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Fanohge Chamoru: Decolonization on Guam, one of the world’s last colonies

Art used as a way of emphasizing indigenous land as an ancestor in itself. (Courtesy of Fanai Castro)
Art used as a way of emphasizing indigenous land as an ancestor in itself. (Courtesy of Fanai Castro)

As a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guahan (Guam), an incorporated United States territory with a long history of colonization, militarization is intimately woven throughout my family history and present day experiences.

Recently, Arnold Davis, a white resident of Guam, argued that the Guam decolonization registry, which is only open to native Chamorus, is discriminatory and that any future political status vote should be open to all residents of the island, and not just the Indigenous people. The District Court of Guam ruled in Davis’ favor.

The outcome of the Davis decision, and the opinion that settlers have the right to participate in a decolonization vote justifies white colonial dominance and weighs the political participation of settlers over the legacy of historical and continuing trauma experienced by native Chamorus. The aftermath of the Davis decision prompted me to reflect more deeply on the stories that I have inherited from my family.

In 1917, the U.S. Naval Government instituted an executive general order which banned people from speaking the Chamoru language. When my grandmother was going to school as a child, she saw children get hit with wooden paddles for speaking Chamoru. Her father told her and her siblings that they can only speak Chamoru at home. She did not teach our language to my father or to me.

My grandfather’s mother is from Sumay, an ancient Chamoru settlement. During the World War II Japanese occupation of Guam, people from Sumay were forced to march to work camps across the island. After the war, the U.S. Navy did not allow Sumay residents to return home, and Sumay was transformed into Guam’s U.S. Naval Base. Sumay residents were forced to “relocate” to another village that the military created. We are allowed to return to Sumay once a year on “Back to Sumay Day,” with escorts from the military.

Barnett displays her tribute to Guam in her dorm room at Mills. (Sam Barnett)
Barnett displays her tribute to Guam in her dorm room at Mills. (Sam Barnett)

I recently watched a video from a local news outlet which announced that “civilians” can now thank the U.S. military for the chance to visit “cultural sites throughout military installments,” including Haputo, an ancient village that was once home of a Chamoru chief who led the resistance against Spanish colonizers. As Indigenous peoples, we treat our land as an ancestor. The militarization of sacred sites is disrespectful to our existence.

The United States has stolen Chamoru land and militarized our sacred sites, sprayed Agent Orange and other chemicals over the island, and used the school system to force Chamoru children to assimilate. Furthermore, Guam has the highest rate per capita of enlistment in the U.S. military, even though Chamorus are unable to vote for the U.S. president or attain political representation within the U.S.

In the book “From A Native Daughter: Colonialism & Sovereignty in Hawai`i,” Haunani-Kay Trask writes: “In settler societies, the issue of civil rights is primarily an issue about how to protect settlers against each other…Injustices done against Native people, such as genocide, land dispossession…are not part of this intrasettler discussion and are therefore not within the parameters of civil rights.”

Trask’s analysis argues that injustices committed against Native peoples cannot be addressed through the framework of the colonizing state. In other words, the legal system of the colonizer does not recognize or have the framework to address the series of injustices enacted against Indigenous peoples over time.

After four hundred years of Spanish, Japanese and current U.S. colonization, the Chamoru people deserve dignity and respect. We deserve the right to determine our destiny, and our political future.