US: Time to Wake up

An aerial view of Wake Atoll, which is controlled by the United States as an unincorporated territory. Photo:
An aerial view of Wake Atoll, which is controlled by the United States as an unincorporated territory. Photo:


Although the United States claims Wake Island as its territory, the Marshall Islands has now put its competing claim on record at the United Nations, reaffirming that the RMI considers “Eneen Kio” home territory.

The Marshall Islands has ties to Wake — which is known as Eneen Kio in Marshallese language — that predate US claims to this north Pacific island possibly by centuries.

“Oral traditions claim that the Marshallese knew of Wake Atoll prior to contact with European navigators,” writes Micronesia history and heritage expert Dr. Dirk Spennemann. “The Marshallese name for the atoll was Eneen-Kio or Ane-en Kio, ‘Island of the kio flower.’

MIMRA staff member Benedict Yamamura confirmed that last month, the RMI submitted to the United Nations 450 pages of geographical coordinates, treaty agreements, and 25 charts that together officially declare the baselines and the outer limits of all maritime zones under the national jurisdiction of the Marshall Islands — and included in this declaration is Wake.

The inclusion of Wake — and waters 200 miles out from land — dramatically increases the RMI’s already substantial exclusive economic zone — but is expected to be contested by the United States.

“The State Department is aware of the RMI’s UN filing and is in the preliminary stages of getting technical experts together from both countries to discuss the maritime boundary,” said US Ambassador Tom Armbruster Wednesday.

“The atoll was a source of feathers and plumes of seabirds (for Marshallese),” wrote Spennemann in one of a number of articles he published on the history of the Marshalls. “Prized were the wing bones of albatross, from which tattooing chisels could be made. In addition, the rare kio flower grew on the atoll. Bringing these items to the home atolls implied that the navigators had been able to complete the feat of finding the atoll using traditional navigation skills of stars, wave patterns and other ocean markers.”

Spennemann, who worked as Historic Preservation Officer in the Marshall Islands in the early 1990s, is a professor in Culture Heritage Management at the Charles Sturt University in Australia.

The completion of the marine boundary project was described as a “milestone in ocean resource management and international relations.”

“This is a real achievement for the government of the Marshall Islands and for the Pacific Community (SPC),” Geoscience Division Director at SPC Professor Michael Petterson said. “It represents the successful conclusion of three years of sustained effort from the Marshallese technical and legal teams, in close collaboration with the SPC Regional Maritime Boundaries Unit and the government of Australia.”

The new legislation officially declares the archipelagic baselines around the Ralik and Ratak island chains and removes the uncertainty regarding the area of ocean space under the jurisdiction of the Marshall Islands. Formalizing these boundaries is a critical step toward improved governance, conservation and management of ocean resources, including fisheries, said the officials involved in the project.

Read more about this in the May 6, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.