• By Sen. Kelly Marsh (Taitano), PhD

Tackling our darkest challenges

At first glance, FestPac may be perceived as dances and chants, but it is much more than that. It’s an international gathering of Pacific governments and communities they represent. That is why the invitation is sent to the head of state, our governor. It’s a means for Pacific Island leaders to come together to deal with the challenges that are facing our communities in a fast-paced, modernizing world where an Indigenous language is lost every two weeks and cultures and island ways of life are challenged at every level.

Every FestPac activity, performance, event or venue helps provide answers to our current problems. Forums create opportunities to discuss a wide array of challenges so we may find solutions together. Dances and other performances create bonds of solidarity, letting each other know that we are not facing our deepest and darkest challenges alone, but have brothers and sisters that face the same economic, social and cultural problems.

Cultural industries like weaving and making coconut oil and soaps or traditional foods and drinks provide us ways to make a living, so we may feed our families while keeping traditions alive.

Every FestPac participant comes back a “cultural warrior,” ready to help their community battle against its challenges and inspires others to do the same.

Twenty-seven Pacific Island peoples gathering together is a beautiful, powerful occurrence. It renews our collective determination to overcome our many struggles together in ways that nothing else can. It roots us and the values we cherish in this world. It tells us that we are not specks in a vast ocean or that we do not count less than peoples who live on continents. It tells us that Pacific peoples and communities are unique and special in this world. It tells us that Pacific Island peoples and communities have something of which to be proud of. These messages and solidarity serve as protective armor when others tell us we do not deserve the same rights as others, when others say we shouldn’t have a voice in issues that concern us, and when we face the darkness of self-doubt and self-worth.

Our islands are rampant with crime. We suffer some of the worst health issues in the world. Our suicide rates are terrifyingly high. In a cash economy, too many of our people are struggling in ways that never existed before. These are not coincidences across the Pacific, but indicators of shared underlying causes that we desperately need to figure out before it’s too late.

How many of our youth and others will we lose to drug abuse and suicide before we as a community understand that we need to tackle these underlying issues and give our youth something to feel grounded in, something to aspire to, something of which to dream? We need to do this in ways that make sense in Pacific communities. Western approaches can be helpful at times, but are not always appropriate. FestPac is a Pacific Islander way of tackling the issues which are debilitating our communities and robbing us of too many of our loved ones before their time.

While we must continue our efforts to provide more GPD and DOC officers, support our behavioral health & wellness programs, and get our children the best education we can to prepare them for their futures, we cannot forget that we need to figure out and resolve the root causes of our community’s social problems. Gathering together at FestPac is a meaningful tool in helping us do just that.

FestPac is much more than dances and chants. It is an investment in the survival of CHamorus as a people and the continuance of the island communities that we love.

--Sen. Kelly Marsh (Taitano), PhD, is a member of the 35th Guam Legslature, where she chairs the Committee on Heritage and the Arts, Parks, Guam Products, Hagatna Revitalization, Self-Determination, and Regional Affairs. Send feedback to sinadorakelly@guamlegislature.org.

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