Island Heart: Tangier

When reflecting on Hōkūleʻa’s Worldwide Voyage George Cannon, a waterman fromTangier Island said, “They are traveling all over the world taking their time and giving their time traveling all over the world to let people know about their heritage. And we’re losing our heritage and we’re going to lose it and we know this.”

President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society Nainoa Thomspon said, “We found Tangier as part of the research, but initially it came out of the research as this enormous environmental challenge.”

James Eskridge mayor of Tangier Island said,“For some areas around Tangier we were losing 25 to 30 feet of shoreline each year.”

Thompson said, “These people would be the first refugees of climate change and the consequences of sea level rising and that’s how we initially saw why we would come, to capture that story of a drowning community.”

Eskridge said, “This has been going on forever but weʻre just running out of land to give up now and like I tell folks when it gets to your doorsteps you pay more attention to it. weʻre running out of time and land and we really need to get some protection for the island.”

As one of the first communities in the United States to suffer the consequences of a combination of environmental issues including rising sea levels and erosion, Tangier Island, Virginia was an imperative stop for the crew of Hōkūleʻa to learn about the plight of these fellow islanders.

Eskridge said, “Having the Hōkūleʻa here and the crew I had read some about it about the vessel and the voyages that she had made and but to actually have her come into Tangier as part of her World Voyage — itʻs just unbelievable that they made us a part of their voyage and that they came into our harbor and that I actually got to sail on the vessel.”

Cannon said, “It was good I wouldn’t take it out of my life. I told my wife, ready to go home now, ready to go home this is a good thing in my life. And it was a scary thought to go out there, I got a picture of your ancestors on that boat, they knew the lord too. You better believe that they did, they had somebody on their side, they do.”

Thompson said, “To have them on the deck of the canoe and to have the kind of conversations that we had with them, these are ocean people and they pride themselves on that. You know they donʻt call themselves refugees even though on the outside thereʻs this suggestion that they are going to be the the first refugees to climate change in the United States. They are not willing to be lowered to that kind of definition and that kind of standard.”

Eskridge said, “Tangier is a unique place its a very close knit community the people are close together they help each other. And on Tangier everybody knows everybody else. And we have been fishermen and crabbers for a couple hundred years now. It’s a very nice place to grow up, it’s a nice place for kids. It’s a safe place. Being a fisherman and crabber can be a hard job it has it’s ups and downs. But all in all it’s very nice, I enjoy it.”

Cannon said, “I’ve always thought life was on Tangier was a good life. The heritage that we got the love that we have for each other.”

Thompson said, “Being with them talking to them, they are committed to their home, they are committed to their place, they are committed to the children. They are very family oriented.”

The community of Tangier is actively working with the Federal government and the Army Core of Engineers to look at options that will prevent further loss of land on Tangier Island.

Thompson said, “These are hard working people and they are going to find a solution. Their great grandparents did it, their grandparents did it, their parents did it and they are going to do it. This place Tangier is a lot like Hawaiʻi. It has just been very powerful being in a place and with the people to help us re-think what is really important. It has been a place where I have come to be very thoughtful about about when I go home what am I going to do.”

Cannon said, “Met some people just like me, you all are, you got the same heart that I got and that’s good.”

Thompson said, “That’s the power of the canoe and voyaging and the magic of the Worldwide Voyage is that you end up in places with people and you make connections that you could never imagine until you go, until you go.”

More than Adventure

Beyond a daring expedition, the Worldwide Voyage is quite possibly the most important mission that Hawaiʻi has ever attempted. As people of Oceania, we are leading a campaign that gives voice to our ocean and planet by highlighting innovative solutions practiced by cultures around the planet.

We could not have begun this great journey without your support, nor can we continue to its completion.

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