Stories articles Indigenous Guardianship

The Rapa Nui delegation performs on the main stage in front of a packed audience at the 2024 Festival of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Photo by Hill Ossip / Nia Tero.

The Rapa Nui delegation performs on the main stage in front of a packed audience at the 2024 Festival of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Photo by Hill Ossip / Nia Tero.

June 24, 2024

Recent Celebration of Pacific Arts and Culture Is a Call for Indigenous Guardianship

‘Aulani Wilhelm and Brenda Toineeta Pipestem*

FestPAC demonstrated the intrinsic relationship between people and place, reminding us that nature and culture are intertwined.

As we watched the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC) conclude, we saw the culmination of two weeks of sharing by Indigenous Peoples from across the Pacific about who they are, their values, and their relationship to the natural world all expressed through music, dance, art, and dialogue. This global gathering showcased the unique natural diversity of the Pacific through diverse interpretations of each place, expressed through Indigenous arts and culture.

Clear in the eyes of the children and their elders was hope and responsibility to care for the land and sea, upon which we all rely for future generations. It was a joining of worlds, Peoples, cultures, and traditions that went much deeper than a celebration of arts and culture.

From the stories shared in each carving of stone, shell, wood, or skin; to the fibers and patterns intricately inlaid or woven in each tapestry; and the use of flowers, shells and feathers of birds from their homelands, FestPac brought together and demonstrated the intrinsic relationship of people and place, reminding us that nature and culture are intertwined and reliant on the other. To protect these diverse and rich cultures, we must protect the ecosystems of their homelands.

As native people ourselves, we recognize that Indigenous Peoples living in their territories continue to live in reciprocity with nature as both birthright and duty to past and future generations. It’s the direct relationship and reliance on the land and sea that connects, nourishes, and guides us, and our call for urgency for immediate change in how humanity interacts with our natural world as a partner and not a commodity.

Scientists have reported that the best of what’s left on this planet — approximately 40 percent of the healthiest ecosystems — is in the hands of Indigenous Peoples who live in deep relationships to the land and sea. These places are rich in biodiversity and are essential to the security of global food production, freshwater, and, ultimately, the Earth’s climate. This is no accident. These remarkable places persist as the result of Indigenous Peoples’ guardianship of territory.

FestPAC created a timely opportunity to elevate the critical importance of securing Indigenous Peoplesʻ guardianship of their lands, and to share Indigenous values and methodologies toward living in relation with our lands and waters for the health of all people and our planet.

Indigenous Peoples are calling for the world to join as allies in their efforts to protect the world’s oceans, take bold actions to address climate change, pollution of our ocean and air, deforestation, extractive industries, and the loss of biodiversity, knowing that together we can tackle the confluence of crises before us.

In the Pacific, the largest carbon sink on the planet, Indigenous communities manage vast marine areas, implementing practices that sustain fisheries and preserve marine biodiversity. Long-standing traditions, practices, songs, stories, dances, and teachings about reciprocity are all derived from generational knowledge, deep understanding, and ancestral connection to Moananuiākea (the oceanic home and heritage region for all peoples who are indigenous to islands).

The challenges to the health of the global ocean do not come from the people of the ocean but from those who see the ocean as a source of commodities and political power. Let’s call upon all nations to realize that the damage being done to the ocean affects every family on the planet.

FestPAC, a cultural celebration for Indigenous Peoples, was also a worldwide call to action. We were reminded that our Pacific Island nations and territories persist because of guardianship and time-tested knowledge and place-based traditions linked to the rights, responsibilities, and capacities to bring forth what our elders have taught for generations.

It was a rare opportunity for those within and beyond island nations to listen, learn, and take action in support of Indigenous guardianship and to join in the call to act locally to protect all of our futures.

At Nia Tero, an organization dedicated to fostering Indigenous guardianship everywhere possible on our planet, we are proud to support our partners across the Pacific and their presence here – not just to address today’s climate crisis but to enable future generations to live sustainably in our communities which we know, and science confirms, leads to a healthier planet for all.

Through events like “Future States and First Nations: Indigenous Constitutions in the Pacific” - hosted on June 13 by our partners at Islands Knowledge Institute and Solomon Islands National University (SINU), Indigenous voices were at the forefront of these critical and timely discussions, and solution-making.

Just as the world came together for FestPAC, we all need to recognize and support Indigenous guardianship, and learn the value of living in reciprocity with the land, rivers and oceans. We need to do this together.

The future health of our Earth depends on it.

‘Aulani Wilhelm is chief strategy and external relations officer for Nia Tero.

Brenda Toineeta Pipestem is a member of the board of directors of Nia Tero.

*This article was originally published by Civil Beat at: