March 27, 2024

Laying of mats and legacies

For International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women who lend their experience and expertise to maintain our movement structure and uplift our Pacific Climate Warrior network. Women who, in their own right , are activists of the highest order, deserving of all the praise our region has to offer. Women on whose shoulders the Pacific Climate Warriors stand. 

These are the incredible women of the Pacific Climate Warriors Council of Elders. 

The organisational structure of the Pacific Climate Warriors is one built on culture and care for our people. Known as the Koloa Structure, our network is woven together with respect, collaboration and eldership. Koloa is the Tongan word for “treasure” or “value”, and in the Tongan culture, the items afforded the most value are finely woven mats and tapa cloth — cloth made from the paper mulberry tree bark. These are known as Koloa and they are the realm of women. Women govern the creating, distributing and protecting of Koloa, just as we acknowledge the women that play a crucial role in the weaving of our Pacific Climate Warrior network.

‘Koloa’ or finely woven mats

In the laying of fine mats, there is a particular process that must be followed – and each mat, each piece, holds significance. The goal of Koloa is to uplift the most precious gifts, the most honoured of people and the most respected events. To uplift the vision of a Pacific free of fossil fuels, where our shorelines are safe and our homes powered by renewable energy, we lay down our Koloa in the following order: Fala Paongo, Ngatu, Fala Fihu, and Ngafingafi – Pacific Climate Warriors (our youth volunteers), Country Coordinators (those who lead their local groups), Council of Elders (our elders and experts), and Secretariat (the 350 Pacific organisation).

The Council of Elders are the Fala Fihu, a chiefly mat treasured by all Tongans, that carries the DNA of our network, our history and our traditions. These are the women of our Council of Elders, to whom we owe much of the longevity of our climate movement.

Alisi Rabukawaqa-Nacewa, Melanesian Representative from Fiji

Alisi Rabukawaqa-Nacewa is one of Fiji’s leading ocean experts, who for the past decade has worked in environment conservation, climate activism and indigenous peoples’ traditional rights and knowledge advocacy.

She has most recently worked as a marine scientist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, providing consultation on marine protected areas within Fiji and with communities — as protected oceans are a solution to climate change and the resilience of the Pacific people. She sits on the youth-led grassroots network Pacific Climate Warriors Council of Elders as the Melanesian representative, providing traditional knowledge on working with Pacific communities and indigenous perspectives to their climate justice work. 

Alisi is also one of the few Melanesian women who have sailed the world’s seas on a vaka, a traditional double-hulled canoe as part of the Te Mana o Te Moana (The Spirit of the Ocean) journey — where sailors navigated waters across the Pacific Ocean “promoting traditional sustainable shipping and ocean protection”.

Arianne Kassman, Melanesian Representative from Papua New Guinea

Photo: Jeff Tan

Arianne Kassman is the Melanesian Council Elder for the Pacific Climate Warriors. As a passionate climate change advocate, in 2014, she founded Papua New Guinea and is currently a Board Director of Sustainable Coastlines Papua New Guinea. 

Arianne is also the Chief Executive Officer of Transparency International Papua New Guinea, an organisation dedicated to fighting corruption and promoting transparency, honesty and accountability in public and private dealings. She is the youngest ever Executive leader for any of the organisation’s chapters, and has spearheaded youth and anti-corruption initiatives in this space over the last nine years. 

Her experience within the intersection of politics, partnerships, youth advocacy and climate change brings invaluable indigenous knowledge of Papua New Guinea, and the political landscape.

Suluafi Brianna Fruean, Youth Representative from Samoa

Suluafi Brianna Fruean is a Samoan climate activist who has been leading grassroots climate justice movements for most of her life. She is the youth representative of the Pacific Climate Warriors Council of Elders and is currently studying Politics and International Relations in Auckland, New Zealand. At 11, she became a founding member of 350 Samoa, becoming the youngest country coordinator. 

In 2019, Brianna joined New Zealand’s School Strikers who organized Auckland’s “Schools Strikes for Climate”, where 170,000 people joined the movement. The same year, Brianna gave a speech at the “Caring for Climate” Meeting, alongside former United States Secretary of State, John Kerry. She was also the youth representative and speaker during the COP25 High-Level Plenary Session on “Climate Emergency”.

Brianna was chosen by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) as their first ever youth ambassador in recognition of her efforts to include young people in environmental conservation, and the youth representative in the COP21 Samoan Delegation COP21 and the Paris Agreement negotiations.

In 2022, Brianna was awarded a Global Citizen Prize for her climate activism. This same year, she was announced as a Champion for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.  

Inangaro Vakaafi , Polynesian Representative from Niue

Inangaro Vakaafi is the Polynesian Council of Elder and founding member for the Pacific Climate Warriors. An experienced producer and journalist in Niue, she is now based in Wellington, New Zealand where she is the Pacific representative of the Aotearoa board, and actively campaigns for climate justice. 

A strong youth advocate, Inangaro has served as the President of the Niue Youth Council, a Board Member for the Niue Island Organic Farmers Association and Vice President for the Pacific Youth Council. Inagaro also worked with the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) and was the Pacific representative at the 2015 UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Inagaro’s driving force for her work is her belief that we inherit lands from our ancestors and borrow them from our children. Her aim is to reconnect the Pacific diaspora to their island roots, and navigate spaces between tradition and the western way of life. Of Niuean and Cook Island heritage, Ina intends to return home to the Pacific Islanders to share her skills and build capacity on her island.

Mila Loeak, Micronesian Representstive from the Marshall Islands 

Photo: Chewy Lin

Milan̄ Loeak is Micronesian representative on the Pacific Climate Warriors Council of Elders. She first joined’s climate justice movement in the Marshall Islands, after learning about the climate crisis and seeing how it has adversely impacted lives and homes in the islands and across the globe. In 2014, she sailed on a traditional canoe in a blockade of a coal port in Newcastle, Australia led by the Pacific Climate Warriors, a youth-led grassroots network.

A strong advocate for local traditional knowledge and indigenous communities, Milan̄ is Project Committee Chair for Jined, a women’s non-profit organisation founded by her mother, Mrs. Anono Lieom Loeak, which helps to preserve and promote Marshallese language and culture. She is managing director for Lieom N. Corporation, a family-owned business that was established to assist with tourism and employment opportunities in the outer islands of the Marshalls, while striving to incorporate the unique Marshallese culture in its operations and promoting climate resilience through architectural design.. Milan̄ also serves on the Boards of the Airlines of the Marshall Islands, Xavier High School in Chuuk, FSM and the regional Micronesian Youth Services Network.

She believes that cultures in the Pacific are rooted in faith, love and respect, and when asked why she chose to be involved in the climate justice movement, she sends this message:: “Ikōnaan ukōt bōkā eo (Marshallese); I want to turn the tide and give back.”


At every moment in our history these warriors who are weavers, academics, executives, activists, artists, storytellers, mentors, mothers, have guided us to be who we are today. They remind us to look backwards as we walk forward and inspire us to dream big. They have helped us build a network that is strong and deep and we are so proud and blessed to call them our Pacific Climate Warriors, Council of Elders.

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