‘No nukes’ activists re-emerge at One Wave

Pacific Peoples group trades demonstrations for cultural exchanges

When the Pacific Peacemaker set sail from Seattle towards the South Pacific in 1982 to protest nuclear testing, the peacekeeping ship proudly flew a flag designed the Tsartlip First Nations, symbolic of partnership and giving thanks.

Phil Esmonde, co-founder of the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership – known then as the South Pacific Peoples’ Foundation, was at the forefront of the nuclear free Pacific movement and presented the flag to the Peacemaker in Anacortes, Wash.

Since 1975 the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership has continued to advocate for peace, justice, environmental sustainability and development for Pacific Islanders from its Victoria-based office.

Though its core mandate has remained the same, the non-governmental organization’s M.O. – once marked by the posting of signs that read: “Warning nuclear ship now in port” – has become less focused on in-your-face activism and more on advocacy to ensure funding remains intact.

“There’s no way we could get away with that now,” April Ingham, Pacific Peoples’ Partnership executive director said of the late Esmonde’s bold presence. “We are a movement for change, but we do so through partnerships.”

Small NGOs such as the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership are having a hard enough time sustaining an office in the current economic climate, Ingham said, and aren’t willing to risk losing government funding over making strong political statements. Instead, they channel their efforts into cultural exchanges, many of them centred on empowering women and youth.

Wall to wall works of art – masks, prayer flags, dance artefacts and gathering cloths – made by those who share the Canadian shoreline down to residents of the furthest islands of the South Pacific, are telling of the charity’s efforts to build partnerships.

“We’re one of Victoria’s oldest NGOs with a 37-year history and sadly, even with that long history, we don’t have that full knowledge out there as to why we even need to have an organization that’s focused on the Pacific. The irony of that kills me constantly,” Ingham said.

“People don’t understand, or perhaps don’t know how they can engage on some of the issues like overfishing or islands that are sinking, or whole countries that are having to contemplate becoming refugees due to climate change,” she continued.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for the need for Canada’s presence in the Pacific and to orientate youth in the importance of looking at the issues and agendas and how we’re all connected.”

This weekend is an opportunity for the public to get brought up to speed with the history and get involved with future volunteer endeavours during the One Wave Festival.

The youth-organized event features arts and crafts, storytellers, First Nations dancers, body painting, and a dance party with local bands Party on High Street and Compassion Gorilla, along with words by poet laureate Janet Marie Rogers.

“There were no youth-centred arts and cultural festivals to celebrate Pacific arts and culture and the ocean,” Ingham said. “One Wave is representative of all the energy of the youth and all these people: the ocean, the environment, artists and everyone coming together.”

One Wave runs from noon until 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept 22 in Spirit (Centennial) Square downtown.