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Millicent Barty

Emerson Collective Fellowship

Elevating the voices of the Solomon Islands and Melanesia in the fight against climate change.

Headshot of Millicent Barty

Growing up in the Solomon Islands, Millicent Barty loved and collected “kastom” stories, traditional knowledge shared by her family and her ancestors, and by the Indigenous people of Melanesia. Kastom stories—about reading weather patterns, navigating tides, and preserving food through storms—deliver powerful wisdom on human connections to nature, land, and sea, and on how to maintain those connections amid a changing environment. 

To counteract the high illiteracy rate among adults in the Solomon Islands, Barty uses oral-history practices inspired by kastom stories, as well as infographic design, to enable all people on the islands to make informed decisions about crucial policies and projects that affect their communities. In 2019, she was the lead designer for the National General Election.  She designed voter-awareness guides, 500,000 of which were distributed across the country inside bags of rice—a practice that nongovernmental organizations have since used to disseminate critical information. 

In 2018, Barty turned her attention to climate change when she learned that her home island of Lilisiana had lost 66 feet to rising sea levels—and that her great-grandfather’s grave is now underwater. After speaking to elders about climate change, Barty decided to launch Kastom Keepers to promote climate action centered on Indigenous Melanesian wisdom.

As an Emerson Collective Fellow, Barty will expand Kastom Keepers, creating a catalog of Indigenous wisdom about the environment. It will ensure that knowledge from the Melanesia subregion of the Pacific Islands will have a central role in global conversations about climate action. 

Barty will build the Kastom Keepers Network, and will host gatherings to connect kastom stories, as well as other insights of Indigenous elders and practitioners, to policy making. She will establish Kloud Islands, a digital oral-history platform that will preserve and protect kastom stories, and increase access to them. Finally, Kastom Guides, graphic guidebooks with community-contributed ideas about adaptation, resilience, and sustainability, will show how Indigenous wisdom can work alongside scientific data to guide climate action.