Lijon was from Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands and was 8 years old when her home island was showered in radioactive fallout from the March 1, 1954 US Bravo test on nearby Bikini Atoll. Bravo was the biggest of the 67 nuclear tests the US conducted in the Marshalls. The Rongelap community and their islands were badly contaminated by the radioactive fallout and it was people like Lijon that bravely ensured that it did not go unnoticed.
Lijon will be remembered for her advocacy on behalf of her own people and nuclear test victims everywhere. She gave testimony to the US congress, travelled to the Japan, the Pacific and Europe telling the story about her community and the ongoing health problems from the fallout, which included multiple birth defects, thyroid tumours and cancers.
Lijon was instrumental in convincing her community to leave their home island in 1985. “We were worried for the safety of our children,” she said. “Our main goal to move was to get the U.S. to clean Rongelap.” It was the “Rainbow Warrior” that assisted the 320 Rongelapese in their move to the island of Mejatto in 1985 which began a relationship with the community that continues to this day.
Lijon looked forward to a day when she could return to her home island but that return remains elusive and controversial as only 1 of the 60 islands has been ‘cleaned up’ by US funds and many Rongelapese continue to believe it will never be possible to ‘clean’ their islands.
My last fond memory of Lijon from 2010 is her laughing while singing with a group of Rongelap women, a song about the Bravo test. And that is what has always struck me as their secret weapon, their strength of community, their ability to laugh in the face of adversity, their story telling lest we forget.
Evacutaion of Rongelap Islanders to Mejato by crew Rainbow Warrior. Pacific 1985.
05/14/1985 © Greenpeace / Fernando Pereira