E le gata I le va fealoa'i ma le isi tagata, ao le va fealoa'i, ma lona si’osi’omaga, fanua, ma le tapuafanua o le elele, ma le sami. (Tanielu, 2012)
The relational space does not end with human interaction but it extends to the environment, lands, sacred lands and oceans. (Tanielu, 2012)
The conference has begun and it is a bitter sweet but symbolic moment. Seeing SIDS representation here is fantastic and my heart swells, particularly with the fact that Fiji is co-chairing. However, I have to wonder how much of this is a box-ticking exercise especially for some of the sessions. I have tried to attend most side events with at least one SIDS representative/delegate speaking.
Attending the ‘Healers of our ocean: Asia-Pacific women leading ocean action to achieve SDG14 - how we can learn from them?’ side event we witnessed intersectionality for all that it is. There were two women from Fiji and the others were from Sweden; on a panel that looked like it was supposed to be focusing on how we can learn from Asia Pacific women. The women spoke well on how they were mobilising their communities to be proactive in fisheries and coastal management. They also spoke about how they use this platform to encourage young women into this field of work and STEM studies. Privilege and inappropriateness made it’s appearance again when comments were welcome from the floor. A female lawyer from New York used the limited time to compare the struggle towards leadership with women in the legal profession and how informal supports for home life are crucial. I understand her comment but for the event, I am not sure there was much value added.
Another session I attended ‘Going to scale in the ocean: form large scale MPAs to whole domain management - ridge to reef to ocean’ had quite a bit of over-flow in the room. As a tangent, there were quite a few SIDS side events that were placed into small rooms that had over-flow which was irksome. A few of us AYLI delegates were in attendance as we were asked by representatives of Conversation International to help out with ushering dignitaries into the room. In a Pacific cultural context, this is an important practice, to ensure we appropriately recognise and respect leaders with mana. Speakers from the Cook Islands highlighted the work they were doing with Marae Moana Marine park to cover their whole exclusive economic zone (EEZ). They also mentioned the potential for exploring the rights of the ocean to be recognised as a legal entity with reference to the Whanganui river in Aotearoa and Ecuador. Kiribati highlighted their work with Phoenix Islands Protected Areas (PIPA) and how these protected areas act as natural pristine laboratories to analyse the impacts of climate change on low lying atolls, particularly coral. In any regard, they have stated that they are not waiting for research findings to act, and intend on extending PIPA towards the Winslow reef this year.
We heard further talks from Palau, New Caledonia, Dame Meg Taylor and comments from Marquesas, Rapanui, Hawaii and Maggie Barry the Minister for Conservation in New Zealand. As another tangent, the Minister for Tokelau made a statement towards the Cook Islands in asking them not to leave Tokelau behind, particularly as they are right next to the northern Cook Islands. I am not familiar with the politics in the region at a detailed level however think the comment made from Tokelau speaks to deeper dynamics behind closed doors between the two SIDS countries.
In all regards, I am not sure how heavily to read into these nuances mentioned above at the various events; whether intentional displays of tension between different states and institutions or just a consequence of ill-planning by the UN event organisers.
The opening quote was from my previous Church Minister’s wife at Ekalesia Fa'apotopotoga Kerisiano o Samoa (EFKS) Grey Lynn, Dr Lonise Tanielu. If I have seen little further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants such as her. Fa’afetai tele lava.