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‘Miscommunication’ sparks confusion, Cook Islands delegation ‘not stranded’

Thursday 20 June 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Entertainment, Features, Local, National

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‘Miscommunication’ sparks confusion, Cook Islands delegation ‘not stranded’
Secretary of Tauranga Vananga Emile Kairua. 24061910

The Cook Islands delegation attending the FestPAC in Honolulu clarified that they are not stranded and are returning home in two groups due to pre-planned limited flight seat availability.

In response to the alarming reports in Hawaiian media, Emile Kairua, Secretary of Tauranga Vananga and leader of the Cook Islands delegation to the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC) in Honolulu, has dismissed claims that the group is stranded and unable to return home.

The Cook Islands National Arts Theatre (CINAT) team, fresh off their participation in the regional cultural festival which concluded on Sunday, found themselves in the spotlight after a local TV station on Tuesday reported they were struggling to secure flights home.

According to Hawai’i’s Island News, a day after FestPAC had closing ceremonies, a press release circulated to local media advised of an “Urgent Appeal for Assistance for Cook Islands Delegation Stranded in Oahu”.

Explaining unforeseen circumstances, a representative from Cook Islands said they had part of their group stranded in Hawaii for another week, Island News reported.

Makaha Learning Center had offered to help raise funds for the group.

Speaking to Island News, Ryno Irwin, president of the Makaha Learning Center, said he had heard from Cook Islander Teanaroa Paka Worthington that the group needed assistance.

“Paka had reached out to me a couple days ago over the weekend and mentioned, ‘Hey, we’ve been here for FestPAC,’ we’ve had some unfortunate events that not all of us were able to return to the Cook Island this week so we’re gonna be here in Hawaii.’”

“(Our group is a) little displaced,” Irwin continued, retelling his conversation with Worthington. “Like we found accommodations, but we’re still low on funds and we’re looking for some assistance with covering costs for food, expenses while we’re here and fixing our costumes and things like that.”

Irwin said he wasn’t even in town most of FestPAC which ran from June 6-16, and that he only heard from Worthington a day in advance of pushing the fundraising effort Monday night.

On Tuesday, Makaha Learning Center released a statement saying it was informed that a delegation from the Cook Islands was left without return transportation and basic needs after participating in FestPAC 2024.

“Over the past 24 hours, we have actively sought assistance for the 45 delegates from the Cook Islands, including issuing a press release to request aid for basic necessities such as lodging and food,” the statement said.

“However, after further investigation this morning revealed several inconsistencies in the delegation’s account, the Makaha Learning Center has decided to withdraw our support for this cause. Additionally, we have disabled the donation link through our Venmo account. For transparency, no donations were received, facilitating our decision to dissociate our nonprofit from this campaign.”

Cook Islands News spoke to Worthington, who is in Honolulu, yesterday morning. He said there had been a “miscommunication”.

“The team has made the country so proud in how they have brought mana, authenticity, and integrity to our country,” said Worthington.

A member of the CINAT team told Cook Islands News that they were well aware before leaving Rarotonga that the first group would return on June 15 and that the rest of the team would arrive back home the following Saturday due to the number of seats available on the weekly Honolulu-Rarotonga flight.

Kairua addressed growing concern within the Cook Islands community by assuring them the delegation is preparing to depart for home this Saturday, as planned for months.

He acknowledged that there has been talk that the team in Hawaii has been stranded.

“To the contrary we are here by design because we don’t have enough seats to fly back to Rarotonga, that’s something that we understood when we started this process,” Kairua said.

“We’ve engaged in community activities … we are far from stranded, we are in the arms of the people who love the Cook Islands, their generosity is overwhelming.

“We are prepared to meet our obligations and our costs are taken care of.

“I offer my personal apologies to our families.”

Kairua acknowledged with gratitude the government of the Cook Islands, and the Minister of Cultural Development George “Maggie” Angene for allowing the group to be in Honolulu.

“We thank the people of Hawai’i for having that concern for us, but I do assure you we are a prepared people and we’re enjoying your hospitality and we love how giving you are.”

  • Additional reporting from Robert Buan of Island News