g i r f t y

Strengthening Education, Cultural Preservation, and Healthcare in the Pacific Islands using Research

RENS & NRENS, Pacific Wave
REGIONS: California, Western Region, National, International


CENIC’s 2017 conference opened with University of Hawaii President David Lassner presenting the strategic direction for networking from the perspective of the Pacific Islands. He began by providing the history of the indigenous peoples of the region — perhaps the world’s first “space explorers” who set off on large canoes to seek out and discover the islands of the great Pacific Ocean more than 7,000 years ago.   

“Imagine the people who made their way across the Pacific in a sea-going canoe and first found land,” he said. “Someone had to go back to tell the story and provide directions so the next boat could make its way.”

That knowledge and wisdom, based on a complex understanding of stars, winds, waves, and other cues from nature created sustainable human environments that supported the initial peoples of the Hawaiian Islands before modern cultures and societies broke those traditional links.  

He shared the story of Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, an extraordinary three-year sea journey in a traditional voyaging canoe currently underway in an effort to re-establish a connection to tradition. That voyage is set to complete its travels in June 2017. The goal is to blend traditional with modern technologies in an effort to rebuild ancient skills for a modern society, providing both knowledge and pride in a meaningful legacy.

Lassner noted that networking can do much the same for today’s Pacific Island communities.

“We know that providing a connection to that heritage, to indigenous or native ancestors, is an excellent way to open up a path to curiosity and ultimately to greater education,” said Lassner. “So we are developing ways of using high-speed broadband to reconnect our population to their heritage, because we all know that an educated population is critical for success today.”

“Expanding networking capacity to our entire Pacific Island community provides both a public and a private good,” said Lassner. “For individuals, it can be about gaining access to education and to health care. For communities, it can increase opportunities for an entire island as well as access to climate information that could be critical to long-term survival.”

Lassner noted that, throughout history, the building of networks has required human interaction — and that this remains true today. Today’s research and education  networks are as dependent on people forging smart relationships as on the high-tech materials underlying high speed, broadband connections.

“We know that connectivity is critical to those communities that are the most isolated, yet they have the most limited capacity to make that happen,” said Lassner. “Bringing access to education, to healthcare and information, and even to their own history is something networks can provide.”

But barriers remain, Lassner noted. “We have to start with a shared understanding that deploying high-speed broadband across the Pacific Islands is something that is important and useful. Then we can work with people in organizations like the Network Startup Resource Center to understand how to fully deploy a network.”

And, he noted, the geographic barriers for the Pacific Islands are significant in an area which covers more than 200,000  square miles of islands and atolls within more than 10 million square miles of ocean stretching from Hawaii to the edges of Asia, Australia, and South America. Overcoming the barriers requires resources.

“We’re fortunate that most of the networks touching the Pacific work to collaborate or share,” said Lassner, citing GOREX (the Guam Open Research and Education Network), USPNet (serving Pacific Island Countries since 1968), and, more recently, PIREN (the Pacific Island R&E Network).

He noted, however, that political and regulatory barriers remain, as work is done to negotiate access to available R&E fiber, regional fiber projects, and satellite projects.

“Sometimes solutions are hard to come by,” said Lassner. “There are very small populations on some very small islands — some as small as 50 people — and that requires a creative solution. Fortunately, some of our islands may have a line of sight to another island with good fiber, and that allows us to make a connection.”

For Lassner, it goes back to tapping into the wisdom of our ancestors.

“Those stars that guided sailors thousands of years ago are the same as those that inspire curiosity in kids today. Our networks should be able to tap that curiosity and provide access to educational opportunities, no matter where people live.”

To learn more, visit the Polynesian Voyaging Society and watch a three-minute video.