University of Washington.