As the current Chamorro Studies Administrator for the Guam Department of Education, Sinora Rufina Fejeran Mendiola is a veteran educator with over 30 years of experience. Born in Saipan and raised in Guam, Sinora Mendiola has been a lifelong advocate of indigenous knowledge. She also has a passion for protecting and celebrating the Chamorro community in Guam. Having hosted countless training workshops and conferences on Chamorro curricula and developed four documentaries, she is widely recognized across the Pacific Islands Region for her civic contributions on incorporating indigenous knowledge into contemporary education systems. For our first interview in our new Voices series on Pacific Education, the Managing Director of the Pacific Islands Society, Keiko Ono, therefore spoke with Sinora Rufina Fejeran Mendiola about the importance of indigenous knowledge in mainstream education systems.


In your experience in education, how much do the youth in Pacific Island countries and territories know about traditional customs and culture?

The more developed and more westernized island youths entering the education system have little knowledge of traditional practices and little to no knowledge in speaking/usage of their indigenous language and culture. The islands less developed still have a greater percentage of youth entering the education system [and are more] knowledgeable of their traditional practices and the speaking/usage of their indigenous language and culture.

What are the some of the greatest barriers Pacific Island countries and territories face in maintaining cultural and historical knowledge?

There are several barriers that come into play in the maintenance of cultural knowledge:

  1. The passing down of traditional practices is entirely dependent on our elders and their speaking /usage of indigenous language and cultural values in communities. This will eventually be lost as our elders are slowly passing.
  2. The introduction of technology and western lifestyle.
  3. Parents not seeing the importance of passing on cultural knowledge to their children.
  4. Traditional practices in speaking of Chamorro language is no longer in the home. The English language and western lifestyles are more dominant in homes.

How is Guam improving resources to integrate indigenous Pacific Island knowledge into educational curriculums?

The Chamorro Studies Division Content Standards and Performance Indicators includes Culture as one of the five standards. Students in the Chamorro classrooms can:

  1. Demonstrate traditional knowledge in the “Spirit of Inafa’maolek” cultural values.
  2. Present traditional knowledge in the art of dance, chants and songs.
  3. Compare/Contrast traditional practices in the past and present.
  4. Research similarities and differences in cultures throughout the Pacific Island.

How does this compare to initiatives in other Pacific Island countries and territories towards creating a ‘Pacific Renaissance’?

By working together, we can advance social awareness and develop strong financial structures to support the creation of much needed resources. Engaging in documentation and research of the cultures, histories and using findings in education can inspire greater contributions towards creating a Pacific Islands renaissance of traditional cultures. We can also promote the preservation of cultural heritage by looking at how it can be used in cultural tourism. Through this, we can promote cultural exchange and friendship between island countries and raise awareness.

Within the Chamorro community, how are you tackling these issues in Guam and what can other Pacific Island countries and territories take from it?

The Chamorros community does this primarily by taking pride in our heritage and taking charge of our lives and respective heritage. We cannot have a Pacific Islands Renaissance without promoting a kind of cultural unity. Only by overcoming differences to unite, can we realise a true Chamorro renaissance. There can be various ways to tackle these issues:

  1. To have a clearly defined language policy.
  2. To ensure that all languages are recognized and accepted as a source of mutual enrichment.
  3. To encourage the increased use of Chamorro language as a vehicle of communication in the home, school and community.
  4. To encourage and solicit the support of all government and private agencies during the Chamorro Month celebrations throughout the month of March.

As challenges such as climate change and financial needs pressure Pacific Islanders to migrate, how do you see future generations relating to their Pacific heritage?

I see more Pacific Islanders migrating here to Guam for economic opportunity and education. The islands in the Pacific have distinct cultures, heritage, and rich ecosystems. Many who have migrated here call Guam their home. Climate change is a reality for our island home. This change has impacted the lives of Pacific Islanders, pushing them into hardships. A good example is the lack of food security that forces people to face the possibility of relocation, health risk etc. In Guam one of the strongest preventative measures we have is the strong presence of food commodity and the availability of health and housing. Pacific Islands are given this opportunity to receive food assistance, excellent health provider, education and housing to varying degrees. I see the future generations relating to their Pacific heritage by embedding knowledge about cultural heritage into subject disciplines and pedagogical methods and that they are able to connect the practices in their community to their local environment, and resources.

 

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.