The Pacific Peoples’ Partnership has been a guest upon the territories of the Lekwungen and Coast Salish Peoples for over 40 years.
PPP was established in 1975 as a Canadian solidarity partner of the Independent and Nuclear Free Pacific Movement. Back then, we were the South Pacific Peoples Foundation (SPPF), founded by Australian starlet Elizabeth Silverstein and Father Stanley Hosie. Their grand vision was to become the Canadian NGO for the Pacific Islands.
Silverstein and Hosie had established the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific (FSP) in the USA. They enlisted Dr. James A. Boutilier, our President Emeritus, local academic and Pacific maritime forces advisor. They were eager to open a Canadian branch of FSP, advertising for an Executive Director though they had no idea whether they could even pay one. Fortunately for us, Phil Esmonde was willing to take the risk. However, he soon found New York’s approach too imperial for his liking and persuaded the Board to break with FSP and chart a new course.
At that time, the world was in a Cold War. Most tiny island states had slowly achieved their independence. But they found themselves either entirely ignored and forgotten after WWII or at the heart of this new “war,” with French nuclear testing and rumours of Soviet submarine activity. Canadian foreign policy makers assumed there were either no problems in this so-called “paradise” or, if there were, Australia and New Zealand would take care of them.
Social awareness in Oceania was high: anti-nuclear activism, indigenous empowerment movements, and the first real hints of environmental networking. Thanks to Executive Directors like Phil and, later, Stuart Wulff, SPPF articulated imaginative programmes and developed Canadian awareness of the complexity and cultural diversity of the South Pacific. Money was almost always tight. The Canadian International Development Agency’s funding priorities changed over the years but its support remained foundational.
SPPF became just what it set out to be, the Canadian organization superbly knowledgeable about and connected with the Pacific Islands. It embarked on a creative new initiative: Canadian First Nations youth internships in the islands. There are remarkable similarities between the struggles of First Nations and Oceanic communities. This shift in focus fuelled an internal debate within SPPF – namely, what are the boundaries of Oceania? If the Board supported indigenous activities in Papua, the Indonesian-administered half of the island of New Guinea, was it straying beyond the South Pacific? After much soul-searching, the more inclusive name, Pacific Peoples Partnership (PPP), was unveiled, embracing Canada’s Pacific coast on the one hand and parts of insular Southeast Asia on the other.
PPP’s 40-decade history is a testament to vision and commitment. It is a monument to adept, endlessly patient, and breathtakingly conscientious EDs, and to an indelible belief that what we were doing was right. Where would we have been without the Margaret Argues, Elaine Monds, and Alison Gardners of this world – always there, always committed?
And what of the islands? In many ways they are still forgotten in the unforgiving world of globalization. Sadly, a number have experienced coups or deep-seated unrest. But they are wonderfully challenging places to be. And PPP has been, and remains, a deeply impressive organization with a conscience and a zeal to succeed in years to come.
— Adapted from Dr. James Boutilier’s Tok Tok 35th Anniversary Tok Blong Pasifik article