OIA Blogs: Who are Pacific Islanders?

OIA Blogs photo

(November 30, 2021) - The Office of Management and Budget’s Directive 15 on race and ethnic standards for federal statistics and administrative reporting defines Pacific Islanders as persons having origins in any of the original peoples of the Pacific Islands.

Since first “discovering” the Pacific Ocean, Western explorers have baptized it Oceania with three sub regions called Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia. There are thousands of high volcanic islands, sandy coral atolls, and limestone outcroppings populated with Pacific Islanders who speak different languages and belong to different cultures.

Pacific Islands image

Image: Brittanica.com


Melanesia comprises the main entities of Fiji; New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea; the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

Polynesia comprises American Samoa; the Cook Islands; French Polynesia, Niue, Pitcairn,

Rapa Nui, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna. The Hawaiian Islands and New Zealand, anchor this region to the north and south, respectively, with Native Hawaiians and Maori as their indigenous populations. American Samoa is the only entity in Polynesia for which Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) has responsibilities.

Micronesia region photo

Image: Reddit.com

Micronesia, roughly the size of the continental United States, comprises Guam, Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, and Kiribati. Indigenous populations in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are called Chamorro. Tinian, Peleliu, Chuuk, Yap, Pohnpei, Kwajalein, Enewetak, and Bikini are other islands in Micronesia of WWII or nuclear fame. Except for Nauru and Kiribati, OIA has responsibilities in the entire Micronesia region.

The 2010 Census counted 1.2 million Pacific Islanders all throughout the United States with half that number identifying as Native Hawaiian, alone and in combination. Samoan and Chamorro populations are the next largest groups. The 2020 Census update on Pacific Islander populations in the United States is pending.

by Tanya Harris Joshua, TAP Deputy Director in the Office of Insular Affairs, who has roots in Pohnpei, Micronesia. Any opinions expressed here-in are my own.