Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative


photo youth at the canoe house
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photo courtesy Humanities Guåhan

On September 28, 2023, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative, a historic initiative to strengthen the cultural and educational sectors in Amerika Samoa, Guåhan (Guam), Hawaiʻi, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI). In its first round of funding, NEH committed $1.3 million to the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative.

Funding Supports the U.S. Pacific Islands Humanities Councils and the Creation of a Permanent Regional Network. Of the $1.3 million committed, NEH awarded $880,000 in supplemental funding over a three-year period to its four affiliates in the U.S. Pacific region - Amerika Samoa Humanities Council, Humanities Guåhan, Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities, and the Northern Marianas Humanities Council. Councils will develop local humanities programs, resources, and activities that amplify Pacific Islander history, heritage, and perspectives in relation to local, regional, and global issues; support cultural protection and climate resilience; and build capacity and professional development opportunities for Pacific Islander humanities organizations and practitioners.

This funding also supports the creation of the Pacific Islands Humanities Network (PIHN), a permanent regional network to facilitate technical assistance and collaboration among educational and cultural organizations in the region. NEH and its affiliates in the U.S. Pacific region will convene at the 13th Festival of the Pacific Arts & Culture (FestPAC) in Hawaiʻi for an MOU signing ceremony to establish this network.

textile design orange and green
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photo by Moana Iose, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 

Funding Supports Disaster Recovery and Resilience in the U.S. Pacific Islands. Under the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative, NEH also committed $500,000 in emergency relief funding to support cultural and educational institutions affected by the 2023 wildfires in Maui and Typhoon Mawar in Guam. Funding provided for the preservation and conservation of impacted cultural resources in Hawaiʻi and Guam; for the recovery and safeguarding of historical artifacts; for local initiatives aimed at documenting and preserving the cultural heritage of affected communities; and to build capacity through cultural heritage disaster preparedness training and resources.

NEH announced this historic initiative in conjunction with the first-ever White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities. NEH’s first Policy Advisor for Pacific Island Affairs, Moana Palelei Iose (Samoan/Nu’uuli), serves as the agency liaison and leads outreach efforts to Pacific Islands communities for this new NEH initiative. Read the full press release.

“NEH’s humanities council partners in the Pacific face unique challenges due to their geography and historic underinvestment in the region. NEH is proud to play a role in promoting the resilience of the Pacific region’s vibrant cultures while providing vital support and relief. We look forward to working in partnership with the Pacific humanities councils in making a lasting and positive impact on the Pacific’s cultural landscape and helping Pacific Island communities preserve their rich cultural heritage for generations to come.” NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo)

13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture
woman with dot stickers in front of black and white photo exhibition
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photo by Moana Iose, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 

To further the work of the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative and in support of NEH’s affiliate humanities councils in the Pacific Islands, NEH is attending the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC) in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.

At FestPAC, NEH and its U.S. Pacific Islands humanities council affiliates will convene for an MOU signing ceremony that will establish a permanent regional network – the Pacific Islands Humanities Network. Comprised of humanities, cultural, and educational organizations, this network will facilitate collaboration among educational and cultural organizations in the U.S. Pacific Islands region.

Additionally, NEH will host facilitated conversations with federal cultural agencies, private foundations, and educational and cultural organizations to explore the support of these stakeholders in the U.S. Pacific Islands. Learn more about the 2024 FestPAC.

Pacific Islands Humanities Network (PIHN)
woman seated in front of carved ceremonial bowl
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photo by Moana Iose, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 

PIHN Mission Statement
The Pacific Islands Humanities Network (PIHN) acknowledges the powerful contributions of Pacific Island peoples, and are committed to celebrating and sharing the sustainable cultural wisdom, ways, and values to serve the Pacific Island communities and the greater humanity.

Who is PIHN?
PIHN is a network of NEH-affiliated grantmaking organizations that promote and nurture the  diverse Pacific island cultures, lifeways, values, and communities.

What does PIHN do?
PIHN is shaping the NEH agenda into the future that reflects the power and contribution of Pacific Island peoples.

What drives PIHN?
PIHN is motivated by honoring Oceania (Pacific Ocean region) ancestors, fulfilling the Network’s obligation to future generations, and the duty to care for humanity.

What are the goals of PIHN?
  • Foster a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration among our four humanities councils; 
  • Elevate Pacific Islander voices and experiences, highlighting the diverse cultures, histories, and contributions of our communities; facilitate humanities capacity building and professional development for Pacific Islanders;
  • Strengthen community engagement and outreach activities that better connect councils with Pacific Islander communities;
  • Cultivate a more collective sense of Oceania across these diverse communities.      
U.S. Pacific Islands Humanities Councils
man with headdress on radio broadcast
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photo by Moana Iose, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 

Amerika Samoa Humanities Council, Humanities Guåhan, Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities, and Northern Marianas Humanities Council are part of a network of 56 state, jurisdictional, and interim humanities councils that partner with NEH to help support local humanities programs, institutions, and events across the United States and U.S. jurisdictions. Funding through the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative is awarded in addition to the annual operating support NEH provides to the state and jurisdictional humanities councils.

“[This initiative] is a major milestone for U.S. Pacific Island jurisdictions,” said Executive Director of Northern Marianas Humanities Council, Leo Pangelinan. “This ushers in federal support for regional cultural leaders to work together on issues that center on Pacific Islands knowledge, traditions, values, and way of life.” Learn more about the Northern Marianas Humanities Council.

“Humanities Guåhan is most excited about the significance of recognizing Pacific Islander councils nationally through NEH’s Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative,” said Executive Director for Humanities Guåhan, Kimberlee Kihleng. “We are thrilled at the prospect of collaboration with our council partners to foster a culture of knowledge sharing, which elevates Pacific Islander voices and experiences and facilitates humanities capacity building with our island communities.” Learn more about Humanities Guåhan.

Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities Executive Director Aiko Yamashiro noted “This initiative is an opportunity for Hawaiʻi to reconnect with our Pacific Islander relatives across the barrier of political history, at the cultural, organizational, spiritual, and human level. Building this Oceanic community will strengthen our possibility to innovate and share our islander wisdom with the rest of the world.” Learn more about Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities.

In response to the initiative, Tauaisafune Niualama Taifane, Executive Director of the Amerika Samoa Humanities Council, shared a Samoan proverb saying, “O le Aso ma le Filiga, O le Aso ma le Mata’igatila.” (“Every day brings its own views of what is on the horizon; each day brings its own choices.”) Learn more about Amerika Samoa Humanities Council.

Learn more about the work of NEH’s state and jurisdictional humanities councils.