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Decolonization panel head says 'tribe' designation won't resolve Guam's political status quandary


By Pacific Island Times News Staff

The Decolonization Commission has rejected a recommendation for Guam to seek a “sovereign tribe” designation from the U.S. Congress, saying it won’t necessarily guarantee a seamless path to self-determination.


“Recognition as a tribe may be detrimental because we run the risk of being

 prematurely removed from the United Nations’ non-self-governing territory list. Consequently, this may sever future opportunities for our island to engage in regional and international organizations,” said Melvyn Borja, executive director of the commission.


Taking the tribe-registry route “may inadvertently de-obligate the United States’ from their role as our administering power, he added.


“Overall, the recommendation to pursue tribal recognition as discussed within the legal opinion may not work in the best interests of the people of Guam,” Borja said in response to Attorney General Douglas Moylan’s legal opinion.


The attorney general issued the legal opinion on Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s request for a draft definition of “native inhabitants of Guam” that would pave the way for a political status plebiscite without violating the Constitution.


Guam law limits the political status vote to “native inhabitants of Guam,” which refers to those “who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and their descendants.”

In Davis v. Guam, the Ninth Circuit Court held that the exclusionary vote was a constitutional violation.


Moylan suggested that Guam lobby Congress to amend the Organic Act to get "exemptions to our voter eligibility requirements so that we may conduct a political status plebiscite."


“While the Commission does agree that a congressional fix is a viable option to authorize a plebiscite, it cannot be done by revising an antiquated unilateral

 act or by using a categorization that does not reflect the identity and interests of the people of Guam,” Borja said, referring to the Organic Act as “a unilateral act of Congress imposed upon the people of Guam.”


“While the implementation of a civil government and statutory U.S. citizenship has indeed served to expand our island’s political capacity over the past 74 years, it was not legislation that was democratically voted upon and consented to by the people of Guam,” he added.


Borja said amending the Organic Act to fit “native inhabitants of Guam'' into the “sovereign tribe” designation will not resolve the “larger problem.”


He said the Organic Act does not guarantee Guam its right to exercise self-determination and that it was designed “to perpetuate an inferior and inequitable relationship” between the U.S. and territory.


“Lobbying Congress as an unincorporated territory is exceedingly difficult due to Guam’s historical lack of representation at the federal level,” Borja said.  

“It is only when Guam’s sole non-voting congressional delegate is actively supportive of Guam’s quest for self-determination that seeking a congressional statute for a binding political status plebiscite is viable," he added,


There are 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages in the United States, but none among the Pacific territories.


 “The U.S. model of tribal recognition, which acknowledges the sovereignty of Native American peoples and nations, works in the context where these pre-existing nations are within a nation (i.e. the contiguous United States and Alaska,” Borja said.


“There is no guarantee that the application of this model can work for our island’s unique history, needs, and circumstances. It may also be difficult

 to obtain a congressional statute as an unincorporated territory,” he added.


Since Guam's delegate to Congress does not have voting power, Borja said getting a measure "reflective of the interests of Guam" is challenging "especially when our island’s interests may not fully align with those of the U.S. federal government.”


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