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‘We want to thank them’: Local Marshallese community welcomes anti-nuclear testing ship.

BY ERIK HOGSTROM erik.hogstrom@thmedia.com

The voices of Noreen Akeang and the other singing women rose in intensity as the ship passed through the gates of Dubuque’s Ice Harbor.

The visit of the Golden Rule to Dubuque carried great significance to Akeang and other members of the city’s Marshallese community.

“We want to tell them how much we appreciate them,” Akeang said. “We want to thank them for what they tried to do so long ago.”

A national project of the Veterans For Peace organization, the Golden Rule arrived in Dubuque late Sunday afternoon and will depart Tuesday morning. Dubuque is among 100 ports of call during a tour of the Midwest, Southeast and eastern United States. The ship’s arrival Sunday drew more than 50 people to the Ice Harbor – with about half of the attendees drawn from the city’s Marshallese community.

“The significance (of the Dubuque visit) is especially important for the 800-plus members of the Marshallese community who live in Dubuque,” said Art Roche, a local organizer of the ship’s Dubuque visit. “Of all of the places where the ship is going to be stopping in the 15-month tour this is the largest Marshallese population on that tour.”

The 34-foot vessel attempted to sail in 1958 from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands to prevent atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. The ship never made it.

“They tried to come to the Marshall Islands, but the U.S. Coast Guard came (and intercepted the ship) and put (the crew) in jail,” said Maitha Jolet, a member of Dubuque’s Marshallese community. “We never knew about it (in the Marshall Islands). Many people didn’t know that a crew of people were supposed to come to the Marshall Islands and do something to protest and try to stop the nuclear testing.”

The United States began using the Marshall Islands as a nuclear testing site shortly after the end of World War II.

“The testing was really bad,” Jolet said.

Jolet said the nuclear testing and associated radiation has resulted in higher rates of cancer and other illnesses among Marshallese. Roche said nuclear contamination of the islands’ areas resulted in dietary changes with adverse effects, too.

“The nuclear testing resulted in their inability to grow their own food and take fish from local waters,” Roche said. “They can’t rely on their own natural resources so everything has to be brought into the Marshall Islands. Consequently, they experienced big dietary changes, including a dependence on rice.”

Roche said the high consumption of rice and other introduced foods puts Marshallese at greater risk of diabetes and other health concerns.

Golden Rule crew members and support staff said they were touched by the Marshallese community’s song-filled welcome to Dubuque.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotional,” said Cindy Boyum, of St. Paul, Minn. “It was just so powerful to meet the people.”

Boyum has been sailing on the ship for part of its southerly journey down the Mississippi River.

“It’s so amazing that the Golden Rule finally gets to be among the Marshallese,” said Helen Jaccard, the Golden Rule project manager. “It just warms my heart that after all of these years we are able to see them and interact.”

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October 9, 2022 - Posted by | OCEANIA, opposition to nuclear

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