It is as essential as clean drinking water and everyone should be paying attention
In 1982, the first delegation of Chamorus traveled to the United Nations to raise their voices as native inhabitants and Indigenous people of Guam, they petitioned for self-determination and decolonization.
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 buildup and operations are prioritized over our consent. In Guam, we are struggling with a legacy and ongoing contamination from the impacts of U.S. militarization on the environment. The destructive environmental impacts of the U.S. military pose multiplying threats to air, land, and ocean. And militarization impacts the ability of Chamorus to exercise our inherent right to self-determination. Decolonization 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 buildup 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 militarization risks poisoning our Northern Guam Lens Aquifer (NGLA) that supplies 80 percent of the island’s fresh drinking water. For decades, the military has prioritized "business as usual" over the wellbeing of the community.
In November 2021, the Navy contaminated Oʻahu’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 Hawaiʻi to Guam, we must be united in the efforts to protect our clean water. Before NGLA becomes poisoned like Oʻahu’s aquifer, we must act to end militarization 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 buildup 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.
Decolonization 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.
Decolonization 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. Decolonization 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 decolonization
The language of decolonization is complicated, often superficially taken up and used to perpetuate ideas that there is no settler responsibility in colonizing 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 decolonization 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 decolonize 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 decolonization 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 energized 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 decolonized 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.
Live Webinar For more of these stories and the expansive possibilities of decolonization, tune in from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday, Feb. 11 Chamoru Standard Time. The Fanohge Coalition will hold a webinar, “The Next 500 Years: Navigating the United Nations in Determining Our Future” to provide more information on the UN and its role in helping Guam achieve a new political status. The webinar will be live on Facebook but you are welcome to join via Zoom by signing up on Eventbrite at: http://tinyurl.com/navigatingun
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 email@example.com.