We need Pacific Voices on Oceans Science Decade: Dr Vaka’uta
By Pita Ligaiula in Noumea
“We must include Pacific voices if we are genuine in our efforts to integrate culture and heritage as we work towards the UN Oceans Science Decade,” says Dr Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta, USP Director Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies.
Dr Vaka’uta said integrating culture, heritage and Pacific voices will be important if they are genuinely interested in sustainability and resilience for a healthy ocean.
“Purposeful integration beyond the tokenistic rhetoric and the symbolic treatment that we are all too familiar with.
“The starting point will be to unpack the western lenses underpinning all UN decade and SDG documents and guiding frameworks. A simple document analysis exercise to test this is to search within a document for key words such as “indigenous”, “local knowledge”, “cultural values” and “heritage” for example and to note the specific context in which these are used,” Dr Vakauta told scientists, policy makers and delegates at the Pacific Community workshop on UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021- 2030.
Dr Vaka’uta said translating the Oceans decade into policy and practice will require a review of the language of the decade.
“The Blue Pacific for example is quickly becoming a standard reference with very few questioning the symbolic pacifying effect of using emotive language to frame or rename a blue economy, capitalist agenda. When we unpack the conversation about the Blue Pacific Identity, Blue Economy and Blue Continent, it is very much about economic agendas. The rebranding of Big Ocean States pushes a validation of big voices shifting focus from land based boundaries which relegate us as Small island developing states.
“Many are appeased by “perceived” political will to safeguard and protect, to pursue climate justice and oceans sustainability. But the deeper question we need to as is ‘are we distracted by the symbols we crave?’ Symbols that point to our connectedness to place and space – that emphasise our spirituality and desire for meaning and purpose.If we are not careful, we might be distracted by ideals of sustainability and in this case, Science - distracted to the extractive and exploitative agenda of development and economics.
“Success will be dependent on whether culture, heritage and indigenous peoples and their communities are made reference to ‘directly’ as in explicitly articulated rather than ‘implicit’ or implied in the documents, policies and frameworks,” Dr Vaka’uta explained.
She said the Pacific Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) framework (2006) and its Action Plan (2008) showed that having a guiding regional policy and commitment of Pacific leaders, does not necessarily translate into tangible outcomes.
“In my view, the problem is two-fold: Limited buy-in or investment; and poor or weak attempts to contextualise/localise key concepts and underpinning ideas.
“What this means for the Oceans decade is that there will need to be investment into research that examines indigenous understandings of sustainability, sustainable livelihoods, custodianship, stewardship and of course resilience – not just ecological resilience but a holistic multidisciplinary understanding of resilience.
“We will need to unpack and re-contextualise the very notions of culture and heritage because the UN demarcations of cultural and natural heritage, tangible and intangible heritage, and focusing only on traditional ecological knowledge is problematic,” said Dr Vaka’uta.
She said holistic understandings and practices are lost or watered down when they take this western ‘silo’ approach.
“We need to be very clear when we talk about Ocean Science whether we are only referring to Western Science. Is there a space for Indigenous science for its own value and merit? Will our goals, activities, indicators and instruments and tools reflect and incorporate Pacific values and methodologies? How can we ensure that we do not perpetuate extractive research and development practice of “taking” from indigenous communities and knowledge systems to simply strengthen ‘western models’ of good practice? That is, culture and indigenous knowledge and participation solely for an outside agenda.
“We will need to be mindful of the need for difficult conversations about: meaningful participation,intellectual property rights and copyright for collective cultural knowledge, shared and mutual gains and benefits and protective safeguarding mechanisms and legislature,” Dr Vaka’uta emphasised.
In mapping the 10-year period, Dr Vaka’uta suggested it will also be important to revisit the SPC’s “Regional Culture Strategy” and “Regional Culture and Education Framework” and “PACRef” the new education and development framework.
“If we are genuine in our efforts to integrate culture and heritage, we must acknowledge the need for Pacific voices.
“It is imperative that we take the time to understand these in the context of dominant global paradigms. And, we need to be completely honest with ourselves about the overt and implicit agendas of the decade so that we can explore ways to ensure meaningful engagement in specific activities for the outcomes we want to see,” Dr Vaka’uta said.
Pita Ligaiula’s story has been developed as part of the Pacific Community Workshop on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. This was made possible through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac). COSPPac works to help translate ocean science that is critical and relevant to the Pacific region to better inform evidence based decision making for our climate and oceans.