Written By Kate Haapala
If you have been reading this blog, or following other media outlets focusing on the World Conservation Congress (WCC), you now know that the event is being hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii. Bearing this in mind, it is no surprise that the ocean has become a key theme across the event. On the first day when the team walked into the Conference Center, the “Rainbow Archipelago” of Hawaii was on display on the atrium through vibrant images of various species that can be found here in Hawaii. Absent in the images, however, were images of communities and individuals that are also apart of the diverse land and seascapes of this archipelago. Since the first day here at the Congress, the ocean has been a focus in many events, but I am going to focus on just one.
The room buzzed with conversation and excitement as 15 different groups engaged in conversations. I walked in late, and seeing no other seats available at the white cloth linen tables, I joined a group sitting on the floor in the corner talking about the culture and heritage of the ocean. The group here was diverse, but it became clear that many people had a deep connection to the ocean. For instance, an older man sitting on the floor said “there is a spiritual aspect to the ocean. You can feel ancestors in the ocean if you are willing to open yourself up.” Not only is the ocean heritage, but it is also survival. Another man at the knowledge café, said “The ocean is survival for our people. There can be no separation.” These sentiments bring to light the deep interconnectivity between people, their local environment, their sense of place, and therefore their identity.
These sentiments are subject to being overly romanticized and so it seems relevant to make it clear that these communities and cultures are deeply impacted by climate change and a history of colonization. There will be no easy solutions to climate change or deconstructing power imbalances that show themselves in the lives of Native communities here in Hawaii and throughout other Pacific island cultures.
By now you may be wondering why I opened with the story of the Rainbow Archipelago. The art in the Rainbow Archipelago exhibit has remained on display throughout the week. However, it is still void of pictures of people and communities that also make the land and seascapes here diverse, vibrant, and are deeply intertwined with the ocean and the diverse range of species here. Hearing peoples’ stories about climate change, their heritage, and the ways in which their relationship with their ancestors and future descendants are changing is both heavy and impactful. The reality is that we are losing more than just biodiversity as climate change continues. This is not a new argument, but it bears repeating because the ways in which we frame the images, problems, and impacts of climate change matters for what solutions we will design to solve intractable problems.
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Dr. Kimberly R. Marion Suiseeya, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University
Dr. Laura Zanotti, Department of Anthropology, Purdue University
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