On July 2nd, 2017, the climate movement lost one of its fiercest warriors, Koreti Mavaega Tiumalu.
As an organizer for the Pacific Climate Warriors, Koreti stood boldly in her truth and lived out the words “we are not drowning, we are fighting!” in every way. As a movement leader she helped so many others speak their truth, weaving a great mat of stories and people from every part of the planet.
As a mother, advocate, friend, colleague and so many other ways, Koreti inspired us all to fight harder, dream bigger, and live truer.
Our community has been left deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden passing of Koreti Tiumalu, 350’s Pacific Regional Coordinator. For us, Koreti was a beloved colleague, friend, and mentor. Her immeasurable contributions to the global movement for climate justice were rooted in a fierce love for her Pacific Island home. Koreti’s powerful voice, outstanding leadership, charming wit, and strengthening presence will have a lasting impact on thousands of people across the world. We will strive to carry forward Koreti’s enormous legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Koreti’s husband, son, and loved ones.
We are sharing stories from the people who worked alongside her to help keep the light she lit alive even longer.
Koreti touched so many lives, and it would be impossible to gather all the tributes for her. Here are just some memories and lessons Koreti taught us.
Over thirty years of work on climate change, I’ve known a great many activists. But none of them have had more moral force than Koreti. She hadn’t spent her whole life in this work, but she had spent her whole life engaged in her community, and it was that sense of place and of people that spoke through her: she gave voice to one of the most important regions of the world. And what a voice it was–alternately funny, maternal, and tough as nails, a witness to both the desperate dilemmas of a drowning Pacific and to the resolute grittiness of islands and nations that refused to go quietly under. I talked with her as often as I could–about plans for campaigns, but also about Fiji’s glorious rugby team, and Viliamu’s fine spirit. I miss that voice so much, but we will all hear its echo as long as we’re engaged in this great fight.
– Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org
A tribute by Clayton Thomas-Muller, Canada Stop it at the Source Campaigner
Je n’ai pas de mots pour exprimer ma peine, tristesse et choc suite à la disparition tragique de ma collègue et camarade soeur Koreti Mavaega Tiumalu. Aînée parmi les aînés, guerrière intrépide, grande force, leader remarquable, Koreti était et restera à jamais une source d’inspiration pour celles et ceux qui luttent au quotidien contre toutes formes d’injustice, de discrimination et d’oppression. On ne t’oubliera jamais!
There are no words to express my sorrow, sadness and shock at the tragic passing of my colleague and comrade sister Koreti Mavaega Tiumalu. Elder amongst the elders, intrepid warrior, powerful force, remarkable leader, Koreti was and shall forever remain a source of inspiration for those who fight day by day against any form of injustice, discrimination and oppression. We will never forget you!
– Landry Nintereste – Africa-Arab World Leader at 350.org
I’ve been trying to sort how to write any sort of tribute to Koreti. I’ve been mulling this over since she began her journey and honestly, I’m overwhelmed with stories. Many of which are not appropriate for a general audience.
I’ll be honest, I don’t fully remember meeting Koreti. I know about a week after our initial meeting, she swam up to me in a pool and made fun of me for avoiding her. I remember being terrified of her. Her presence, her sass, her hilarity, her joy, her resolve…all of it. So when she swam up to me and teased me that I was “acting too cool for her” as we avoided bees in the pool, I knew we’d be instant friends.
It’s sort of funny that people only talk of soulmates in regards to romantic love. I really feel like Koreti and I were meant to meet. From the moment she doggy paddled over to me, we were inseparable when we saw each other in person. I’ve considered her a dear and incredibly close friend despite living 6500 miles away from each other. We chatted regularly online, skyped when we could, shared stories, recipes, jokes, sorrow, almost everything. We walked each other through our relationships, strategized, talked through actions. All of this, and we had maybe been in person for the equivalent of a month in 4 years.
How do you put into words what a person has meant to you? How do you actually lay out the actual impact of someone as incredible as Koreti. You don’t. You share stories and keep them and their legacy alive.
