We can see people around us as a tool, obstacle, or even irrelevant. However, if you really want to create change for the good of everyone and the community, we must learn to see them as people with goals.
That, in a nutshell, was the message of Seamus Fitzgerald, Cultural Islands director at the Polynesians Cultural Center, at the opening retreat for the inaugural Marianas Chapter of the Pacific Century Fellows program.
The two-day retreat, held at the Kanoa Resort over the weekend, hosted 19 of the CNMI’s young leaders in education, law, business, and the community.
“When people come to a resort they come to enjoy and relax,” Fitzgerald said. “By looking at the islands’ visitors as ‘tourists’ we do not see them as people who have goals and are, instead, tools.”
Fitzgerald, who also serves as the Aotearoa Village manager, urged the Fellows to look at people they work with and are surrounded by as “he tangata,” the native Aotearoa term for “people.”
“We have to see the students, coworkers, employees, and people we work with as people with goals,” he said in his presentation titled “Leadership from a Pacific Islands Perspective.”
“That is where change begins, with you,” he added.
Fitzgerald noted that in ancient Polynesia, chiefs always saw to the needs of their people and did not advance any decisions until a consensus was met.
PCF Hawaii founder and former White House Fellow Mufi Hannemann told the CNMI Fellows that the bottom line of the overarching goals and objectives of the PCF in 2014 “is all about Pacific pride.”
“We all have something to contribute. At the end of the day we have to bring people along with us in the process. The Pacific Islands have all sorts of stories and we can teach the world about leadership.”
Hannemann shared his hope that all of the Fellows grasp the importance of what it means to be a Pacific Islands leader.
Jacqueline Che, one of the inaugural Marianas PCF Fellow and director of Institutional Effectiveness at the Northern Marianas College, thought Fitzgerald’s speech was “meaningful and truthful.”
“I learned a lot and I felt more a part of this [group],” she said.
Joseph L.G. Taijeron Jr., NMC adjunct professor and CNMI Legislature legal counsel, echoed Che’s comments. “It was very moving and very thought provoking and inspirational,” he said. “It reminds us that we in the Pacific have a heritage that we can be very proud of and a lot of the Western ideas are not nearly as advanced as our ideas.”
The retreat also featured Triple J Enterprises, Inc. vice president of Finance and Administration Michael Sablan, who discussed Ethics and Tradition; and PSS Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan, who talked about education in leadership.
A health care panel discussion featured Dr. Jeanolivia Grant, acting Non-Communicable Disease Bureau administrator Becky Robles, Public Health Services director Margarita Aldan, and Commonwealth Health Center CEO Esther Muña.
Che told the Saipan Tribune at the retreat that the most pressing issue she currently sees for the CNMI is workforce development. She explained that placing locals in meaningful positions and educating them as well as recruiting those who have gone off-island are integral in order to create a sustainable workforce. “There is a lot of work to do and ground to plow.”
“Educating our people to make sure we can become better followers, leaders, and people,” is what Taijeron thinks the CNMI has to worry about the most. “We do this so we can identify our needs and the best ways to address them.” He added that selflessness is a trait that is lacking in the CNMI’s political leadership. “They need to be more selfless and get their priorities straight and take more actions that are consistent. They all can speak the rhetoric but they need to start taking actions to match it.”
One of the youngest fellows, Matthew Deleon Guerrero, 25, shared that “direction and understanding of where we want to go and what we plan to do to reach a goal in long terms” is something he considers the most pressing issue in the CNMI. While he does not believe there is any lack of political leadership Deleon Guerrero said, “It doesn’t hurt to get new leaders and a new vision and new perspective.”
The Marianas Chapter of the Pacific Century Fellows program aims to develop leadership. It is modeled after the PCF of Hawaii, which was founded in 1996. The program’s objective is to develop leaders with greater awareness and sensitivity of the people and institutions of the CNMI. The nine-month program, which began with the two-day retreat, will bring the Fellows together for an all-day session once a month to address some of the CNMI’s most pressing issues. Graduates of this program are then encouraged to take a more active public service role.