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Interview of Tomaki Juda

interviewd by Mary Silk, March 6, 2008
translated by Newton Lajuan


Note: The interviewee is noted by initials, the interviewer by [Q].

[TJ] My name is Tomaki Juda, my clan name is Mokauleej.

[Q] Okay…If you could state when and where you were born?

[TJ] I was born in 1942 on Bikini Atoll.

[Q] So can you tell us a little about your parents? What were their names?

[TJ] Kommool [thank you] Mary. My father’s name is Juda, and my mother’s name is Rachel. My mother’s name, Rachel, was taken from the Bible, and father’s name Juda was obtained from one of the biblical clan names in the Holy Scripture.

[Q] Do you have any siblings? Men and women? And if so, could you tell a bit about them?

[TJ] Indeed. I have three older brothers, and two of them have passed away. The other one lives but suffers from a stroke. Two of the women, actually three…I have four older sisters but four of them have passed away, and now I have only one.

[Q] Well. Thank you. Now when America came here to carry out the strongest bomb test on Bikini Atoll in 1954, were you aware? Did you understand anything about this bomb test called “Bravo”?

Bikinians Exposed and Displaced After The Bravo Bomb Test on Bikini

[TJ] In that nuclear testing period, on Bikini Atoll in 1956, I was very young. I did not know what was going on or what was planned. I learned much as I grew up and listened to the elders sharing their stories.

The elders did not really understand what America was bringing to them. What the Bikinians were told was that the Americans wanted to use Bikini for something that could help the Americans and the rest of the world’s nations. . . . The Marshallese thought the Americans would use Bikini for a short period of time, but not from 1940 up to now — over 60 years… Two days ago, we celebrated Victim’s Day [now called Remembrance Day] around the Marshall Islands.

[Q] At the time of migration, when you were moved from Bikini to Rongerik, and stayed there for two years, and moved to Kwajalein Atoll, before settling on Kole Island, can you tell us about the life that was like on Kili island as you grew up there?

[TJ] I didn’t really understand the story because I was young during the migration period though I listened to the stories told by my parents. We spent two years there.

Rongerik was like a desert: there were no coconut drinks; the fish around its waters were contaminated; etc…And the people on Rongerik were starving to death. One time, one of our grandmothers died of hunger. Sometime later, however, a man [a researcher] came from the University of Hawaii. He [and his team] came and ran some experiments and tests, then called Kwajalein defense authorities to send medications and food as soon as possible to Rongerik Atoll.

After some time, another group decision was reached to move us from Rongerik Atoll to Kwajalein. As we moved in to Kwajalein, we stayed under the coordination/support of the US Army for a year. Then the Bikinians asked the mayor and the elderly men of Bikini to find another location [to live]. They asked if they could move to any islands in the Kapin Meto [Enewetak, Lae, Ujae, etc.] , Ratak-Ean [such as Wotje, Ailuk, Maloelap, etc.] , or Ratak-Rak [like Likiep, Jaluit, etc.] .

After studying about Kole Island and finding out that Kole was an isolated island, the Bikinians asked if they could be moved there, believing that they would soon return to Bikini Atoll. The Bikinians decided not to move to Rongerik because it was sitting too close to Bikini {which was radioactive]. And the promissory agreement depended on the Americans’ terms. They said, “We will use Bikini for a short period. Then we will hand it back 100 percent safe. There will be no causal damages but everything will be taken care.”

Well, this is part of our lawsuit against the US government -- [this broken promise] -- and these lawsuits are available in print today partly due to the terms they agreed upon but have not fulfilled. Not only this, but it is also stated in the constitutions as amended that any place the US has caused environmental damage is entitled to be renovated and re-constructed before it is returned to its proper holders.

[Q] Now when you moved out from Kwajalein Atoll to Kili Island, is that where you grew up, on Kili Island?

[TJ] That would be correct, Mary.

The Displaced Bikinians Try Life on Kili

[Q] Can you describe your life on Kili?

[TJ] At that time, they asked some volunteers to go with the engineers to build temporary housing on Kili Island; because the Bikinians could move in and live there for a short while, until the builders had constructed permanent housing. They built, and built, and built…

Ultimately, the builders came to realize that Kili was [nearly uninhabitable] It was an isolated island… it has no lagoon and no islets -- it is an island that sits alone…Not only this but 6 to 8 months in a year, Kili’s ocean becomes so rough that no one can get in or out; no one can go fishing out on the barrier reef because the water is murky and the current has grown stronger.

