HONOLULU (Sept. 22, 2014) — Recent UHM graduate and Marshall Islander Kathy Dede Nein Jetnil-Kijner will be one of seven speakers at the opening ceremony of the Climate Summit at the United Nation’s New York headquarters on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. The summit will bring together world leaders to advance climate action.
Jetnil-Kijner will share the stage with luminaries including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. She is the civil society representative at the opening ceremony, chosen from more than 500 individuals nominated from over 100 nations.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing problems in the Pacific Islands region,” said Dr. Terence Wesley-Smith, Director of the UHM Center for Pacific Islands Studies, “and it is encouraging to see one of our recent MA graduates taking an active role spreading awareness of these issues to an audience of global leaders.”
Jetnil-Kijner is from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a small Pacific Island nation, with a population of 68,000 that is 2,800 miles southwest of Hawai`i. Consisting entirely of low-lying coral atolls, the Marshall Islands are on the front line of climate change. In addition, at the 400,000-person strong People’s Climate March in New York on Sunday, September 21, Jetnil-Kijner said, “I want people to know that there are thousands of years of history and culture that will also disappear should our islands go.” https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=BCWKerSObaI &feature=youtu.be). One of the concerns is that, as climate change makes these islands uninhabitable, more Marshallese will migrate away. At least 8,000 Marshallese have already made Hawai`i their home away from home.
A product of Honolulu’s University Laboratory School and Mills College (BA in English), Jetnil-Kijner graduated with an MA in Pacific Islands Studies from UH Mānoa in May 2014. Her MA portfolio project, “Iep Jeltok: A History of Marshallese Literature,” considers oral traditions, weaving, tattoos, and navigation stickcharts as sources of knowledge about Marshallese culture and history.
In recent years, Jetnil-Kijner has founded an environmental NGO, and established an international reputation as a powerful poet and spoken-word artist who tackles key issues impacting Marshall Islanders, including the legacy of nuclear testing, racism and climate change. Her performance at the prestigious Poetry Parnassus held at the Southbank Centre in London prior to the Olympic Games in 2012 was widely praised. Jetnil-Kijner recently guest edited a collection of poetry called Baninnur: A Basket of Food, a special issue of an online journal published by New Zealand’s Blackmail Press. She is now a lecturer at the College of the Marshall Islands.