By Tiara Naputi
HAGATNA (PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES) — In 1982, the first delegation of Chamorus travelled to the United Nations to raise their voices as native inhabitants and Indigenous people of Guam, they petitioned for self-determination and decolonisation.
That same year, the United States Air Force began open burning and open detonating (OB/OD) of hazardous waste munitions at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
While no open burning has occurred in the past two decades, the Air Force now plans to conduct OB/OD operations on ancestral lands—releasing toxic chemicals and unexploded ordnance directly into the surrounding environment.
These plans are just one current example of the injustice we face daily living in a U.S territory where the “flexibility” of military build-up and operations are prioritised over our consent. In Guam, we are struggling with a legacy and ongoing contamination from the impacts of U.S militarisation on the environment.
The destructive environmental impacts of the U.S military pose multiplying threats to air, land, and ocean. And militarisation impacts the ability of Chamorus to exercise our inherent right to self-determination. Decolonisation is a necessary path to address these threats, and it must be at the top of the local and global agenda.
The military threatens air, land & ocean
The U.S military is not a capable steward of the environment. It is the world’s worst polluter that generates huge quantities of hazardous wastes and virtually every other toxic substance known to humanity.
The U.S military build-up construction is desecrating our lands, destroying our collective environment, and threatening our community’s health.
The construction of the new Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz is in blatant violation of resolution 57/140 (2002), which calls upon the U.S to “terminate such activities and to eliminate the remaining military bases.” Overall, the ongoing militarisation risks poisoning our Northern Guam Lens Aquifer (NGLA) that supplies 80 percent of the island’s fresh drinking water. For decades, the military has prioritised “business as usual” over the wellbeing of the community.
In November 2021, the Navy contaminated Oahu’s drinking water with their Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility—a testament to the military’s failure to protect the health of hundreds of thousands of military and civilian families and all other peoples struggling under U.S military imperialism.
From Hawaii to Guam, we must be united in the efforts to protect our clean water. Before NGLA becomes poisoned like Oahu’s aquifer, we must act to end militarisation under U.S colonial rule. Because what harms our island harms the whole archipelago, ocean, and globe–the poisoning of our water must be a concern for everyone.
The military threatens self-determination
The fight to protect our water supply from U.S military build-up is also a blatant violation of international law and our human rights. As UN resolution 57/140 (2002) reiterates “military activities and arrangements should not run counter to the rights of our peoples, especially the right to self-determination.
Decolonisation is a necessary process that includes the right of the people to determine their political future—to exercise our inherent right to political self-determination as so many peoples have already done throughout the world.
Decolonisation is crucial for Guam and our environment. It is a process that facilitates our efforts to heal the wounds of U.S military pollution, prevent the impending destruction at Litekyan/Ritidian and avert the poisoning of our Northern Lens Aquifer. Decolonisation reorients us, as the native inhabitants of our island, deciding for ourselves how to care for the land and how to create the kind of future that we want for the island.
Alleviating military threats through the United Nations and decolonisation
The language of decolonisation is complicated, often superficially taken up and used to perpetuate ideas that there is no settler responsibility in colonising Indigenous land and people.
Longtime residents of Guam continue to make false claims that self-determination is discriminatory. Some critique those of us who petition at the UN, yet the United Nations still plays a key role as it holds the power to end U.S military activities that violate international law and treat our natural resources as expendable dumpsites.
The UN remains an important avenue for eradicating colonialism and it is one path toward decolonisation that will protect the health and environment for our community. It is one way we can change the stories we tell in the coming decades.
Before I was born, the 1982 delegation was sharing stories, raising voices, and demanding actions to decolonise Guam. In 2011, I made my first trip to the UN to deliver a petitioner statement. Now, over a decade later with the aspiration of decolonisation unfulfilled, I continue to believe in sharing our stories—especially at the UN.
Forty years have passed since the first group of Chamorus made the initial journey in 1982 and so much on Guam remains the same. As the world continues in the fourth “International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism” (2021-2030), we are fighting to survive the global pandemic while experiencing exhaustion and fatigue on many levels.
Yet, we are also energised by the stories of our people’s persistent fight for self-determination. Our stories must also be met with substantive decolonial actions. Chamoru self-determination is an integral stepping stone in moving forward to implement a decolonised sustainable future for Guam and all its peoples.
The focus should be deeply invested in our people’s liberation because our liberation is contingent upon the rest of the world’s liberation. It is as essential as clean drinking water, and everyone should be paying attention…. PACNEWS
Tiara R. Na’puti is a Chamoru (familian Robat & Kaderon) scholar and assistant professor in the Department of Global & International Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently a 2021 Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship working in Guåhan on issues of sovereignty and climate change. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.