Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Remembering Uncle Carl Heine

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There are things we choose to remember about a man once he is laid to rest. However, in some ways, Carl Heine was more than a man – he was a piece of Marshall Islands history. The path that he chose placed him on the frontlines of change, just as the face of RMI began to transform dramatically.  Among the many positions he’s held in his career, Carl played a pivotal role in numerous political structures:  the Congress of Micronesia, the Political Status Commission, the Marshall Islands Constitutional Convention, the First to the Eighth Nitijela, and an Ambassador to the United Nations and the people’s Republic of China. He was also the first, and so far only, published Marshallese with his book, Micronesia at the Crossroads. His career and achievements have woven him into the fabric of Marshallese memory while his book and his writing have carved a permanent seat in the elite world of Pacific scholars and politicians.

               Carl Heine began with humble roots – the first son of Reverend Bourne and Kathy Heine, born on Jaluit atoll. His brothers and sisters vividly remember summer days and hours of making copra beneath the hot sun – all to pay for his schooling in San Diego.  Carl was of the early generation of Marshallese who ventured into the world before there was an Arkansas or Oregon community of Marshallese to support him. He was of the few brave rimajol who traveled into an unknown landscape, lonely ambassadors of their islands, representing their country and culture in a sea of American people. And yet, he not only survived – he thrived. His brothers and sisters remember his letters – train trips, Bible studies, political research, and wrestling championships. When he came back, he stood as an example to his nine younger siblings – a beacon of what could be possible, what could be achieved. He left his islands a young boy – he came back a ferociously motivated young man. 

                Ferocious is the key word. Carl was many things – but fearful was not one of them. He spoke his mind, blunt, sharp, and to the point. During a time when the majority was clamoring to separate from the rest of Micronesia, Carl was a vocal representative of the minority voting to stay. He took a stand on many issues, regardless of their popularity. He spoke for what he believed in.

                But our family remembers more than his career. We remember him as a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a father, and as a grandfather. His sons remember his work ethic, the same work ethic he instilled in them. They remember his passion for education, and his drive for perfection. They remember snow fights, tennis matches, afternoon swimming, birthday parties, and early Christmas mornings.

                We share this with you not only because an important and beloved family member has passed – we share this because we are aware that Carl was one of those Marshallese men who belonged not only to our family, but who belonged to our people, and to the historical fabric of our country. This past weekend, we buried a family member who was more than a man – we buried a legacy.

I wrote this on behalf of my family after my Uncle Lan passed away this April . It was printed at Yokwe.net and also in the Marshall Islands Journal.

Author: Kathy

Kathy Jetnil Kijiner is a Marshallese poet and activist. Her writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages. She has performed her poetry in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to most recently over a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, where she performed a poem to her daughter, "Dear Matafele Peinam". Currently she lives and works in the Marshall Islands, where she teaches Pacific studies courses full time at the College of the Marshall Islands. She is also Co-Director of the youth environmentalist non-profit Jo-Jikum, which empowers youth by educating them on the importance of environmentalism and mobilizing them to work toward solutions for environmentalist issues. Check out their website: www.jojikum.org

One thought on “Remembering Uncle Carl Heine

  1. Around the corner is opportunity
    waiting for you to take it.
    And there is a claim close by
    waiting for you to stake it.
    Whatever lies in wait for you
    I know you’ll pass the test.
    Because each time trial comes
    You always have done your best.

    Like the poems!

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