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There are a number of cultural values and beliefs tied to the ocean in the Native Hawaiian community, but two have been particularly notable in terms of culture and governance in recent years. One is that the ocean is a highway, a connecting source between Pacific people and the world. Another common meaning for rural nearshore communities is that the ocean is our icebox, and that we have a kuleana— a right and responsibility—to take care of it.


Oceans play a fundamental role for life on earth, providing over 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe and over 97 percent of the world’s water supply, not to mention being a source of food. Yet, our oceans are under threat, with only a tiny fraction—just 3.4 percent—being protected. We have seen the disturbing images of islands of plastic and trash floating in the ocean; turtles with plastic straws stuck in their nostrils; birds dying because of the amount of trash consumed and discarded.


"What seed might we plant together today that could make the most difference to the future of the Indigenous Peoples’ Water Summit?”, 26-year-old Thorne LaPointe asked a group of some 50 Indigenous youth, elders, and supporters at the inaugural Mni Ki Wakan: World Indigenous Peoples’ Decade of Water Summit, held July 31–August 2, 2017, in Minneapolis. The question was emblematic of the tone that guided the entire event, marking an exploratory first step upon a 10-year journey toward realizing an Indigenous-led, ecologically sustainable future of restoring clean and healthy water.


I was born and bred in Langebaan in the area where the restaurants now stand. My birthplace is where holidaymakers now frequent; this is something that bothers me. I belong to an organization called Coastal Links, and another organization called Masifundise. It is these organizations that taught us how to continue to make a living as a fisherman.


Fifty-seven years after the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was adopted by United Nations member states, seventeen Non-Self-Governing Territories still remain—a not insignificant number of which are islands separated by oceans from their respective colonial rulers. Included among these is Guam (a mispronunciation of its original name, Guåhan) in the Western Pacific region of Micronesia, whose Indigenous Chamorro people have endured not just one, but three waves of foreign invasion and occupation: Spain, Japan, and now the United States.


In the days preceding the arrival to Caribbean shores by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Caribbean Sea was referred to as Atabeira (Ah-tah-bay-rah) by the Indigenous Taíno Peoples. The term is used to describe a powerful and generous Earth Mother, who, for the Indigenous islanders, is manifested in more than just the lands; she is the life-giving waters of the bountiful sea. This was, and for some, continues to be, a harmonious, spiritual relationship linking appreciative peoples to life above and below the waters.


For at least 25,000 years, the ancestors of Wampanoag people have lived at Aquinnah (Gay Head) on the island of Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard, MA), pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing, horticulture, and wild harvest. In the Aquinnah Wampanoag Island origin story, benevolent giant beings, Moshup and his wife Squant, created Noepe and the neighboring islands and hunted whales for people’s sustenance. They are believed to continue presiding over their destinies.


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