So Kili is a place where it is quite difficult to…[live]. The residents suffered hunger again. I was the mayor during the famine.
I grew up with the elders and decided later to run for the mayoral seat to see if I could do something to ease the hunger—I started with the High Commissioner for the US Territory through the United Nations-Justice of Council and asked for provisionary help to see if they could help us at their earliest convenience.

So they responded and brought C-rations…They used the army’s sea-patrol boats and dropped off the C-rations on Kili. They did not fly in on planes only, but they also made use of the Trust Territory’s sea transportation to transport the C-rations to Kili. The C-rations helped ease the hunger at that time of famine. However, there wasn’t enough financial assistance [to keepus going] because there were no firm binding agreements between the Bikinians and the US government -- [no binding compact]. The Americans did not give money to the people of Bikini, [not even] pocket money that could enable them to buy them food from the stores. They had to live only on C-rations.

Life on Kili was quite difficult, as we lived through the days that could not permit us to see clearly either the future or the past. . .  We thought everything would be fully handled [remedied] by the Trust Territories Government or the US Government.

These are some of the things [charges] that are in the People of Bikini’s lawsuit and now available in print in the Courts in the United States all because of their promise that they would take care of the [displaced and sickened] Bikinians no matter what, no matter where they’d go, until they returned to their own island. . . .

There was a lot of work done collecting fallen coconuts and grafting and the like trying to feed ourselves, but they were not enough to care for the people. And until sometime later, they changed the C-ration to [other supplies]

We went to the States to ask for help from the US government and they gave the people of Bikini a trust fund. And this trust fund is still placed in an account today. From that trust fund, the Bikinians are paid quarterly. They are paid quarterly from the money in the trust fund. They don’t use the capital investment, but they pay out from the interest. And the payments are made available to them, but there is also a certain part of the money set aside for food from the same fund. The interest matures and we award this among the Bikinians both inside the Marshall Islands and outside the Marshall Islands: here in Majuro, out in Kili and on Ebeye today.

As Leader of the Bikinians: Negotiating a Settlement with the U.S. Government

[Q] This is very good. And now as a leader for Bikini, can you tell us a little about the kinds of roles and responsibilities that you had? What was your duty in regards to the people of Bikini?

[TJ] Well, at that time I was a magistrate. I worked as a magistrate, and later, when the Marshallese Government changed to a Democracy that was independent, which was when everything changed for us, including our titles. All the political leaders were now called “Mayor.” So, I was a mayor for many years and my duties and responsibilities included traveling to the US, appearing in front of the Trustee or the Council, appearing in front of the committees: The Committee of Four (which had more authority than the Trustee), the Council, and the Committee of Twenty-Four, which also had more authority than the Committee of Four. And we appeared before these committees, presenting our petition to them regarding the hardships then emerging on Kili and explaining what the people of Kili needed.

The Bikinians did not go out to collect fallen coconuts [to eat] because there were not many trees on Kili. There was no income from copra [dried coconut meat prepared for coconut oil] production and so forth because Kili was too small for the people to collect coconuts and there were not enough coconuts to use for copra.If there had been a single seedling, the displaced Bikinians could have eaten that….

. . .  I often went to meetings in the Congress... One time we appeared in front of the White House with President George [HW] Bush and talked to him. Well, at that time, they signed the first compact, and we did not agree to the terms and conditions stated there because at the time Henchi Balos and I were in the negotiation process that took place over at Bilimon’s Restaurant (at this time it was a restaurant).

We walked out and told them [the United States government officials] our share of compensation was not enough. The pieces were distributed among the four atolls [Bikini, Enewetak, Utrik, Rongalap] and so the amount that they gave us for the people of Bikini was $45 Million…. We said, we don’t agree with the terms as the amount is too small. . . . “You can give the awards to the other atolls,” we told then, “but if this is what you think is right for Bikini… [then it is not enough] .”

Later, Cedar [?]  and Tony [deBrum] came. They flew into Kili and met with all of us asking, “What do you think? President Amata sent us. Are we taking our piece of the pie or not?” And we answered them, “We don’t want it.”

