Remarks of the Honorable Anthony M. Babauta Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior for Insular Areas Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Annual Conference
Aloha. And I would remiss if I also didn't take this opportunity to greet the Native Hawaiian community in the various languages of your brothers and sisters from around the Pacific and here with us - Håfa Adai, Talofa, Alii, Kaselehlie, Mogethin, Len-Wo, Ran Annim, Yokwe, - Minanas si Y'us and Good Morning! It is my true pleasure to be here with you. This is my second consecutive year participating in the CNHA's annual convention and I am honored to be able to share with you, as you commemorate a decade of service and community empowerment.
I want to extend a personal and heartfelt dankulu na si Yu'us ma'ase and Mahalo to the CNHA Board, its Chairman Alvin Parker, and to Robin Puanani Danner, a woman who a little over a year ago I did not know personally and today, because of her vision, because of her tireless energy and because of her brilliant way of continuously connecting people and ideas, she is someone I have come to know well and she has been integral in our efforts to forge unique opportunities and intra-island collaboration and partnerships. Si Yu'us ma'åse' talo – Thank you again - for allowing me to participate yet another year and for the tremendous work you do throughout the year building bridges and strong Pacific ties.
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and recognize the presence of what I consider to be a very distinct and diverse group of individuals who are all professionally engaged in an array of fields but that unitedly represent a vision of progress for their people. It is historic that for the first time in the history of this convention, each island jurisdiction beyond the shores of Hawaii have come here to "talk their story" and become friends with you. Their representation from a CBO and NGO perspective is broad – they fight for their issues in small island communities, but their challenges are likely umpteen times greater. Whether this was something they realized for themselves before this conference began, I am certain that seeing the organization of CNHA and the work it has done for so many years – successfully - has reenergized and filled them with a new spirit and optimism which they will carry back home to kukakuka with their communities.
For my Chamorros, do not confuse kukakuka or talk story with kaduku, which for the benefit of everyone else means "crazy."
I think we were all very grateful to Governor Abercrombie for recognizing the delegation yesterday and I would like to do it one more time in this session, so can representatives from Guam, representating Guma' Mami, the Guam Humanities Council, Flametree Foundation, Sanctuary Inc, Pa'a Taotaotano, Hurao Academy, Payuta, Ina'fa maolek, the Women's Summit, Dr. Mary Okada President of the Guam Community College and Anita Borja, representing President Robert Underwood from the University of Guam, from the Marshall Islands we have Veronica Momotaro Wase representing Women United Together, Frances Sablan from the Marianas Alliance for NGO's or (MANGO – love that acronym, Frances), we have Mr. Elbuchel Sadang, from the Palau Conservation Society, Christina Stinnet from the Chuuk Women's Council, and Sandra Salevasa King-Young from American Samoa's Pacific Island Center for Education.
It is equally important for me recognize the government representation from the Freely Associated States – Foreign Ministers Lorin Robert from Micronesia, John Silk from the Marshall Islands, and Victor Yano from the Republic of Palau.
This morning I was asked to speak about building partnerships in the Pacific. The major mission of my appointment by President Obama is to work with our nation's island areas, to empower them, to make the federal government more aware of their issues, and to find solutions. Frankly none of this had been done over the past eight years for these areas, and dare I say our larger pacific island communities had fallen off the radar and so the challenges faced by all became that much more insurmountable.
However, there has been a change under the leadership of this President, this Hawaiian born son, and our fellow Pacific Islander. And just yesterday, we heard the announcements from Secretary Donovan of HUD's new investment to build homes on Hawaiian Homelands, and Donna Brambell's expanded CDFI initiative from the Treasury Department, which will deliver much needed financial products and services to our underserved communities.
Unfortunately, I don't have the same sort of deliverable to announce today – the work we have been doing at the Interior Department however over nearly two years has been a list of firsts for our pacific island constituencies. And these "first-time" initiatives could only come about from partnerships not simply between entities or organizations but in a more meaningful Pacific way - between people. Our most recent initiative has been with this organization, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. Each of us has our individual story about Robin, and I'm going to add my own relationship, which began with her a little over a year ago and has resulted in our recent announcement on Guam of the Pacific Business Partnership Initiative.
As many of you may know, Guam will be undergoing some significant changes over the next decade with a renewed investment by our military and our nation to be sure that we are strategically positioned along the Asia Pacific Rim to keep peace, or deploy our military forces in response to disasters or conflict. This repositioning of forces will result in the US Marines returning to Guam since WWII and an investment of at least $12 billion into Guam to build the Marines a base. Everyone has been calling this the Guam Military Build-Up and it has attracted corporate America, Alaska Native Corporations, and other US contractors – the likes that Guam has never seen.
The dollar investment alone has the promise of opportunity and wealth, but for whom? Guam's local businesses have been feeling avoided by larger off-island competitors who know how to get the multi-million dollar federal contracts.
