Lost opportunities to preserve Guam’s history
Updated: Jan 23
In truth, the Programmatic Agreement or PA is not a success story for Guam as the Department of Defense would have you believe.
It was a success story for DOD versus the people of Guam. The Department of Defense was able to lump almost all its projects on Guam “related to the buildup” under one agreement and treat them all identical, regardless of historical significance.
The agreement process has been proven to allow the complete removal of all evidence of ancient villages from their original location. It has allowed the DOD construction to do other than preserve in place.
Despite the agreement saying that it will prioritize preservation in place, it has allowed the DOD to be the sole decision maker as to whether preserving in place is possible or not.
Preservation in place is a hugely different way of treating historical places and allows future generations with different technology to stand in those places and see for themselves the landscapes and the environment where the CHamoru lived for thousands of years, where the CHamoru were able to survive for thousands of years.
And as we can see from the clearing of Mågua and Sabanan Fadang where Camp Blaz is now built, and the complete removal of thousands of acres of the forest and historical sites at the firing ranges, the agreement did not force DOD to preserve in place despite our objections. Preservation and stewardship were not the priority at all.
We have a firing range currently built over one of the most significant cultural sites on Guam which is Litekyan, which has some of the oldest and largest expanses of latte sites, pictographs and caves, fishing grounds, living grounds, and burial grounds.
The same thing with Camp Blaz, there were several villages, including Mågua and Sabanan Fadang that existed there and have now been completely removed and access to the shoreline villages of Haputo and other historic sites was completely blocked off from our access.
And the agreement allowed the military to choose a type of mitigation that ignored “avoidance” and “preservation in place” and instead it allowed DOD to move the bones to a little box in the ground at another site and build a monument over it in the middle of their military base. That’s pretty much it.
The latte stones were removed and will be stored at a different location, the earth oven cooking pits were removed, human remains were either disturbed or transplanted from their initial resting places, all of the thousands of pottery and tools and landscape and other evidence of CHamoru 3,000 plus years of history were removed.
After all the findings in these ancient village sites, DOD still refused to admit they are connected to an entire village, and they treat each finding as separate tiny historical artifacts without acknowledging the true brilliance and stewardship of the CHamoru people for thousands of years.
In regards to Litekyan, the agreement was established over the objection of many in the community after a battle over the use of Pågat as a firing range. An Environmental Impact Statement ranked Litekyan as the least preferable site for a firing range due to its potential impact on historical sites and endangered species and thousands of acres of unique to the world limestone forests, and yet the military proceeded to build the firing range in exactly that spot despite thousands of comments and objections registered from the community.
There is another promise made in the agreement in light of the massive adverse cumulative effects only imagined at the time that has gone completely ignored, despite the millions of dollars the DOD has been willing to spend on building empty urban buildings for warfare training on another ancient village site, and that is the promise to pursue funding for a museum complex in addition to a cultural repository.
Several years ago, the DOD simply announced they had stopped all efforts and there has been no demand from our government of Guam signatories or the Governor for them to make good on this promise.
Access to historic sites like Haputo and Spanish steps (Orote Point) are now prohibited, and most other sites are only allowed with escort and advance permission. And access to Litekyan’s historic sites, recreation area, and fishing grounds will be closed 39 weeks out of each year due to the danger from the firing range.
While I appreciate the attempts to implement outreach opportunities like today’s open house at the cultural repository, this is still not responsive to our requests for public access and tours of any of the remaining historic sites and properties within the footprints of these construction projects so that the community can see and feel the cultural landscapes in their rawest forms that will soon be displaced and occupied by these military facilities and our requests for public access to the annual PA workshops.
We need the military to go beyond the minimum requirements of the 2011 Programmatic Agreement in good faith to ensure our community stakeholders are truly informed regarding the impacts to our cultural and historic sites, cultural landscapes, and ancestral burials and that every possible option is utilized to preserve any remaining historic sites in place.
Therese Terlaje is the speaker of the 37th Guam Legislature.