On 14-15 June 2022, Palau’s First Traditional Leaders’ Forum, themed “Resilient Palau” was held at the Palau National Gymnasium, convening traditional leaders from all 16 states of the Republic to discuss Palauan culture and the responsibilities and duties of traditional leaders.
Over 200 chiefs gathered for 2 days of discussions on the resiliency of communities, of the environment, and of building a more resilient economy – reaffirming the important role that traditional leadership play in ensuring inclusive and sustainable development.
The forum was made up of four key sessions with first panelists from the Ministry of Health and Human Services and private medical clinics highlighting the urgent need of attention to the rising rate of suicides in the country, predominantly among young men. They also addressed concerns of the ever-decreasing medical services to rural communities – recommending that routine services be brought to the people through dispensary programs in their states. The panel also highlighted elderly care to be a pressing concern in the country’s one main hospital, as the hospital now provides services that should otherwise be provided in assisted living facilities. Panelists and participants also noted that establishment of temporary housing units for elderly and disabled persons, with no place to go, be addressed jointly by government and traditional leadership.
Panelists also from the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) and the Protected Areas Network (PAN) and PAN Fund gave the chiefs an overview of the state of the environment and an update on financial mechanisms within the country’s conservation networks. Panelists from the Palau Visitors Authority, the Ngarchelong Cooperative Fishing Association, the Belau Offshore Fishing, Inc. and the Palau Chamber of Commerce gave insights on the pandemic’s impact on tourism recovery and underscored on-going efforts to bring back international tourism. The panelists also highlighted the importance of a domestic fishery in food security and economic recovery as well as the steps needed for a successful domestic fishery network. The Chamber of Commerce emphasized the importance of quality over quantity tourism in our unique opportunity to re-think and re-start marketing Palau’s Pristine Paradise reputation. PICRC highlighted the importance of conserving our near-shore and offshore fishery resources to balance harvesting with conservation to ensure sustainability of marine resources for future generations. Local fishermen such as Chief Rteruich Harper Skang highlighted that “bul” or marine protected areas work and the spillover from those protected areas to open areas have helped to sustain the fish population. The Forum participants all supported the “bul” system and its cultural value to the livelihood of the Palauan people throughout generations and that the ocean is central to Palauan culture, traditions and way of life.
State government panelists also highlighted the need for access to funding in their efforts in economic recovery – to which the chiefs expressed their support to address at the advisory level.
“Understanding these impacts helps us to address our challenges at the unique level that traditional processes can reach. We come from our families, chosen to represent by our clans, entrusted to lead by our people – It is our duty, our responsibility as custodians of our resources and caretakers of our people’s well-being to act. That is the embodiment of this forum and I am happy with its success,” remarked High Chief Ibedul, Alexander Merep, Co-Chairman of the Council of Chiefs.
Forum participants discussed that traditional leadership not only functions at the level of managing clans and resources allocated to them, but it is leadership that is about harnessing and mobilizing the voices of their respective peoples to solve collective problems. This involves leaders who are familiar to the signs of nature, understand the socio-cultural ecosystems in which they oversee, and the people and communities with whom they interact.
Throughout the forum, panelists and participants clearly acknowledged that culture should be respected as a system of ideas, values, skills, and methods that bear tremendous value in ensuring that development is managed sustainably and inclusively. “It is a proven system that we, the chiefs need to implement in these modern “new normal” times. The forum helped us discuss ways to help our people move forward amidst today’s unprecedented challenges,” says High Chief Reklai Raphael Bao Ngirmang of the Palau Council of Chiefs.
The forum reaffirmed the commitment of each of the participants, on behalf of their clans and states and, to establish closer ties, strengthen cooperation, and agree on recommendations and initiatives for the benefit of families and communities of Palau.
This is the first of a series of articles forthcoming from the Council of Chiefs on the topics covered during the Traditional Leaders Forum that was held on June 14-15, 2022.

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