Several hundred Bikinians on Kili and Ejit islands met with the Interior Department’s Insular Affairs Assistant Secretary Esther Kia’aina last week Wednesday and Thursday to discuss resettlement options outside the RMI as well as a nuclear clean up of Bikini. These concerns were brought up last year by the Kili/Bikini/Ejit (KBE) council, and recently have been the subject of US Senate legislation.
Kia’aina was accompanied to Kili by new US Ambassador Karen Stewart, and other US government officials, who went with KBE Mayor Anderson Jibas, KBE Senator Eldon Note and former President/Senator Kessai Note on a specially chartered AMI flight.
Upon arrival on Kili, the delegation was welcomed with a police honor guard and flower leis. The group then toured around the island that has been home to the Bikinians since 1948.
They joined council members and other leaders at the council chamber for a briefing. Kia’aina explained that the two resolutions brought up by KBE Coiuncil were for “lifting the restriction” on resettlement funds so they can be used outside of the RMI and a full clean up of Bikini Atoll. Kia’aina said she was here to listen to the people, especially on the plan of resettling outside the RMI. The Bikini local government needs to provide a detailed report to Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, which Kia’aina oversees, so they can bring it to Congress regarding a resettlement to the US. “You need to formulate a strategy,” she said. OIA can only help with that which is within its authority.
Questions brought up by the council were mainly requests for more money. Kia’aina and Stewart assured the council that this is not a good time to ask for money from the US government. Asking for more money, whether for resettling or cleaning Bikini, would require approval from Congress. The meeting took about an hour before breaking to lunch.
After lunch, the visiting group met with a couple hundred members of the Kili community. Kia’aina described herself as a “daughter of the Pacific,” a Hawaiian raised on Guam. Her first visit to Bikini was around 20 years ago. One time she walked alone on Bikini and said she “felt the pain” that the island and its people had suffered. After college, she’s been in Washington, DC for about 30 years fighting for Hawaiians, people from US territories and the Freely Associated States, and is willing to help Bikinians. In the legislation for the Bikini resettlement fund now with the US Congress, she fought for language to include eligibility of Bikinians in health programs in the US “because they deserve better.”
A survey was carried out among Kili residents and most answers included requests for more money for the purposes of health, education, transportation, agriculture (food), and climate mitigation and response.
To the question, “Where would you go to resettle?” Bikini was the common answer for many people, especially the elderly. A few said Hawaii, California, Washington, and New York. Kia’aina said if people want to resettle it must be for all Bikinians. She said she was “stunned” by the responses that many people wanted to go back to Bikini.
A councilman commented that priorities differ with different Bikini people since they are living in different places, such as Kili, Ejit, Majuro, and off island. To come to a conclusion a meeting for all Bikinians must be held so that the people can make a final decision. The resettlement fund is limited and it is wise to carefully decide.
“We are homeless, strangers, and continue to suffer from what the US has done to us,” said 67 year-old Toshiro Lang. “Give us billions of dollars so that we can help ourselves. There were over 100 survivors who were taken from Bikini before the tests. Now there are only seven of us living and yet we have not seen the benefits the US had promised us.”
“Give us a nice place to stay where we can not have any problems such as those we face today. Anywhere in the United States is fine, so long it does not have problems,” one woman kindly request from among the crowd.
Senator Kessai Note thanked the visiting delegation for coming to Kili and witness their situation even for a moment. He said he had been working with the Bikinians, he being one, for over 40 years. He used to work closely with the forefathers and uncles in the past, and is now working with brothers, cousins, and nephews.
The initial relocation to Kili had temporary housing that lasted beyond their expiry date and the date of the next aid relief did not come, he said. “We’ve waited for a long time,” he said. Over time, people migrated to the US on their own. Families on the island are but half of the population that were here previously. “Every time I visit the island, there are even fewer people,” he pointed out.
The resettlement idea started about three years ago, and it was brought up because of climate change and the potential threat that Kili, Bikini, and Ejit would be gone in the near future. “There’s not yet a definite answer,” Note said regarding a resettlement. “Thanks to Esther and her delegation for visiting us.”
Read more about this in the August 12, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.