In this podcast we’ve heard several people speak of the grave crisis facing humanity today, but from the perspective of how Indigenous communities have been living in these crises for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years. Yet, despite facing the most challenging forces of colonialism, they are still here, still persisting with resilient cultures.
An extreme example of this is what the Indigenous people of the Marshall Islands have faced. People there have endured U.S. colonialism, nuclear testing, and now the climate crisis. Speaking of nuclear testing, more than 100 bombs were detonated over the islands over a dozen years. While the Marshall Islands tests were only 14 percent of all the U.S. nuclear tests, they comprised nearly 80 percent of the total nuclear yields detonated by the United States.
These nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands amounted to the equivalent of detonating 1.6 Hiroshima sized bombs every single day for 12 years. The Bravo test on Bikini Atoll, alone, was the nuclear equivalent of more than 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. Today, cancer is pervasive among the population, and many of the islands remain uninhabitable.
Yet, the Marshallese people and their culture are still there.
Alson Kelen, a native of Bikini Atoll, is one of the world’s few masters in the ancient art of wave-piloting.
And you know, we’re, we’re bringing people to learn the skills, make sure that the skills keep going. And it’s for us – other countries, maybe building these crafts is a sport or it’s a hobby – but for us it’s a way of life. It’s the way to survive the climate crisis that we’re facing today.
Alson is an authority on traditional ocean canoe construction, and has done much to perpetuate Marshallese culture and traditional knowledge among the younger generations where he lives. Given that he and his people are survivors of the most intense nuclear testing the United States ever carried out anywhere on Earth, they have literally survived an apocalypse, and managed to carry on with their culture and traditional values intact. We discuss this, along with his belief that traditional values present the best hope for a sustainable future and continuing to survive the triple crisis of U.S. imperialism, nuclear testing, and the climate crisis.
It felt particularly prescient to speak with an expert traditional navigator, to hear how that only functions as a result of every person on the islands, as well as his crew, doing their part. What better analogy for how each of us might navigate these times?
Alson Kelen is a native of Bikini Atoll, is one of the world’s few masters in the ancient art of wave-piloting. Alson is an authority on traditional ocean canoe construction and has done much to perpetuate Marshallese culture and traditional knowledge among the younger generations where he lives.