The Marshallese community in Oregon hosted a RMI-US Nuclear Legacy Summit over the Memorial Day weekend as part of its annual RMI Constitution Day celebrations.
The Summit brought together Marshallese and American, elders and youth, activists and researchers, survivors and students to engage in a dialogue on the devastating consequences of nuclear testing.
Beyond dialogue, the Summit also challenged participants to consider the actions individuals and communities can take in the face of the RMI-US shared nuclear legacy.
Representing the RMI government, Minister of Foreign Affairs John Silk opened the Constitution Day ceremonies on Friday, May 27, with an address that highlighted the continued impact of the nuclear testing on each new generation of Marshallese. Minister Silk pledged to continue to seek justice for all those affected by the testing, but also recognized that Marshallese could not achieve justice without help from friends in the United States.
“I plea, on behalf of my granddaughters and their generation, to the current generation of Americans, that their cause for justice may not fall on deaf ears. I believe that together we can sow the seeds of respect and mutual understanding between our two peoples and bequeath to our grandchildren the promise of a better future and leave with them an investment for their children.”
The Nuclear Summit continued on Saturday, May 28, with Tina Stege of the Marshallese Educational Initiative (MEI) as emcee. Activities held included a presentation by Dr. Holly Barker of the University of Washington, testimonies by survivors and members of the four atolls, a candlelight vigil, a breakout session focused on how to raise awareness and effect change, and the recognition of Marshallese youth activists working to improve lives in their communities. Marshallese participants wrapped up the day’s events with a heartfelt rendition of Ij Iakwe Lok and a prayer by Pastor Telenja David of Enewetak Atoll.
About 60 people participated in these activities.
A group of Dr. Barker’s students from the University of Washington helped facilitate the breakout session, sharing their own experiences doing outreach to schools and the wider community on Pacific islander issues.
Summit organizers from the Oregon Marshallese Community (OMC), the Radiation Exposure Awareness Crusaders for Humanity – Marshall Islands (REACH-MI), and the Marshallese Educational Initiative (MEI) were excited by the enthusiastic response to the event. “This whole experience lights a fire in you to keep raising awareness about nuclear testing in the RMI,” REACH-MI’s Desmond Doulatram said. “Most importantly, we need events likes these to ensure that our young people know this history and can take a leadership role in effecting change.”
Read more about this in the June 10, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.