NEH Announces $1.3 Million in Funding Through New Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative

Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative
Photo caption

Photo by Moana Palelei Iose, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 

Washington, DC (September 28, 2023)

Today, in conjunction with the first-ever White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is announcing the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative, a new agency initiative focused on fortifying cultural heritage and resilience in Amerika Samoa, Guåhan (Guam), Hawaiʻi, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI).

NEH has committed $1.3 million in its first round of funding for the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative. This includes $880,000 in supplemental funding over a three-year period to the Amerika Samoa Humanities Council, Humanities Guåhan, Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities, and the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, NEH’s affiliate humanities councils in the Pacific. NEH’s funding will support the creation of a permanent regional network to facilitate collaboration and knowledge-sharing among the four councils and strengthen relationships between the Pacific councils and their constituents, as well as with diasporic Pacific Islander communities in the United States. NEH’s funding will also support the development of local humanities programs, resources, and activities tailored to the cultural needs and challenges of their respective communities, with the aims of (1) amplifying Pacific Islander history, heritage, and perspectives in relation to local and global issues; (2) supporting cultural protection and climate resilience; and (3) building capacity and professional development opportunities for Pacific Islander humanities organizations and practitioners, such as the following:

  • Amerika Samoa Humanities Council:Funding will support the creation of a new “Talanoa” (“talk” or “discussion” in Samoan) Initiative, designed to connect generations of Samoans around topics of Samoan culture, customs, traditional food ways, and religion. 
  • Humanities Guåhan: Funding will support the digitization of educational and cultural resources to preserve Indigenous Chamorro and broader Micronesian perspectives, experiences, and scholarship and make them widely accessible.
  • Hawaii Council for the Humanities: Funding will support the creation of exchange opportunities between the humanities councils in the Pacific to develop and train Hawaii’s next generation of humanities leaders and preserve local Indigenous knowledge and traditions.  
  • Northern Marianas Humanities Council: Funding will support the documentation and digital archiving of Chamorro and Carolinian heritage threatened by climate-related events, preserving and making community-held knowledge, history, and cultural practices widely accessible.

“NEH’s humanities council partners in the Pacific face unique challenges due to their geography and historic underinvestment in the region,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “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 has 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. These funds will (1) provide for the preservation and conservation of impacted cultural resources in Hawaiʻi and Guam; (2) recover and safeguard historical artifacts; (3) support local initiatives aimed at documenting and preserving the cultural heritage of affected communities; (4) and build capacity through cultural heritage disaster preparedness training and resources. Community conversations and oral history collection programs may be developed to help communities grieve, recover, and build hope through the humanities.

“[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 Island knowledge, traditions, values, and way of life.”

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.”

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.”

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.”)

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 awarded through the Pacific Islands Cultural Initiative is given in addition to the annual operating support NEH provides to the network of state and jurisdictional humanities councils.

NEH’s first Policy Advisor for Pacific Island Affairs, Moana Palelei Iose (Samoan/Nu’uuli), will serve as the agency liaison and lead outreach efforts to Pacific Island communities for this new NEH initiative. 


National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

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