Interior Celebrates Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities

5/24/2021

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities make our nation more vibrant through a diversity of cultures, languages and religions. President Biden’s Proclamation on Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island Heritage Month is a call to reflect, as a nation, on these communities’ monumental contributions toward building and sustaining our country, our national character and our rich heritage.

Offices and bureaus in the Department of the Interior, such as the Office of Insular Affairs, the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provide important funding assistance for natural and cultural resource protection, as well as resources to communities to help protect lives and livelihoods throughout Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations in the U.S. and in the territories.  

Our recent work to preserve historic, cultural and natural resources includes the protection of the ‘ōhiʻa, a tree that is unique to the Hawaiian Islands, from a fungal disease called Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. This disease is currently attacking and killing thousands of ‘ōhiʻa trees, a keystone species in Hawaiian forests and an important place for food and shelter for native birds. Our U.S. Geological Survey researchers helped prove that native ʻōhiʻa seedlings can survive for at least a year in areas that have active mortality from Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, providing the first real hope the tree can be restored across its historic landscape.

Funding from the Department’s Office of Insular Affairs has helped the Kosrae Government build several traditional resting houses in the Kosrae Mahkontowe Conservation Area in the Federated States of Micronesia using traditional knowledge and local resources to support both eco-heritage tourism and local agri-foresters. The National Park Service also awarded the Underrepresented Communities Grant to the Kosrae Government in support of efforts to nominate the Mahkontowe Conservation Area to the nation’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation.

We celebrate the contributions and legacies as well as encourages representation of the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities through our art exhibitions, outreach, engagement and communications. The Department’s museum’s collection contains approximately 600 objects relating to the agency’s historical role with the U.S. territories and the freely associated states. Most of these are handcrafted items and official gifts presented to visiting Interior dignitaries.

President Biden said in his proclamation, “The American story as we know it would be impossible without the strength, contributions, and legacies of AANHPIs who have helped build and unite this country in each successive generation.” That sentiment drives Interior’s efforts to invest in developing local capacity and next generation leaders. For example, the Office of Insular Affairs provides funding for the Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) which was designed to assist the island area governments with developing and retaining qualified and talented professionals needed to lead their governments into the future. The ELDP now counts 149 alumni in the insular areas who represent an extraordinary group of young island leaders with diverse professional backgrounds and an enduring commitment to public service. 

It is our hope that all Americans take this opportunity to learn more about the history and contributions of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island cultures to the United States and honor them as indispensable threads in our national tapestry, as we celebrate the cultures, languages, and histories that enrich the quality and character of our great nation.

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