Feds sue Guam over Chamorro land restrictions
Activist and Chamorro Nation Maga'lahi Angel L.G. Santos leads a demonstration/
protest,demanding access to traditional Chamorro fishing grounds.Other concerned
citizens and public officials joined in the historic event at Rt. 3A, also known as Potts
Junction. Undated 1990s file photo by Eduardo C Siguenza.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday sued the Chamorro Land Trust Commission alleging it violates the Fair Housing Act by implementing land and housing programs that are exclusive to Chamorro natives.
The civil suit is asking the federal court to award monetary damages to all victims of the commission’s “discriminatory practices,” denying lease and applications for related housing benefits to non-Chamorro natives.
In suing the local government, DOJ cited the case of an African-American man, who was evicted from the home he had built on a CLTA plot after the death of his Chamorro wife, who was the party to the lease. The couple had over time built a three-bedroom home while living in a tent on the property.
But during a public hearing on his claim to the land, the administrative director and commissioners “inquired into whether he was ‘a person that’s qualified to apply,’ and specifically, whether he was ‘blood Chamorro’ or an ‘outsider’ who was ‘married to a local girl.”
CLTC subsequently ruled against the man’s lease application, and pushed him out of the marital home.
The commission administers approximately 20,000 acres, or 15 percent of Guam’s total land area, which are available for up to 99-year residential leases for one-acre tracts at a cost of one dollar per year.
The DOJ’s lawsuit was triggered by a formal complaint filed last year by “Arnold Dave Davis, an Air Force veteran and longtime Guam resident, who was denied his application for the lease of CLTC land.
Under the Chamorro Land Trust Act, only persons identified as “native Chamorros” are eligible for these leases. Those who hold such leases are afforded a host of housing-related benefits, including below-market loans.
A primary intent of the Land Trust Act is to keep most of its valuable resource land resources “for the use of the descendants of the island’s historic inhabitants.”
The lawsuit, filed by US Attorney Mikel Schwab, states that provisions of the CLTA and the manner of their implementation “constitute discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
“On Sept. 15, 1995, the government of Guam transferred to the commission 4,337 lots of real estate from the race-neutral land- for-the-landless land grant program because it believed the land ‘rightfully belong[ed] to the indigenous people of Guam,’” the lawsuit said.
The justice department, however, argued that Congress has not ratified the CLTA, nor has the federal government established Guam’s authority to legislate preferential treatment for Chamorros in the Land Trust Act.
While it has constitutional “plenary power over Indian affairs,” the DOJ said, “Congress has taken no official action recognizing the Chamorro as a tribe or nation.”
The enactment of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission was the result of political activism in the 1990s, led by the late Angel Santos, a former senator and retired Air Force veteran, who fought for the return of excess federal lands and access to traditional Chamorro fishing grounds.
Gov. Eddie Calvo said he was anticipating the lawsuit based on the DOJ’s warning letter in March this year.
“It’s clear that they don’t understand or don’t care about the reason behind the creation of the Chamorro Land Trust’s Commission,” Calvo said.
During the DOJ’s investigation on the land program, CLTC officials pointed out that Guam’s program is modeled after Hawaii’s homestead program.
“We must allow the native inhabitants of this land the opportunity to build a home and live on their native land – and I have no compunction about fighting this out in court. I’ve spoken to the Attorney General previously and let her know that we need to stand up for the rights of the native people of Guam,” Calvo said.