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Pacific Islanders should be included in renaming ‘Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument,’ report says

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Palmyra Atoll. PC: Erik Oberg / Island Conservation

On Tuesday, the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition highlighted an advisory assessment by The Udall Foundation’s John S. McCain III National Center for Environmental Conflict Resolution, which found that Indigenous peoples should be included in the renaming process of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The report also detailed substantial community support for the decision to rename it.

Although the islands have no permanent residents, the Pacific Remote Islands and its surrounding oceans remain significant to some Pacific Islanders, whose ancestry ties back to the area in helping occupy the islands for the United States from 1935 to 1942.

A network of Pacific Island advocates, Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, reminded President Joe Biden of their connection to the US territories in a February 2023 letter requesting the government rename and extend marine sanctuary protections of the monument to surrounding waters. The request also asked decision-makers to consult the public and cultural leaders for input on the renaming. It was reaffirmed by the Biden administration in March 2023.


“We appreciate the Biden administration’s action to engage Pacific Islanders in an inclusive process that will honor this area with a name that reflects its identity, unique history and cultural significance,” said Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala, a Native Hawaiian elder and vice-chair of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition.

Known as Hui Panalāʻau, more than 130 mostly Native Hawaiian young men, voluntarily occupied the islands of Jarvis, Baker, and Howland from 1935 to 1942 to help secure America’s territorial claim over the islands. Photo Courtesy: George Kahanu Sr.

“Place names are an important way to preserve knowledge about geography, history, and spiritual importance, and our hope is to work alongside practitioners across Oceania to move the next steps of this process forward.” 

Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala, PRI Coalition

The report is a culmination of a nine-month effort to gather input about the potential renaming of the region. Over 65 individuals, including from more than 25 organizations and 16 states, nations, republics, commonwealths, territories and countries shared their feedback.


The assessment found that most participants agree that the area should be renamed, and that the renaming process should be inclusive of diverse voices and empower communities, especially Indigenous communities, with connections to the islands and ocean areas in and adjacent to the Monument. Almost all individuals who spoke with the National Center reportedly felt strongly that a collaborative and culturally appropriate process should be used to determine the name for the monument, refuges, as well as the islands and atolls and reefs within it. 

The National Center’s report and process include Indigenous Pacific Islanders, language and cultural experts from across the Pacific Islands. While the report outlines recommendations made for potential names and participants indicated a preference for one inspired by the island’s history of navigation, no decision has been made yet.

“We are doing more than just renaming a monument,” said report author and US Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Planner Dr. Narrissa Brown during the webinar about the results on May 14, 2024. “It’s about reconnecting people with their ocean and seascape of islands […] so that we can all do what we can to help save this incredible place.” 


As part of the PRI Coalition’s ongoing efforts to expand protections for the Pacific Remote Islands with a sanctuary designation, the PRI Coalition continues to urge the Biden administration and its agencies to ensure Pacific Islanders are engaged in the process of identifying culturally appropriate names for this significant area. 

Booby face Palmyra Atoll in the PRI. PC: Laura M. Beauregard / US Fish and Wildlife Service

For more information on PRI Coalition’s work to expand protections for the Pacific Remote Islands, visit To contribute to share on renaming, reach out to the PRI Coalition.


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