Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony – A poem to my Daughter


On 23 September 2014, I  addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. I performed my new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem” written to my daughter. My full statement, along with a live performance of the poem, can be viewed below, followed by the studio version, and the full text of the poem itself:

The clip below is a studio version which was recorded before the actual performance.


dear matafele peinam,


you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles

you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha

you are thighs that are thunder and shrieks that are lightning

so excited for bananas, hugs and

our morning walks past the lagoon


dear matafele peinam,


i want to tell you about that lagoon

that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise


men say that one day

that lagoon will devour you


they say it will gnaw at the shoreline

chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees

gulp down rows of your seawalls

and crunch your island’s shattered bones


they say you, your daughter

and your granddaughter, too

will wander rootless

with only a passport to call home


dear matafele peinam,


don’t cry


mommy promises you


no one

will come and devour you


no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas

no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals

no blindfolded bureaucracies gonna push

this mother ocean over

the edge


no one’s drowning, baby

no one’s moving

no one’s losing

their homeland

no one’s gonna become

a climate change refugee


or should i say

no one else


to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea

and to the taro islanders of the solomon islands

i take this moment

to apologize to you

we are drawing the line here


because baby we are going to fight

your mommy daddy

bubu jimma your country and president too

we will all fight


and even though there are those

hidden behind platinum titles

who like to pretend

that we don’t exist

that the marshall islands




and typhoon haiyan in the philippines

and floods of pakistan, algeria, colombia

and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves

didn’t exist



there are those

who see us


hands reaching out

fists raising up

banners unfurling

megaphones booming

and we are

canoes blocking coal ships

we are

the radiance of solar villages

we are

the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past

we are

petitions blooming from teenage fingertips

we are

families biking, recycling, reusing,

engineers dreaming, designing, building,

artists painting, dancing, writing

and we are spreading the word


and there are thousands out on the street

marching with signs

hand in hand

chanting for change NOW


and they’re marching for you, baby

they’re marching for us


because we deserve to do more than just


we deserve

to thrive


dear matafele peinam,


you are eyes heavy

with drowsy weight

so just close those eyes, baby

and sleep in peace


because we won’t let you down


you’ll see








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

25 thoughts on “United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony – A poem to my Daughter

  1. Reblogged this on Sinking Islands and commented:
    I hope they will here us.

  2. I join all those who say thank you for your words of wisdom.Beautiful strong words,inspiring to me.
    You reduce me to tears every time.!!¨)¨)

  3. Very touching and wonderful deliver and words at the UN Climate Summit today. Thank you Kathy, you made us islanders proud.

  4. Beautiful – thank you for sharing this with the world!

  5. Dear Kathy,

    This poem and the speech you gave at the summit is so powerful. I’m literally bawling my eyes out. I am so proud of all your accomplishments and what the future holds for you and your family. Keep fighting Kat! Your family from the Micronesia Connections Club got your back 100% Love and miss you all. Take care!

    Aloha from Hawai’i,

  6. Thank you for sharing your deep blue, powerful words with the world.

  7. Poetry doing what it should to wake the world up and touch its heart – certainly touched mine. Thank you, Kate Foley

  8. Hi Kathy
    I listened to you reading your poem at the meeting of the UN just a few minutes ago and was truly move by the words and the passion you had in reading it.
    Wish I could help even in some small ways.
    I wish you all the very best in the future.


  9. Pingback: A personally political voice on climate | keyableit

  10. I found you, this blog, and this amazing poem today when I went looking for new posts from the People’s Climate March & the UN Climate Summit. This is my new favorite poem!!! Although the UN video is good, I love this one the best & will show it to all of my art students. They will know about the climate change that the back-water-bullies don’t want them to know about! They will know that this is real & that we can make a change! Thank you for this beautiful, powerful, and enlightening poem!

  11. Reblogged this on Grant Us Peace and commented:
    An amazing poet. An inspiring & powerful message of hope & promise for the next generation. Climate change is real, but we can make a difference for our children & grandchildren. Thanks, Kathy, for making the UN think & cry!

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  13. Reblogged this on nicciattfield and commented:
    Beautiful poem.

  14. Impressive speech at UN Climate Summit!

  15. Where can I get a written copy of this poem to share at Organizing for the Biocommons?

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  17. Reblogged this on Life in Rhymes / Vida em Versos and commented:
    What a lady, a fighter, a mother… a poet – prophet of the earthly truth. Beautifully & bravely done, Ms. Jetnil-Kijiner.

  18. Reblogged this on aliben86 and commented:
    This was so moving, brought me to tears. Thank you for speaking your truth, and for speaking truth to power!

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  20. Hafa Adai, I tried to contact you via email regarding Festival of the Pacific Arts.

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  22. Reblogged this on Simon's still stanza and commented:
    A friend referred Kathy’s speech-poem to me and I enjoyed it so much I am reblogging it.

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