Some time later, Cedar[?] returned and he said, “Come, we have added more to your portion. The amount in the Compact [for you] has gone from $35 million to $75million. And at that time, Senator Henchi and I had already filed another lawsuit in Washington because we wanted to clearly state that we did not agree. We did not like the amount in the Compact because it was too small. And he [Senator Balos] was petitioning the US government, showing them some of the needs of the people of Bikini, particularly the shortcomings of the terms of the Compact.

The reason why we returned to the Trustee of the Council was to put forth another petition stating that we did not agree with the Compact terms. What is now called the Compact of Free Association was then under negotiation at that time.

We filed a lawsuit that increased the amount of the $75 Million by $90 Million more immediately after our meeting with them, and so they gave us $90 Million and made the total one hundred something million dollars. But at that time we had already established a trust fund that was already worth $20 Million, and now we have two trust funds, one with the one hundred something and one with the twenty million something.  And as more money came under the first compact, it established another trust fund along the order of 40 something million. Today it is 70-something million.

[Q] In the Bikinians’ trust fund?

[TJ] Yes, in that trust fund.  And that is where each and every one of us get awards from the trust fund: that claims trust fund.

An Ill-advised Return to Bikini
[Q] Ok, now you know there was a time when the people of Bikini returned to Bikini back in the 1970s. And at that time, American officials told the Bikinians that the level of radiation had lessened, and if any one of the Bikinians wanted to move back, they could go ahead. And at that time there were some people who moved back to Bikini in the 1970’s. If you have any knowledge of this migration, could you tell us a brief story about it?

[TJ] Yes, at that time, the word came to us from Narut, who was the High Commissioner of the Trust Territory, saying that Bikini is now safe and people of Bikini could resettle the area. When the word reached my office, in the local government, I ran quickly to the Council [local] and assembled a meeting and we decided to make an ordinance so that no person could return to Bikini until it had been cleaned. We knew that, according to the DOE’s [Department of Energy] reports, the U.S. must scrape two feet of soil off of the ground in order to eradicate the contamination.

These reports said that two feet of soil must be removed in order to reduce the radiation. So, we asked them to scrape off two feet of soil and bring in new soil and they, in return, asked us, “Where are you going to get the new soil?” “Anywhere,” we answered, “Kosrae, or the United States, anywhere we can.” And they said to us, “Why don’t you go to Kili and get the sand? Because Kili was set aside for the Bikinians. Go bring the soil from Kili and use it to replace the soil of Bikini.” Or any other quick method.

We were not going back to Bikini because it was contaminated.

Nonetheless, after three years, we were unable to prevent the return of those who were desperate to return to Bikini because that was their decision. After three years, the High Commissioner of the Trust Territory, Winkle [Adrian Winkle]  sent a message to me through Oscar deBrum that there would be a meeting in Washington and they needed me to attend this public hearing.

The Department of Energy reported to Congress that those 100 people who went to Bikini needed to leave Bikini because the level of radiation in their bodies was already high. And so when we appeared again in Washington, this is the message they gave. They sent Adrian Winkle so that we could go with him to Bikini to convince those who were there to leave.
That was a difficult time because the elders of the Bikini group said, “This is not easy because you have moved us from one place to another to another to another. We have already rebuilt our gardens and homes and cooking houses,” and so we stayed there with them for a week, trying to soothe their nerves and trying to explain to them about the level of radiation there that not only could harm them, but also their children and grandchildren. We went and we stayed with them for quite awhile while they were making the decision to leave the island.

Leaving Bikini Again

Two of the Trust Territory ships came and took them finally, and they asked me to build them housing on Kili, and I made available twenty houses for them so that they could live on Kili. Each unit had four rooms and A/C. However, some of the old men did not want to settle on Kili. They said, “Living on Kili was far more contaminated than living on Bikini. We want to go to some other place where the US government cannot lie to us anymore. We want to settle some place closer to us [closer to Bikini?] so that the US government can take care of us.

I told Oscar [deBrum] , “Well, sir, you and the High Commissioner might want to take the rest of people to Majuro to see what kind of place you can find for them.” And at that time, they [the Americans-- provided money for] a dormitory (using day laborers) in which the old [Bikinians] lived. And Oscar suggested, “How about you guys go ahead and live here while we look for a permanent place for you?”

The old men, however, did not listen to him, they did not go and sleep in the dormitory, but instead they slept outside Oscar’s office. Early the next morning, Oscar arrived as his office and saw the old men. He whispered to himself, “Man! These old guys are very bad. What will I do?”

