Chamorro heritage custodian and teacher, Chailang Palacios, aged 76, has been an important pioneer of the international indigenous rights in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, as well as global peace movements, for many decades.
In the 1980s she was active against nuclear waste dumping in the world’s deepest ocean – the Marianas Trench. In 1984, Chailang did a speaking tour of England, Scotland and Wales where she spoke strongly against nuclear waste dumping, nuclear testing and its impacts, Chamorro rights, indigenous women’s rights, and other military and environmental concerns.
During that speaking tour Chailang inspired women all over Britain to form the British-based ‘Women for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific’ organisation. This was at the height of the Cold War when global focus was on the North Atlantic and nuclear threat. ‘Women for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific’ became part of the Indigenous-led Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement.
As she explained at the time: “Our spirit is beginning to grow up, become very strong. That’s why we are here to tell you this nuclear madness will not just stop in the Pacific”.
Chailang contributed to making what was until then a Pacific-wide movement into a truly global campaign. It was largely through her that women and men in Britain heard of the nuclear and other issues confronting the people of the Northern Marianas, and the whole Micronesian region, for the very first time.
Simply by respectfully telling her story as a Chamorro woman concerned about the health and future of her people, and of all people of the small nations stretched across the northern Pacific, Chailang woke many women and men up to the fact that nuclear issues weren’t just happening in Europe, but that the nuclear threat to humanity had begun in and was still impacting the people of the Pacific too. By simply telling her own personal experience, Chailang changed the world.
The 70 Inspiring Pacific Women campaign has been produced by the Pacific Community (SPC) in partnership with Australian Aid and Pacific Women. The campaign marks the 70th anniversary of SPC, and leads up to the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Ministers for Women in Suva (Fiji) from 2nd to 5th October 2017.