Editorial: Jacqui exits the hive, but who’s been stung?

Wednesday 25 September 2019 | Written by Jonathan Milne | Published in Editorials


The best thing about the Goldman Environmental Prize is that it recognises the efforts of the worker bee, not the leader whose job it is to celebrate and champion the honey.

The worst thing about the $200,000 award is that the fallout from a win isn't always positive, and can lead to acrimony between those for whom relationships are already being tested by other forces.

The first hint this was so for a longtime, solid worker bee by the name of Tepaeru Jacqueline Evans was when she made history as the first Pacific Islander to win the prestigious award ... and there was no formal announcement from her own country.

The award recognised the past five years of the Cook Islands incredible Marae Moana journey, and her part in it.

It also recognised the decade and more before that, when the USP Gold medallist was already making waves before heading back into the mandatory public service job for all returning graduates.

Evans quickly found her questioning, truth-seeking, science-testing approach was going to take her out of the public service, into the newsroom, and eventually, into roles leading projects in the NGO sector.

Inevitably, that giant mind of a thousand questions and ideas would bring her full circle, into the vision of the Marae Moana and under the spotlight as our Goldman girl.

As she exits the Marae Moana project and leaves the office shrouded by controversy after earning global kudos for doing her job so well, Evans is choosing to hold her silence.

Whether they admit it or not, there are officials and watchers in and out of government who know that silence so well.

They know what happens when you speak truth to power, especially when there are unwritten rules around how risk is interpreted.

But the appetite around dissent has changed, especially when it comes to protecting Mother Ocean.

Evans was never one to provide technical advice then quietly watch it be ignored. No doubt her straight-talking style, too NGO for some, too tactless for others, helped her out the door of a male-led world, away from a job she has only ever excelled in.

It's a decision that is going to sting, in some quite interesting spaces, for a long time yet.