Ejit Island, the smaller island next to Majuro, used to be a place that was used for agricultural research [as described above] under the coordination of the Trust Territory. The Bikinians asked their local government to take Ejit and build it up. Oscar asked us, the Kili Council and I, to build houses so the Bikinians could settle on Ejit. I asked, “What about the houses on Kili?” “Well, [Oscar said] you can give those houses to other Kili people, but go ahead and build twenty more houses on Ejit.” And so the Council and I worked on getting these houses built on Ejit for the people. We built them school buildings, we built them clinics, and we built a bunch of residential houses there on Ejit. We also built a police checkpoint so that the Policemen could look after the entire island day and night. These were the things we did, once done, they [these Bikinians] moved in to settle on Ejit. 

Then, after that, the old men of the group, turned to us and told us that they wanted their own local government and they wanted to be independent. They wanted to establish their own local government and they wanted to be their own magistrate and they wanted to be the Council. And Oscar told me what they told him. And I said, “Well, that proposal, do you think there has ever been anything like it in this world?” and Oscar simply suggested that I ignore the proposal. And I made it very clear to him that I would be working with the old men and he needed not to worry about it. Rather, he needed to worry about bringing forth the proposal [to the RMI government?]  

Establishing the Bikini Government But No Hope of Return

There must be only one government for the Kili people and they represent their people during the meetings. Three representatives from Ejit came with the old men, and so that dispute went away, and we went on to establish our local government and build Ejit. And there on Ejit the Bikinians live until today. There has still not been any word from the [U.S. about resettlement on Bikini] … Researchers from San Francisco said that they are examining Bikini. Some of the scientists said they are trying their best to examine all the Bikini lands. And it seemed like they said, “The Radiation has lessened.”

I met with them many times and I had been saying, “[We are not returning] until you remove the soil because that soil…” At that time, Dr. Bill Robinson was the doctor. And Bill Robinson said, “You could go live in Bikini, but you will need to have your food [brought in]. You need to import half of your food from Majuro, and the other half you can eat local food. Try to mix them together so the contamination won’t rise in your bodies.” And so we, in the local government, said, “This is bad, this is very bad, this is contrary to the US government promises. They told us that before we returned to Bikini, they would decontaminate it completely, and we, we don’t want to return to see it because we have already seen it [like this].

The President of the United States of America, Lyndon Johnson, publically proclaimed that Bikini was clean, and that the people could return to it. We tried to protect the people so that they would not go back, but due to freedom of choice, they chose to return. Three years later, they were removed from Bikini due to the radiation levels [in their bodies]. Now they are living on Ejit and we are living on Kili. So, we have been split into two different communities: one on Ejit and the other on Kili.

[Q] Do you still remember names, who were the people in the group that moved to Bikini and then were moved off again?

[TJ] Yes, you see, the surname, the Jakeo, it was Jukwa Jakeo’s family along with Andrew Jakeo’s family, Kilon Bauno, Perooj Joel, Kelen Joash, and others. These were the old men, along with their families who moved [back to Bikini in the 70’s] there. Today, these families are very large. And there are about three hundred people currently living on Ejit.

[Q] And the name of the boat or ship that the group boarded [to go to Bikini] what was it called?

[TJ] Those boats belonged to the Trust Territory, and they were the boats that transported them.

[Q] Oh, so you are saying that those were the TT’s boats?

[TJ] Yes, when the message came from President Johnson through the High Commissioner, the Commissioner demanded that some of the housing material be moved [to Ejit] so that the people could settle there [on Ejit].

[Q] At that time you were the magistrate, right?

[TJ] I was the magistrate at that time.

[Q] Did you board the ships with them?

[TJ] Yes, as they moved to Ejit, there were already houses there. Oh, my apologies, I did not board the ships with them because I was one of the signatories on the Ordinance to block the people from returning to Bikini: I along with the Council [local] . So, some of the old men on Kili desperately wanted to move. Reverend Jojiea and … they said, “We are going there [to Bikini] and staying there because we know that we are aging.” And so I said, “That is correct, but what will happen to your little children, and the generations after yours? Because if that is your choice, the children will have to move with you.”

Bikinians Continue to Pursue Their Claims

And so these are the things that had been happening up to date. And the people of Bikini haven’t stopped claiming that the US Government did wrong on account of the damage that was done. As they had promised us…thus, causing us to spend a lot of money on lawyers. To date, we have used a group in Washington for these remaining lawsuits. We have hired Elizabeth, a woman, a female lawyer. This woman has won seven cases in the US Supreme Court. And you know, the courts in America, in the US, really know this woman. And we hired her to work for us. And there is another one [lawyer] who teaches at George Washington University, along with our current lawyer in order for us to work on these very lawsuits.