The Pacific Business Partnership Initiative will strengthen and grow small business throughout the Pacific. The initiative was conceptualized here, by the CNHA, but the partnership, and more meaningful relationship and collaboration which has grown between Robin, myself, the University of Guam, will have an effect in Hawaii and throughout the western Pacific. Our plans are big –but achievable an annual business summit, establishing a qualifying process for small business to meet the requirements of big business for contracts, and establish profiles of small business firms to big business contracting officers. And we're going to ensure that businesses, large and small, off-island or on, know that the best way to help a community is not just helping create jobs but being good corporate citizens and making the corporate investments to local non-governmental organizations who fill the gaps in services where government often fails.
We're not just confronting businesses and the contributions they can make to a community – we have an initiative which helps to move the President's vision of a cleaner, renewable and alternative energy future forward.
The costs for energy in the islands is no different than Hawaii. But without a strategic energy plan, which comes from the community – the terms of what we pay for gas or electricity will never decrease. So, a little over a year and a half ago, the Governors of American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam; along with many of their utility agency leaders, joined me at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, Colorado in an effort to cooperate at the Federal level in accomplishing our mutual renewable energy and efficiency goals and to initiate a comprehensive energy plan for each of our U.S. insular areas. So, we began developing a responsible blueprint for the kind of energy future we wanted to implement. Following this initial meeting, all three governors signed Executive Orders establishing energy taskforces. And just this past May we expanded that partnership even further, where U.S. Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh traveled to Guam, to sit on a Guam Energy Task Force meeting, where he shared his own island's details about their energy roadmap and discussed the assistance provided over the last two years by the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) partnership. Today, each island is moving forward with their individual energy plan and because there is local buy-in and ownership, amongst important stakeholders, I am confident whatever is implemented will be successful.
As we moved forward on energy, we were also well aware of the assistance needed to help these islands continue developing and diversifying their economies. However, a key piece for anyone wanting to study and understand their economies was missing – hard economic data. In response, my office partnered with the Department of Commerce so that for the first time in the history of our nation, data about the economies of our US insular areas was gathered and analyzed by the Department of Commerce. Mind you, Commerce's work and study is the gold standard for the economic community. And I am pleased that for two years now, we have reported on the economic state of these island economies and in a manner where you can make side by side comparisons with any other State in the Union. This partnership between Federal agencies and local governments equips island leaders to make informed decisions about economic policy.
We took a similar approach with respect to education. In March of this year we launched the Insular Assessment of Buildings and Classrooms (Insular A, B, C's) initiative. OIA partnered with the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to comprehensively study, assess, and report on the physical condition of each public school on each island under our jurisdiction. This is the first time that any such comprehensive study will be conducted on any one of the islands to understand the physical state of our public schools. We need to provide a safe environment for our kids to learn and grow because ultimately, every island community has as its core concerns, the future and opportunities we provide to our children and leaders in our school systems need to understand how to prioritize scarce resources to rebuild or keep existing schools open.
We have also attempted to be creative in our approach to take advantage of our islands unique locations and proximity to other countries. Earlier this year, we convened a two-day Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Conference held in San Francisco, with representatives from federal, state, and government agencies, attorney general offices, judiciaries, bar associations, and in-house counsel to underscore the opportunity for island judiciaries and the legal community at both the local and federal levels to share experiences and best practices in resolving disputes. We continue to work with each of these areas to develop judicial policies that welcome ADR practices to relieve local court dockets as well as create the capacity for a niche market for international dispute resolution. Our next step will be targeted conferences for the Pacific and the Caribbean.
As you can see, each of these new initiatives required bringing people together from different disciplines all to serve a common goal – to empower our island communities and their leaders. But we have never forgotten the reasons for why Pacific people are unique, distinguished, and special – our culture. I am especially proud of what we have done and will be doing to preserve island cultures. For example, I had the rare opportunity to work with a distinguished elder from American Samoa who also serves as the island's Secretary of Samoan Affairs – High Chief Tufele. His vision and wisdom led us to break ground earlier this year for the construction of the Le oopengna wa-toy-tee-mata (LE UPEGA UA TOE TIMATA) project, a traditional Samoan Fale that will serve as a buttress for present and future generations in discerning what makes them uniquely Samoan. This Fale will be a symbol for all that is sacred to the FA'ASAMOA (the Samoan Way), in particular, the family and matai system which is the heart of the Samoan culture. It will provide a forum to learn the Fa-a-loopenga (Fa'alupega). And most importantly, every stage of this traditional Fale's construction will be documented, videotaped so that Samoan children have a reference guide that is accessible to future generations.
Partnerships also mean getting involved, realizing that battles are not won alone, that we accomplish our goals when we unite. Over a year ago, the ancient Chamorro village of Pagat lay at the center of a rallying call in the resurgence of Chamorro cultural preservation. At the time, the Department of Defense had released plans for the building of a firing range on a bluff directly above the site where military exercises would be carried out and access to the site would be limited. As result the people came together, and through cooperation, through education, through advocacy, they engaged on the issue, and the Federal Government has since removed the village of Pagat from any harm that could be caused by military activities.
