Update 2011 - Guåhan (Guam)

Guåhan (meaning “we have”), more commonly known as Guam, is the largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Islands archipelago, encompassing approximately 212 square miles. The Chamorus1 came to the Marianas over 4,000 years ago. Since 1521, Guåhan has been under the colonial rule of Spain (1521-1898),2 the United States (1898-1941), Japan (1941-1944) and, again, the U.S. (1944-present) and is the longest colonized possession in the world. Currently under the U.S., Guåhan is an unorganized unincorporated territory and does not have its own constitution but does have what is known as the Organic Act, which was created in 1950 and grants U.S. citizenship to the Chamorus of Guåhan. Only part of the U.S. Constitution applies to the Chamorus of Guåhan, however, as the people are not allowed to vote for the U.S. president and do not have a voting delegate in Congress.3 Guåhan has been on the U.N. list of Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) since 1946, meaning that its indigenous Chamorus have yet to practice their right to self-determination.4 The Chamorus of Guåhan make up around 37% of the 175,000-strong population, thus making them the largest ethnic group on the island, albeit still a minority. The Chamorus are currently being challenged by the re-militarization of their islands, what has come to be known as the “military buildup”, a devastating move by the U.S. against the indigenous population and the place they call home.


Self-determination and political status

ommunity discussion surrounding the Chamoru people’s self-determination and selection of a political status for Guam progressed throughout 2011. The Commission on Decolonization, an entity created in 1996 during the 23rd Guam Legislature to ascertain the intent of the Native Inhabitants of Guam as to their future political relationship with the U.S., held its first meeting in several years in September 2011, followed by another in November to further the discussion of decolonization and self-determination on Guam.5

In collaboration with the University of Guam (UOG), the Guam Legislature also conducted a decolonization forum in October 2011 featuring Dr. Carlyle Corbin, an expert on global governance and former Minister of State for External Affairs of the U.S. Virgin Islands government, and Dr. Robert A. Underwood, former Congressman of Guam and current UOG President. Experts from the legal community also participated in the forum, including Benjamin J. Cruz, former Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Guam and current Vice Speaker of the Guam Legislature, Attorney Therese Terlaje, the Guam Legislature’s Majority Legal Counsel, Attorney Julian Aguon, an expert in international law, and Attorney Leevin Camacho from the local organization, We Are Guåhan.6

In partnership with the Guåhan Coalition for Peace and Justice, the UOG Division of Social Work also held an educational forum which featured an in-depth look at the Chamoru people’s right to self-determination.

While these forums contributed to the necessary and timely ongoing discussion of self-determination for the Chamoru people, they also helped to increase awareness of the issue within the local and international communities.


Military relocation delayed

The discussion surrounding the planned relocation of U.S. marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guåhan continued throughout 2011, with the first quarter of 2011 involving the signing of the Programmatic Agreement (PA), an agreement required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act which outlines how the U.S. Department of Defense intends to handle the historic artifacts and properties that its military relocation will affect. The PA was signed by the State Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon in March 2011. The signing of the PA allowed the defense department to commence its projects associated with the military relocation.7

The effects of such a movement of U.S. defense forces to Guåhan will greatly affect the environmental health of the island and the socio-cultural well-being of the Chamorus. The military relocation plan included the dredging of almost 70 acres of Guåhan coral reef and a proposal for a firing range on the ancient Chamoru village of Pågat, among many other projects.

The initial relocation timeline included completion of the move by 2014.8 The timeline for completion of the relocation was officially delayed in June 2011, to the satisfaction and relief of several public officials and business leaders,9 due to the fact that the proposed relocation projects could not realistically be completed within the initial time frame.

In addition, with the U.S. government’s financial and economic situation deteriorating, discussion at the U.S. congressional level involved the overall cost of the military relocation, which was pegged at USD 23.9 billion by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.10 In a setting in which the U.S. government was seeking to cut costs and curb its trillions-of-dollars deficit, the military relocation costs were questioned, with U.S. senators requesting a Master Plan before any additional funding could be appropriated for the relocation.

A new timeline has yet to be officially released but a more scaled down military relocation plan appears to be on the horizon.


Protecting Pågat

The Guam Preservation Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and We Are Guåhan filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010 in order to protect Pågat in Honolulu, Hawai`i. This came to a conclusion during the last quarter of 2011. On June 17, Hawai`i District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi denied the defense department’s request for a stay of the Pågat lawsuit. In November 2011, We Are Guåhan declared: “We Won” when the Joint Guam Program Office Director Joseph Ludovici filed a motion in the Hawai`i District Court stating that, under the National Environmental Policy Act, an additional analysis of the alternatives for the live fire training range complex and their environmental impacts would be necessary and would be conducted by the defense department. This will require a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement to be prepared by the defense department, which is anticipated during the first half of 2012.11


Notes and references

1    The Chamorus are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. Chamoru also refers to the indigenous culture and language of the Marianas. In the early 1990s, there was debate over the spelling of Chamoru. The various spellings of Chamoru included the following: Chamoru, Chamorro and CHamoru. The authors have chosen to use “Chamoru”.

2    Some people say that Guåhan was not formally colonized by the Spanish until the 1600s. However, the first point of contact between the Spanish and the Chamorus was in 1521, when Magellan landed on Guåhan. It was at this time that the Portuguese explorer and his crew killed many Chamorus.

3 Chamorus are only able to send a non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress.

4 According to Article 3 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination.”

5    See Ridgell, Clynt, 2011: Governor Calvo convenes Commission on Decolonization for first time in 8 years. http://www.pacificnewscenter.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id= 17340:video-governor-calvo-convenes-commission-on- decolonization-for-first-time-in8-years&catid=45:guam-news&Itemid=156.

6 See Hart, therese, 2011: Legislature, UOG to hold decolonization forum. http://www.mvguam. com/local/news/20501-legislature-uog-to- hold-decolonization-forum.html. 7 See Matanane, sabrina salas, 2011: Programmatic Agreement signed. http://www.kuam.com/ story/14214734/2011/03/09/programmatic-agreement-signed?redirected=true. 8 See Weaver, teri, 2010: Guam leaders balk at U.S. military buildup. http://www.stripes.com/ news/guam-leaders-balk-at-u-s-military-buildup-1.99062. 9 See Walker, Lannie, 2011: Guam officials react to buildup delay. http://www.kuam.com/story/14953455/2011/06/22/guam-officials-react-to-buildup-delay. 10 See u.s. Government accountability office: Costs and challenges in meeting construction timelines. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-459R.

11  See Ridgell, Clynt, 2011: “We won” says Leevin Camacho of We Are Guahan. http://www.radiopacific.com/index.php? option=com_content&view=article&id=18697:qwe-wonq-said-we-areguahans-leevin-camacho-on-pagat-lawsuit&catid=45:guam- news&Itemid=156.



Kisha Borja-Kicho`cho` is a Chamoru daughter of Guåhan. She is a teacher at a local public high school as well as a lecturer at the University of Guam. She is a poet, activist and active member of several community organizations. She speaks on issues such as demilitarization, decolonization, and Chamoru culture and identity.

a. Ricardo aguon Hernandez is a Chamoru son of Guåhan. He is currently a Ph.D. student in Business at Capella University. He is a graduate of Father Duenas Memorial School in Mangilao, Guåhan, and holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in Accounting from the University of Guam and a Master’s in Accounting from the University of Hawai’i.


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