In truth, the lawsuit we presented in the claims court, the woman, Miller, said, “I can help you a little on that case, but it is best if you take your case to the Congress and the Administration because they have larger funds.” It seems like she understood the wrong done to the Bikinians, and I said, “That is very good, a wise call, but can I ask you to write and sign a memo, to go through Congress and the Administration so they can see what they might do for the people of Bikini?” The thing is in the last moment of the court docket, she dismissed the case, and we thought to ourselves, someone must have given the judge a phone call. It seemed true, but we proceeded with the case.

At the same time, President George Bush [HW] was signing the compact in the White House while we were sitting in the courtroom. The judge called for a forty-five minute recess. We took the recess and when we returned to the Courtroom, the judge came and may have made a call to the White House…You see, at that time the compact espoused all the Marshallese people’s lawsuits in every court in Washington. And these conditions were stated in the Compact: to dismiss any lawsuit brought by the citizens of the Marshall Islands in all the courts in Washington, D.C., because they [the people] would be taken care of and their lawsuits would be taken care of too, today, and in the future.  

[Q] What was the amount of the claim before the espousal?

[TJ] Well it was $90 million.

[Q] Ninety million?

[TJ] Yes. Ninety million. At that time, one of cases that was in the system was asking the US government for a 500 something million dollar settlement.  We hired some men from Honolulu to come and examine the soil in Bikini. We submitted our proposal to the Claims Tribunal and we … and that was the time when Judge Miller dismissed our case, but then we worked the case up through the federal court system to the Supreme Court. The judge there, probably in July, there will be a decision about the case. Our new lawyers, whom people suppose are paid thousands and thousands of dollars, did not want to be paid at all, but they just wanted to help. What the lawyers said was that they wanted to help in order to champion our cause before the US administration because they believe that there are certain things that are wrong—that are without evidence.

[Q] And your people who were brought to Ejit, when they stayed there and the US government found out later that there was still evidence of radiation, was there any monitoring to check for radiation and related illnesses?

[TJ] That is a very good question. While they were on Ejit, you would see the team from DOE that often went to Utrik, Rongelap and Enewetak. The team of health specialists included visits to the people on Ejit so that they could examine the health of the people staying on Ejit.

DOE stated that the people could return to Bikini because Bikini was healthy and clean. And they informed America’s president of this at that time. A few years later, the DOE still asked the people of Bikini to relocate, to remove themselves again from Bikini. And today, still the DOE is assigned by the US government to proceed with their studies, and I am not really sure if these findings are very accurate, but today they come every two or three months. They say that the people are in better health. They moved the people from Bikini because they [the DOE] believed that if the people stayed longer then the people would die. And this is a question. How do we know how fast the level of radiation is diminishing? How do we know when it will be gone? That is the question today.

[Q] As you well understand, when they returned the people from Bikini to Ejit, the DOE came and examined them, and they did it twice as you said. Did they also come back and check the people later?

[TJ] They did not. They stated in their reports that the people are better.

[Q] That was still in the 1970’s right?

[TJ] On the boat…no, that was later. And they came and..

[Q] What boat?

[TJ] DOE’s boat. The one that often stops by.

[Q] Looking at the current living conditions between the three Bikinian communities, Majuro, Kili and Ejit, what differences can you see?

[TJ] That is a very good question, but maybe I will extend it a little bit. When we realized that we could not rely on the scientific reports, we hired an independent scientist from Germany. He has appeared before IAE [International Atomic Energy Commission] which is in Austria in Europe, and he compared the DOE reports, the Bikinian legal counsels notes and the independent findings by the German scientists .… Are the reports from the US government accurate? And do you know what went wrong? You know the other guy…I have his name on the tip of my tongue, but he stayed here…

[Q] Steve?

[TJ] Steve who?

[Q] One of the scientists who also came here, no?

[TJ] Yeah, yeah, maybe. Well, he had a very bad relationship with Amata [Kabua—the first Marshallese President and Kwajelein land owner] and his job was to deliver news to the International Atomic Energy Commission. He said, “The Marshall Islands is clean and safe, no significant evidence of radiation.” That was his report to IAE.

