Marshall Islands poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner fights for her country

Text

3rd March 2018, The Australian

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner earned a standing ovation when she recited a poem, addressed to her infant daughter, at the opening of the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York. Yet she describes this as “probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life’’.

The poet, climate change activist, mother and “first daughter’’ of the Marshall Islands reflects­ that “giving birth was scarier for me — but that [her UN address] was definitely scary too. I didn’t know what I was walking into. I had no idea how people would receive it.’’

When her audience of world leaders, diplomats and corporate powerbrokers rose to their feet, she “thought they were just being polite. I had no idea that there hasn’t been a standing ovation like that in years in the UN.’’

Sporting a traditional woven grass skirt, ­Jetnil-Kijiner, then 26, addressed the summit­ as if she’d been born to it. Her poem, Dear Mata­fele Peinem, toggled between infinite tender­­ness and flinty indignation as she expressed­ her love for her child while warning of the grave climate risks she and other Marshall­ ­Islanders face. Then last year she went with her mother, Hilda Heine — the Marshall Islands­’­ first ­female President — to Canberra and a UN climate conference in Bonn.

Read more

Marshall Islands