Prioritizing Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Engagement in the Pacific

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell speaks with participants at an event in the Marshall Islands

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell speaks with participants at an event in the Marshall Islands. (by Louis Shelden)

This past week I had the distinct privilege to engage with Native Hawaiian leaders in Hawaii.  In partnership with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we met with a diverse group of leaders and public officials on a range of issues impacting Native Hawaiians, including education, health, preservation of cultural and native historic sites, fish and wildlife, Hawaiian homelands, and federal recognition.

On Wednesday, September 4, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell delivered the keynote address at the 12th annual Council on Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) Convention in Honolulu, HI – one of the largest gatherings focused on Native Hawaiian issues.  She received a special welcome – fourteen leis that represented each decade the Department of Interior has worked with the Native Hawaiian community, and the 40 years since an U.S. Interior Secretary has met with Native Hawaiians.  In her remarks, the Secretary underscored the importance of Native Hawaiian issues within the Department of the Interior, and the Department’s special oversight role under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

The Secretary highlighted the Department’s commitment to consulting with and strengthening its relationship with Native Hawaiians.  Finally, Secretary Jewell reiterated the President’s support for congressional efforts to establish federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

Our two days of activities in Hawaii ended with a traditional luau in Papakolea, a Native Hawaiian Homestead, organized by the Papakolea Community Association. Homesteaders from around the islands traveled to Oahu to meet with the Secretary, share their culture, and discuss issues important to Native Hawaiians.

In the same week, Secretary Jewell led a U.S. government delegation to a dialogue hosted by the Pacific Islands in Majuro, the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The dialogue was held to highlight and build upon our historic relations with the peoples and nations of the Pacific.  The delegation consisted of senior officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, Departments of State, Defense (United States Pacific Command), Interior, Energy, Health and Human Services, USAID and the White House.

Secretary Jewell’s participation in the Dialogue and meetings with Pacific leaders addressed a range of issues with Pacific Island nations, including global climate change and natural resource management, sustainable development, economic growth and security.  During her remarks, Jewell unveiled a $24 million Pacific Climate Fund to help small island-nations prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Our trip to the Pacific marked an important milestone in the Interior Department’s commitment to Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and our obligation to all our citizens.

Rhea Suh is the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget, at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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