Because we did not know who invited him [to testify]. Bikini and the other places where there was fallout are safe and clean. And our question at the time concerned the population. You see, this obscures the situation and costs us a lot of money because our communities are dispersed to the far corners. The money that we spend is wasted. However, this is one of the great difficulties our local government encounters today, Bikini is a very expensive community [because it costs a lot to provide services].

[Q] What kind of programs like the 177 do the people of Bikini benefit from?

How the Bikini Budget is Used

[TJ] The only program they [the US] give us now is health care. They assigned us a doctor from Nepal and other nations around the world and placed a local health assistant with this doctor. And they sent in the medical grant along with medication. Health care is free of charge and many other things. The money that was recently approved, which came directly from the US Congress, was also given. Not only this, but several pieces of medical equipment like dental chairs have arrived. We will need them to stay on Kili and be provided with the Medical care they will need. Tooth extractions and other medical procedures. So, these are the kinds of work done in health care.

When Kili runs out of pills, you know, I caught a problem in the 177 health building. Do you know where this building is located? The problem was that the National Hospital ran out of medicine and what they did was that they [MoH] moved their pharmacy to the National Hospital. The strange thing is that all of the medicine belonged to the 177 program and these supplies were removed and taken to the national hospital, but the national hospital operates on its own funding [from the Compact].
[Q] Regarding the health program, food program….

[TJ] Well these are only for us Bikinians, from the time I was the mayor until now. Now we have funds. We have a fund for medical treatment. You see, we separate our annual budget and dedicate parts for scholarship, part for the food service in order to serve the entire community, part for housing, part for medical referrals if and when the national hospital cannot afford the treatment, part for schooling. The scholarships we created benefit all Bikinian students worldwide. We give them money to go to school, college, and they send us total number of credits they are taking and we calculate the total award based on the total number of credits.

[Q] Does your scholarship also include our local college here on Majuro?

[TJ] No. Not yet, we are still discussing it. People have asked several times about including the local college in the scholarship. The scholarship fund is separate from others just as workers salaries are separate from the scholarship.

[Q] And your housing program?

[TJ] Pardon?

[Q] The housing program.

[TJ] The housing program is also included in our overall budget. And the budget is allocated every year. Not only this but we asked—you see this money that comes every year is a million dollars, and it is called the repaid money. The remainder of this money we use. Let’s say that the fund managers are also paid. When they send the million, we use it for housing. Not only this, but we are also able to loan money to the banks. [We have invested in the banks.] These banks are the ones that hold our trust fund. We have the ability to loan to this bank and we can pay our debts off the interest of this account. And we also asked…to meet him in Honolulu so that when the fund decreases, we can invest another million or two so that we can make another million or so-- so that the people of Bikini can build houses -- it  is an ongoing program.

[Q] What are some weaknesses you see in the programs—food program, health program, etc.?

[TJ] The only weakness I see is the growth of the population. We are unlike the three atolls [Rongelap, Enewetak, Utrik]: when they register newborns in the claims program they only accept people whose lineage [Lineage is reckoned through the maternal line] is from those atolls.

We Bikinians do not have this policy. None. Zero. Say that girl [pointing to one in the crowd] married a Bikinian boy, then they are both entitled to the Bikini benefits [as are their children] . And this is the biggest difference when the programs are compared. And probably this is one of the reasons why our [Bikinian] budgets amount to so very high amounts. And sometimes we have received huge budgets.

In truth, however, I compared our budget to all of the other local governments in the Marshall Islands. The government on Majuro, for example, received two million dollars in their budget. Kwajelein also received two million dollars. As to our budgets this year, it has slightly decreased. We operate on a nine million something dollar budget this year. And so our budget is probably larger than others right now. So, having our money safe in the trust fund, we are trying our very best to safeguard the capital investment so that they are not used for wrong purposes rather are safe for today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

[Q] Very good! Now that you guys are under the health program, do they ever come to check the Bikinians health status? Do they check to see if there are any diseases or causes of illness?

[TJ] Every time we would go….these are some of the things that are before the US Congress—we are asking for medical care for the people of Bikini—you see the people who were…some of them are on Utrik -- they were the people who experienced the fallout. The same is true for the Rongelapese. And we asked the US Congress to include the Bikinians too. To date, there hasn’t been any word. They say this was ok with the DOE, there in Washington because we went there to meet with them; however, they asked to see if the Congress could increase the amounts and see if they could also include the Bikinian Community. Today we are trying to lobby this proposal. This is one of the parts we desperately want to discuss before the Congress. And they know that it is not their job, but they are willing to listen and to weigh if the idea has merit, but if a single report is negative from the DOE, well, responses and/or answers could be delayed for quite a while.