Koreti taught me so much. She helped to coach me through what it meant to campaign as a white woman in the United States on climate change. She gave me confidence to base my work in the communities most impacted. She encouraged me, mentored me, and gave me so much faith that our strategy was right, despite not feeling support. She reminded me to trust my heart. She reminded me my faith and my gut were a gift and I should choose to listen to them.
When I was having a tough time, Koreti sent a care package full of cookies and sweets from New Zealand. It was her favorite thing to make fun of American food (except for Ranch dressing and Reese’s peanut butter cereal). Her care package was a way she could share her culture and make fun of mine with love, affection, and of course humor.
When my Mother became ill, Koreti and I met in Spain for a work meeting and she took the long journey with a set of her Father’s rosary in hand. The rosary had carried her father through a difficult health time and she thought it would do the same for my mother. I remember meeting her at the airport, getting one of her incredible squeezes and being presented with this gift. I still get chills when I think of it. We held hands, she explained the importance of the set, and then we moved on to teasing each other.
When I gave my mother the gift, she was overwhelmed. For my mom, who’s travel has been limited, to receive such a thoughtful and caring gift from a total and complete stranger from across the world was nuts. The rosary never left my mother’s side. They sat next to her in bed, they sat on the table in the hospital, she’d tell anyone who had ears of the generosity of this total stranger.
When my mother finally got better Koreti and her video chatted. They both cried, of course, and made plans to share meals. Being Italian my mother opened her home to Koreti and her family to sit down for a nice Sunday dinner. If you knew Koreti, you know she wouldn’t stop talking about this. My mother was serious. Any time her door was wide open for this total stranger who became family. I can’t wait to make meatballs with my mom and talk about our friend.
That was Koreti. It isn’t just about her work on climate change. While those things created bridges, shifted paradigms, and gave voice to those who didn’t have access before, it was about the human behind it. How that work was led by deep empathy, heart, and a commitment to people who are suffering is her legacy. She grounded herself in her faith, her community, her culture, and her role as a leader.
I will miss Koreti every single day. I have already stopped myself often from sending her hilarious videos or ready to rant online to her. I’ve wanted to tell her how well my mom’s doing. I’ve wanted to ask about her husband and see what size shirt her son wears to send him gifts. I wanted to give her my new address so she can come stay with me at my new place in NY.
I’m reminded of the lessons she taught me while processing her journey. To lean into my family, to feel things, to share those feelings, to care for the people in my life, to lead with empathy, and to laugh. Oh, and to listen to terrible pop music (if she knew I wrote it was terrible she’d be so mad at me).
No one has ever made me laugh like Koreti and I’m certain that I’ve never experienced
generosity like hers. I’m grateful to have a new angel to look down on me. I’m grateful to have had such an incredible woman in my life to be guided by. This movement will miss you Koreti, but truly your impact is beyond the boundaries of Climate Change, beyond your own community, and beyond the bounds of this world.
— By Linda Capato former US Fracking Campaign Coordinator
Photo taken by Thelma with Koreti and some of the Pacific Climate Warriors.
Koreti was a Queen. She walked through this world with a divine sense of purpose, joy, humour and love. She stood tall in who she was and shared that light back out to the world. On countless occasions I saw her sit across from someone and deeply be there for them. You could see it in their face — the bliss, the peace that came from her truly hearing them. I know that no one gave a hug like Koreti. Whenever I was with her, I witnessed how she went the extra mile to take care of people. I can still hear in my head her saying to someone, “I got you.” Ever since her passing, I’ve heard so many stories about how she went out of her way to help. Koreti was deeply committed to serving the people of the Pacific, and she taught me much about what climate organizing can (and should) look like. The deep work we need to do to build a better world isn’t always about the big actions, but lies much more strongly in meals shared with people, stories exchanged, prayers offered. There’s so much that Koreti shared that I want to bring with me, but a key thing I hold is her commitment to the truth and her commitment to the wisdom of the heart. Climate work can feel like a horrifying race sometimes, but we should never forget to pause and truly be with those around us. We must never forget why we do this work.
— Thelma Young, Digital Storyteller and Social Media Manager
Videos with speeches from Koreti
Continue to Follow the Journey of the Pacific Climate Warriors
Koreti’s legacy will live on through the work of the young Pacific Islanders across the region working for climate justice.