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Column: Use origin names forPacific Remote Islands

By Hōkū Pihana

An ‘A’a (brown-footed booby) soared across the deep ocean surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands.

During my three-week journey aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus around Johnston Atoll (Kalama/Moku Kua‘au ‘o Ionatana), I saw ocean currents moving together, creating swells that looked perfect for paddling canoe. The pronounced aokū (rain clouds) encircling the halawai (horizon) showered rain and stilled the ocean. The moon rises and sunsets moved in unison while ‘A‘a (brown-footed boobies) flew across the winds in groups to catch squid and other food provided by the ocean.

As a Native Hawaiian woman, I recognized the intimate relationship we have with the Pacific Remote Islands (PRI) through voyaging, food acquisition and cultural practices. The currents and swells showed me how we voyaged across these oceans in wa‘a; the abundance of manu kai (ocean birds) informed me of the seaways where food was present; and my nā kilo ‘āina (environmental observations) helped me recognize changes in the moon phases, rains and currents.

As a science communication fellow during the expedition, I saw the importance of meaning fully sharing our deep ocean seascapes. By providing scientific and cultural information to our international audience, we offered a firsthand look of why we need to ensure protection for future generations.

Johnston Atoll is part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which protects these waters from harmful human activities like sea-bed mining and industrial fishing. In 2014, these protections were expanded by the Obama administration, extending 200 nautical miles from shore for some—but not all—waters of the monument.

Expanding the monument boundaries of Howard and Baker Islands, and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll from 50 to 200 nautical miles would allow us to sustain the health and wellness of these waters for our future.

Additionally, as we advocate for more ocean protections, it is imperative to give the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument a name that honors the genealogy of the ocean and reflects the diverse indigenous peoples connected to these spaces. We have seen name changes before: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was renamed within a year of receiving federal environmental and cultural protection. Papahānaumokuākea speaks to the relationship between the earth mother (Papahānaumoku) and the sky father (Wākea) and much more.

Now is the time to give the Pacific Remote Islands a name that shares its genealogy. That means starting a process to consider renaming the entire monument, as well as restoring the existing Indigenous or contemporary origin names of its islands and atolls, which include: Paukeaho (Jarvis), Ulukou (Howland), Puaka‘ilima (Baker) Island, Honuaiākea (Palmyra) and Nalukākala (Kingman Reef).
Additional names may also exist, and as part of a group of Native Hawaiians in conversation about the naming process, our hope is to engage with other Indigenous people throughout the Pacific connected to these oceans. Our desire is to create a working group reflective of our diverse ocean communities who will work together in a naming process.
I was heartened by the Biden administration’s announcement and commitment during the Our Ocean Conference in Palau to launch a working group to evaluate naming practices for marine monuments and sanctuaries, and I hope our Pacific communities will be included in the process for PRI.
My voyage on the Nautilus strengthened my desire to expand the monument and contribute to a process to give and restore names for the islands and atolls and monument of Pacific RemoteIslands that reflects the essence of these places and the indigenous communities closely tied to these oceans. This naming practice will perpetuate the practices of our ancestors, strengthen our indigenous communities, and hold integral space for our future generations.
Hōkū Pihana is the executive director of the Nā Waʻa Mauō Marine Stewardship program, a member of the Cultural Working Group for Papahanaumokuakea, and a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition.
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