[Q] When was the last time you went to Bikini? While there, what did you think and feel?

Bikini Now

[TJ] When I went there just recently… I went on a trip with Kessai, at that time Kessai Note was the President [of the RMI]. A Korean millionaire wanted to create a golf course on Bikini. You see the Korean Airline that brought the millionaire flies a route from Korea to Fiji with about forty-something passengers for about six hours between the two destinations. The airline takes these golfers to play golf on Fiji. And the golfers, you understand, Mary, all of these golfers are members of a golf club in Korea. And they cannot be members of the club until they have paid a million dollar fee, and so what we did was that we made a deal with the Korean millionaire. … But you know what caused a problem?

A problem arose among the Rongelapese who brought in an Israeli millionaire. Their leaders made a deal with him, and they have received payments for leasing Rongelap atoll. I really don’t understand the story, but I heard about the payments. Then Rongelapese authorities discovered that the amount he was compensating the Rongelapese was way smaller than the Rongelapese claim awards… The millionaire actually gave the Rongelapese $660,000. At that time, I was reading the newspaper, and when I came across the article, I reimbursed the Korean millionaire. We saw that shortcoming and thought to ourselves, “We are going to delay the deal.” There was another billionaire who just returned last night from Bikini [Paul Allen].

[Q] Does that billionaire own Microsoft?

[TJ] Yes. He owns Microsoft. Paul Allen. You see, he had two bodyguards walking with him and those two bodyguards were naval officials. They would walk with him wherever he went, but [he chuckled] you know the billionaire is a bachelor [and he laughed with the audience]. And I whispered to myself when I first met him, “Good Lord! This guy….” But the reason why he had to go back to the States, he said that his basketball team is going to play soon.

[Q] Regarding your health, in one or two ways—did the nuclear testing affect you?

[TJ] Well…say for Bikini, there was no evidence of radiation sickness like high blood [pressure] and those kinds of diseases that appear these days. There was a girl on Bikini that died last year. She died of leukemia. In truth, today half of our lives we live with the effects of radiation and fallout. Not only this, but you see, the missile range tests on Kwajelein, those cause sickness because the missiles that are fired, heading toward their targets they sprinkle [something] into the atmosphere and this also causes sickness among us in the Marshall Islands.

[Q] Can you summarize for us how the nuclear tests affected the people of Bikini?

[TJ] In summary, there are lots of Bikinians found to have radiation poisoning. Especially for the people who returned to Bikini. Some of the Bikinians returned to Bikini, but probably due to the fallout, (not only for the people of Bikini, but for the people of the other atolls as well) life has changed, it isn’t like the life our forefather’s lived… because we see the new sicknesses are very serious unlike the life before when there were not these kinds of illnesses, but these sicknesses that occurred during the Nuclear Testing Era are passed down from generation to generation.

[Q] What kinds of sicknesses?

[TJ] Thyroid, cancer, especially due to our diet…

[Q] Let’s say that America cleaned Bikini and they now say, “Bikini is now clean, you can go back to Bikini.” Would you be happy to return?

[TJ] Everytime we meet US officials, we are asked the same question. Our response to them is that even though some of the Bikinians are not happy to return for various reasons like lack of familiarity with Bikini, their elders desperately want to return and they [the younger ones] will return with them [their elders].

The second thing is, it is difficult for them to live in Kili. The life there is very difficult due to the hardships. This increases their interest in Bikini. I asked the legal counsel about a memorandum of understanding in case America sends us back to Bikini.

[Q] As a political leader for Bikini, Ejit and Kili, what are some of the challenges that you encounter? What do you see and feel and think challenges you the most?

[TJ] There are challenges every now and then and they never stop occurring because of the rapid population growth. The more people, the more challenges, ranging from housing, reparations, food programs, and so on. Every time we give the people of Bikini cases of quarter leg [chicken quarters], bags of rice, and other staple foods, there isn’t enough nutritious food such as vegetables, fruits, and so on for them to eat as they used to because there is no fish. And there will be more and more and more problems.

