More than 125 students, faculty and staff packed the Clarence T. C. Ching Center in Eiben Hall to hear the Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner read poetry from her book Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter. Published this month by The University of Arizona Press, Iep Jāltok made history as the first published book of poetry written by a Marshallese author.
Considered an important new voice for justice, Jetñil-Kijiner connected the Chaminade community to Marshallese daily life and tradition through the weaving of her impassioned words and rhythmic descriptions. She shared her background and the role of women in the matriarchal Marshallese culture and highlighted in her poems the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, American nuclear testing and the threats of climate change. However, she ended with a vision of hope in her deeply moving rendition of “Dear Matafele Peinam,” performed originally at the 2014 Opening Ceremony of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. It received international acclaim.
Students from environmental studies and student members from the Micronesian Club and other Pacific Island clubs were especially moved by the activist poet. One Chaminade student was invited to read with Jetñil-Kijiner. He read in Marshallese, and she read in English. Students were visibly moved.
Jetñil-Kijiner’s writing and performances have been featured on CNN, Democracy Now, Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, NBC News, National Geographic, Vogue, Nobel Women’s Initiative and more. She co-founded the nonprofit Jo-Jikum, dedicated to empowering Marshallese youth to seek solutions to climate change and other environmental impacts threatening their home island. Jetñil-Kijiner has been selected as one of 13 Climate Warriors by Vogue in 2015 and the Impact Hero of the Year by Earth Company in 2016. She received her Master’s in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.