Emma Perez

Preserving indigenous history and reconnecting the people of the Marianas to their land and waters.

Emma Headshot


Northern Mariana Islands

Affiliations & Roles

Co-Founder & Board Secretary & Treasurer, 500 Sails



Emma Perez is co-founder and President of 500 Sails, a Northern Mariana Islands non-profit organization dedicated to bringing traditional canoe culture back into the daily lives of the people of the Marianas. Emma moved from San Francisco, California to Saipan with her husband Pete Perez in 2013 in order to establish 500 Sails where her 30 years of non-profit finance and accounting experience, including oversight of millions of federal funds, have been critical to the organization’s success. In addition to heading the business operation, she develops programs, writes and manages grants, conducts outreach, develops partnerships in both government and private sectors, and teaches swimming and sailing to 500 Sails program participants.

Her programmatic work started in earnest when she was part of the all-Chamorro, all-family Chamorro Flying Proa English Channel Relay Team that successfully swam the English Channel in 13 hours and 7 minutes in 2007. This was done to raise funds for the 47-foot Chamorro Sakman Che’lu that was subsequently built and has become part of the 500 Sails’ fleet. Emma’s work as a Chamorro cultural leader is well-known in the Marianas and has earned her numerous accolades, including the Guam Governor’s Ambassador at Large award in 2012 for her work promoting Guam’s cultural heritage, and most recently the 2019 Northern Mariana Islands Governor’s Humanities Award for “Outstanding Humanities Teacher”. While her work has touched many lives in the Marianas, what she has often said what she is most proud of is that for the first time after hundreds of years, children born in the Marianas will have canoes in their lives, all their lives.


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