Flags flew at half mast this week for late Vice Speaker Tomaki Juda, who led the Bikini community for decades as mayor and senator. His remains returned Monday from Hawaii, where he died. Nitijela held a state funeral for him Monday, followed by a service for Juda at Uliga Protestant Church. His body was then transported to his residence in Majuro for funeral services Monday night through Wednesday. He was scheduled to be transported to Kili Wednesday for further funeral services and burial.
Speaker Kenneth Kedi and others praised Juda for his expert leadership of the Bikinians. When Juda became Bikini magistrate in 1972 the people of Bikini had nothing, said the Speaker. They were living in plywood shacks on Kili Island and experienced numerous bouts of starvation. He was instrumental in hiring attorney Jonathan Weisgall in 1975. It was then that the people of Bikini began to get traction with members of the US Congress.
Juda directed Weisgall in 1975 to file a lawsuit against the US calling for a comprehensive radiological study of Bikini. This was seven years after the US government had declared Bikini safe and some islanders had returned home in the early 1970s.
The Bikinians won that lawsuit, but the result of the survey was that the Bikinians had likely ingested the largest amounts of radiation of any known population and they were moved off Bikini a second time in 1978.
Another lawsuit filed in 1981, “Juda vs. United States,” put pressure on the US government and on US negotiators of the Compact of Free Association and its nuclear compensation agreement. Ultimately, this resulted in $75 million over 15 years for the Bikinians in the Compact.
Juda’s engagement with US Congressional and administration leaders paid off for the Bikinians. Following his testimony in 1982, the US Congress approved $20.6 million to establish the Resettlement Trust Fund for the People of Bikini.
Juda continued to push action in Washington, which resulted in the Congress passing an additional $90 million for the Resettlement Trust Fund in 1988. Under Juda’s leadership, the Bikinians – through lawsuits and lobbying – obtained $185.6 million from the US government.
Jack Niedenthal, who worked closely with Juda for three decades, commented: “Throughout his service to the community as mayor and then senator he showed incredible patience, determination, resolve and good humor as he guided the people of Bikini. He held regular meetings on Kili, Ejit and Majuro with all interested members of the community, and some of those meetings lasted six, seven, eight hours or longer as he methodically explained to the community the status of the efforts he was leading for the people and sought their input as to what steps he was recommending going forward.”
He is survived by his wife Ketruth, children Tony, Donald, Riaj, Stege, Keith, Susan, Judy and Justy, 32 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Read more about this in the October 19, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.