The second problem I see is that as our funds decrease quarterly, they become problematic as well -- especially for the people. As this health funding decreases, in order for us to send away the young ones, we are stuck [and do not treat the young children]. This causes the people of Bikini problems. The way I see it, it is a crime because with more people and less available money, there are more problems. However, we try our very best. We were in a meeting with our lawyer because I was the one who asked the question about the decreasing funds. I asked the lawyer to see if he could write a bill so that the bill could increase our funding because the funds are what most of the Bikinians depend on. When the stock market crashed, we lost twenty million dollars in twenty seconds.

[Q] The trust fund?

[TJ] Yes, the trust fund but after three months, the lost money was recovered. And I thought to myself, I could lobby the US Congress to see if they would agree to the bill. Kili is a place where life is difficult, there are no islets, they don’t eat fish 24/7. They eat fatty foods, pork and chicken and this causes [obesity and related] illnesses. And the lawyer and I agreed to write the bill to increase the quarterly funding.

[Q] Let’s say you had met with the US President, at that time, what would you have told him?

[TJ] Well, yes. I could have expressed this idea to him and briefed him a little on our exodus and resettlement and related this information to the bill because at that time there was a big competition between the USSR and America. Every time we pushed the US government to clean Bikini and all so on, they claimed that when Bikini was clean, 100% safe, they would allow the Bikinians to return without restriction. Not only this, but three Bikinian islets were obliterated off the face of the earth. These islets are now under water. Some of this damage cannot be erased from a leader’s mind [meaning his own] . So these are some of the things I strive for.

Every leader, every single leader, faces these kinds of challenges. There was a time when we met with Al Gore, and he thought like we do. At that time, President Imata [Kabua] went to meet President Clinton, when President Clinton was returning from Guam to the continental United States. President Clinton sent us a message asking us to visit him on Guam. We shook his hand, but we did not deal with any of the nuclear issues because we were not the only leaders there. The meeting there on Guam was for leaders across the Pacific and so they restricted the number of visitors seeing President Clinton, so Imata and Tony [de Brum] went to see him.

Al Gore, was much concerned about climate change, sea level rise, and shoreline erosion as well as the nuclear issues. Today when we met with the guys from Honolulu, we asked them…John McCain, was campaigning at that time; he campaigned stating that he would improve the American economy by a trillion dollars. Clinton, with the same amount, Obama with the same amount too, so that they could increase the money in the Social Security Program, the health programs, money and federal food for every retiree, money for the retirees, social security…

Financial assistance for the elders and other types of grants, but what about money for the people that the U.S. destroyed? When we listened to these things, we asked ourselves—how do they [the Americans] feel about these causes? Like when a Bikinian might ask himself how he felt about these things. He says, “America is very wrong,” and probably this is why Iraq battles with America, Iran battles with America, why Afghanistan and all the other Middle Eastern countries battle with America.

[Q] Let’s say at this very minute, you were to advise the people of Bikini, especially these young adults here. What words of advice would you give?

Advice to Youth

[TJ] I think every time I talk to the youth, I tell them that we [Marshallese] have goals too. We also have goals in life and we live just like the descendants of Israel, as they strove on despite famine, hunger, thirst and other forms of hardship for forty years. What happened to them? They went through nights and days but they moved forward and this is our goal today because some day we will take the lead in our country. I have never stopped suing the US governments in their courts for these causes. This is what I have been doing to make sure that the resettlement fund increases in order to build the workforce particularly in the local government. In truth, many of these local governments almost fall, but they are protected.

The overall labor force in the Bikini government is probably the largest.  Almost seventy...seventy something workers. Young men, what I will tell you is that I never stopped negotiating with the US government in order to press them for help in our struggles. For you young men and women, what we really need to strive for is to get an education because that is the most important thing, not only that but we can lead by becoming doctors, and teachers and follow all kinds of career paths to make ourselves independent. I think, I think my best advice is “seek knowledge” so that no one can come to you and say, “Give me a dollar.” No. And this is by far the most important goal for every young adult. The person who is educated is the one who has all manner of things. He is really blessed.

[Q] Well, it looks like I’ve asked all the questions I needed to ask, but if you have any more to say, please go ahead.

[TJ] I think you have already covered all of the questions that needed answered. My office is open and you are certainly welcome to stop by to ask further questions or clarify. But overall, I very much liked the questions. I think it was right and appropriate for us to share this knowledge and information. With all said, thank you Mary, thank you students, and thank you professor.