Self determination is among the recurring issues that take center stage during elections. The Fanohge Coalition, a community group that promotes Chamoru self-determination, hosted its final forum for 2020 candidates on Oct. 22. Incumbent senators and new runners came together to discuss their positions on self-determination, what shaped their sentiments and how they will promote self-determination if elected.
Sen. Sabina Perez (Democrat) said she recognized the importance of self-determination when she learned how water privatization effected native cultures. “I heard Guam was trying to do that the very same thing and I knew the impact of that. I was living at the states at the time. I came back on a three-week vacation and did a lot of outreach. From that point, I was glad the community listened to the message that water privatization, giving up the rights to the water, was something they should not go forward. From that point, I became politized as to our colonial status. That’s the struggle many indigenous peoples face. Our histories aren’t taught to us in traditional schools. We learn them outside of school. For me it’s this coming to political consciousness and about gaining that sense of humanity and bringing that to my people.”
Fred E. Bordallo (Democrat) became aware of self-determination issue through his father, Fred Bordallo Sr., an attorney who fought for Chamoru land rights; and his grandfather, Bob Bordallo, a statesman who sought U.S. citizenship. Public service runs in Fred Bordallo's blood. His mother Annie Underwood Bordallo served as director of the Guam Memorial Hospital. Congressional candidate and former congressman Robert Underwood is his uncle. The late former govenor Ricky Bordallo was his uncle, so was former senator Paul Bordallo. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Bordallo is his brother. "A lot of conversations around family gatherings," Bordallo said, "had to deal with the type of situation of the injustices and some of the challenges of the federal relationships with the federal government."
Because self-determination is a complicated topic, Sen. Amanda Shelton (Democrat) mentioned using Guam history as a way to open discussion. “I’d try share the very unique history of this island and the hundreds of years of colonization that we as a people have experienced to help these individuals understand, maybe because they’re unaware of this history and issues we face as a community,” she said. “these issues aren’t self-inflicted but are issues that can be contributed to a lack of choice for political status. I’d ask them to think of it as an individual who makes choices freely for themselves. How would you like to be told you can’t decide what your future is? You can’t decide how you want to make money? How you want to be educated? How you want to live your life? I’d ask them to think of that and think of it that way for the Chamoru people that we haven’t been allowed to do this for so many years.”
Dr. Robert Underwood (Democrat) was asked how he would help bring Guam closer to a better political status if elected. “Black Lives Matter, the environmental movement, the movement of indigenous people in the U.S.-- all of these movements are coalescing into a time period where the U.S. is going to look in the mirror and reflect upon this and come to long term solutions about these issues,” he said.
“This is the moment in time in which the people of Guam must select the delegate who understand the real underpinnings of the historical injustices the people of Guam experience and understands them enough in order to be able to move them within the context of that broader national movement. I believe very strongly that there are a number of ways to do this. Of course one is to build coalition of interest with a number of groups that are advocating different issues. We also need to change the educational climate of the U.S. we have to alter the textbooks. We have to make people understand that there are appendages to the U.S. which are either fully not integrated for one reason or another. That takes a continual process. That takes working with textbook companies. It takes working with universities. It takes sponsorships of forms around the countries and building those coalitions of interest.”
Sen. Clynt Ridgell (Democrat) agreed that this is an interesting period in history with many groups of people fighting for human rights. “Particularly with the younger generation, Gen Z, they’re a lot more in tune with things that deal with human rights. It is an opportune time to reach out to these organizations in the U.S. that are for human rights,” he said. “Self-determination isn’t just a bunch of activists. It’s an issue of human rights. It’s the right to self-determine. I don’t think people don't look at that seriously enough as a true right of people. People look at it as a bunch of people wanting to demonstrate. People don’t seriously see what that means. Right now it the time to convey the true meaning that it is an actual human right.”
Sen. Therese Terlaje said Guam history raised her awareness about the importance of Chamoru self-determination. “I was very fortunate when I was in law school to become friends with Ed Benavente and Mike Philips who really schooled me on a lot of the history that I wasn’t aware of at the time. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it was late in my life. That’s what we all kind of suffered here on Guam. Our history is taught to us quite late," she said.
Besides teaching, Terlaje has also fought for Chamoru rights before becoming a senator. She said, “I was one of the lawyers in the Chamoru Land Trust case to force the government to implement that, to create the homelands for Guam, to ensure for prosperity the people of Guam will have a place to their call home.”
Terlaje also advocates for the inclusion of Guam in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program. “It’s a result of atomic testing in nearby islands. We were exposed. Same thing with Agent Orange. It’s the activities the U.S. has participated in and it’s affected Guam and it’s health and our ability to access resources and our ability to thrive because of loss of land, fishing places, and all of this is what I've actually been very active with for many years.”
Sen. Kelly Marsh Taitano (Democrat), a historian, discussed how Chamorus can be inspired by their family to promote self-determination. Marsh Taitano said her father-in-law, the late Speaker Carlos Taitano, inspired her interest in self- determination for Guam. “Look at those in our family to see who has been promoting good things for Guam,” she said. “By living and embodying and passing on the culture, we all have an aunt or uncle who does that. By making sure people in the family know about the beauty of Guam’s nature, or the beauty of Guam’s people and the culture, or of the struggles of self-determination. We need to remember those in our family and continuing or that we’re the ones who are doing one or more of that we’re the ones who are doing one or more of those roles to continue.”