In the past year, we also helped strengthen two distinct efforts to meet the challenges and provide smart ideas for tackling difficult developmental problems faced by island communities. We have put our federal dollars towards standing up a Center for Island Sustainability to assist Guam to address the changes to their community from the military build up and we have also supported the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future, whose mission and future is guided by the Presidents of the Freely Associated States as well as the Governors of American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and Guam.
But what is significant about these partnerships is that we are doing it the Micronesian way, we are going back to our indigenous roots, seeking indigenous solutions for creating opportunities—implementing eco-regional priorities throughout Micronesia to strengthen fisheries management and establish broad-based, functioning conservation networks. We are approaching health holistically, ensuring the spiritual well-being of our people and improving our physical health by changing diets, teaching children our deeply-rooted, sacrosanct traditions and practices in planting tarot and eating breadfruit.
And we are not stopping there either, we are taking on the arts too because our people are creative and through art and music we honor our ancestors and we build a rich and powerful narrative of who we are as a people—so our hope is to announce within the next six months, an effort to celebrate the inspiration, creativity and ingenuity of Pacific and Caribbean artists, bringing them together to showcase their work and applaud human expression.
You see partnerships affirm that our world is more intertwined than we would like to admit and you only move forward when you share resources to benefit the whole. Partnerships are about collaborating, understanding that each individual brings something unique to the table and then we collectively build on peoples' individual strength. Each individual possesses their own unique set of ideas but an idea remains a simple idea until it comes into contact with another person who has another idea. It is not until ideas, concepts and visions coalesce, until we allow for exchange that we are able to tackle what we do not understand. When we come together, we turn formidable challenges into opportunities for resolve. Many of you may be familiar with the work of American Economist, Leanord Read who wrote the famous essay entitled, "I, Pencil", written in the first person from the point of view of a pencil. The pencil details the complexity of its own creation, listing its components (cedar, lacquer, graphite, pumice, wax, glue) and the numerous people involved, down to the sweeper in the factory and the lighthouse keeper guiding the shipment into port. And if you hold up a pencil no single, individual person in this room knows how to create one but I can guarantee you that collectively, with converging ideas--people could figure it out. Comprehensive partnerships bring groups that would otherwise exist as good ideas together with the technology, capital and resources to actually realize things beyond our imagination. And when we build partnerships we are not only equipping ourselves with the tools to move forward but we are developing education systems that are sustainable and long-lasting.
Writer and educator Howard Rheingold, coined the term "smart mob", where unlike your conventional mob, this a mob that behaves as he puts it "intelligently and efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing for social coordination." That is what we are doing here. As Pacific Islanders we have lots to learn from one another and when we connect the currents from our blue waters, we build partnerships capable of navigating our great ocean.
And just as some partnerships are bold others span the course of many years, they are partnerships, friendships and relationships that are lasting, but at times can be trying and through the years withstand the test of time. We recognized earlier the presence of our delegation from the FAS. And to contextualize historically, the relationship with the U.S. affiliated Pacific islands stems from a post-World War II trusteeship agreement by the United Nations. Under this Agreement with the United Nations Security Council, the United States exercised administrative jurisdiction over the Trust Territories. Twenty-eight years later, each of the Trust territories would ratify their own constitutions that would be recognized by the United States. And in 1986 both the FSM and the Marshalls would enter into one of their country's most meaningful partnerships with the United States through the signing of the Compacts of Free Association. A few years later, Palau would enter into a similar agreement of Free Association. And with these agreements forged many years ago, we built very strong ties, privileges were afforded and individual responsibilities and expectations were established. And just like any relationship, it necessitates continual nurturing and responsiveness on both ends.
Yesterday, I met with the three foreign ministers of the FAS to discuss their individual countries' relationship with the United States. As our meeting concluded, the ministers thanked me for having provided the technical assistance for them to participate in this convention-- one in particular stated that the past three days had been "eye-opening" that he had "no idea" of the issues Hawaii was confronting, nor a sense of the remarkable efforts this island's community was undertaking to address and respond to its needs. He does now and appreciates the Native Hawaiian struggle for identity and self-governance.
So today, my challenge to the Native Hawaiian community, which is already being carried out through the efforts of the CNHA, is to continue sharing your story and your experiences with your other Pacific brothers and sisters. Be mindful of their history as well because our cultures have all suffered as we were discovered by the Western world, and it is through our reuniting that we achieve progress.
And my challenge to the Pacific Delegation is to learn from the experience and the kukakuka of the Native Hawaiians and bring these experiences back to Palau, the Marshalls, Micronesia, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas. In our own way, let us bring the hands, the lima of our community together to lean forward. Huli ka lima i lalo, keep your hands busy. When we use our lima to work hard together we build greatness.