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Decolonization efforts bring delegates from Guam to United Nations

(Photo courtesy of Manny Cruz)  Chamoru delegates hold the Guam flag in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City during a trip to speak on behalf of decolonizing the island on Oct. 3, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Manny Cruz)
Chamoru delegates hold the Guam flag in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City during a trip to speak on behalf of decolonizing the island on Oct. 3, 2017.

Last week, I traveled to New York City to speak in front of the United Nations Special Political and Decolonization Committee on how the United States continues to militarize my home island and prevent my people from decolonizing and determining our destiny.

I’m a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guam, an unincorporated U.S. territory and one of 17 remaining colonies in the world. I spoke on behalf of Independent Guahan, a political status task force that advocates for Guam’s future as an independent nation and Prutehi Litekyan, a direct action group dedicated to the protection of natural and cultural resources in all sites identified for U.S. Department of Defense live-fire training ranges on our island.

I testified in front of the U.N. because I have listened to the stories of my elders and witnessed how they survived the violence of land theft, wartime violence and colonial education that robbed them of their language and self-worth. I testified because my home is experiencing bomb threats from North Korea, directly due to the fact that our stolen lands host U.S. military bases and weapons.

I testified because this summer, as we were consumed with media announcing the North Korea threat, my 5-year-old brother asked me if my baby sister will get to grow up if our island is bombed. During this time, I was also working with a local senator to help elders who survived the World War II Japanese occupation of Guam complete war reparations forms. An elder told me that as a child during the occupation, he watched a Japanese soldier beat his mother with a bamboo stick until the stick was broken by the force of his blows. He said his mother held onto her strength and her pain and refused to cry in front of the soldier. He said that it was only later, as we watched his mother show her bloodied back to her sister that she realized his mother’s pain, her determination to survive, and to, on a most basic level, not let her child see her fear while she was being beaten. It is because this mother did not scream then that I believe it is my responsibility to speak out against war now. As a daughter of her island, I have inherited her resilience, and I will not be silent.

I cannot fathom the intimate terror of wartime violence and occupation that my elders experienced. But two generations later, I find myself trying to protect my baby brother from the fear of war, to tell him stories to calm his fears about nuclear warfare. Two generations have passed since the occupation, and yet, because of our political status as a colony of the United States, my people are still caught in global conflicts and our children are still being traumatized and made voiceless.

The U.S. Department of Defense is currently planning to move forward with the construction of a massive live-firing training range complex overlooking the sacred village of Litekyan, where the Chamoru people have been thriving for over 3,5000 years. This was the backbone of my testimony.

According to the Navy, more than 79 ancestral and historical sites on land and in the ocean will be bulldozed or adversely impacted at or near Northwest Field and Litekyan. Constructing the firing range and other facilities for the Marines will destroy over 1,000 acres of some of the last 5 percent of our pristine limestone forests. The firing range presents a huge threat to our main source of drinking water: 6.7 million bullets will be fired at Litekyan each year – bullets containing lead and other toxics, above our primary aquifer that supplies 80-90 percent of our island’s drinking water.

This year’s Guam delegation was historic because we were joined by our political leaders, and because the majority of the delegation were composed of young Chamorus, most of us in our early twenties. It was empowering to witness how the older generations support our growth and our voices. The most beautiful things come from struggle, and the strength and power of Indigenous peoples around the world is a testament to this. In many ways, our struggle for self-determination and independence from the U.S. is inherited from previous generations. Chamorus have been testifying for freedom at the U.N. for thirty years, and I am the third Chamoru student at Mills to have done so.

A few weeks ago, the youth of Guam held hands and physically blocked access to a military base, to protest further contamination and violation of our homelands. The voice of our people is clear: our ancestors did not intend for our home to be a place of war games, they did not suffer through war and the violence of colonization to have our island used for foreign soldiers to practice killing.