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'Piled in shoe boxes, shoved into a storage closet'

Updated: Jul 10

Vice speaker pushes to restore dignity to Guam ancestors by burying ancient remains in their final resting place

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

It has been three decades since the Guam legislature first proposed the construction of a monument that would be the final burial site for the remains of ancient CHamorus, which are currently stored away.

The construction of Nåftan Mañaina-ta CHamoru National Shrine on Ypao Point in Tamuning, however, has since been impeded by funding issues and subsequent clashes over the site.

"The cold, hard truth is that the people who gifted us with indigenous knowledge, who blessed us with their genes, who acted as stewards of the island we inherited - many of them are piled in shoe boxes, shoved into a storage closet,” Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes said on Tuesday.

“When we are discussing the inhumane and undignified treatment of our ancestors’ remains, an injustice that must be correctedthe question before this body is shall we act now or later?" she added.

After concluding this week's debate over the size of the proposed site, Guam senators have sent to the voting file a bill that would appropriate $5 million for the shrine construction.

Bill 264-37 has identified "excess revenue" from the current fiscal year as the funding source, which is also being tapped by other competing appropriation measures.

Tina Muna Barnes

“I certainly don’t want to devalue the good intentions behind the other bills that are tapping into the excess revenue we are collecting this fiscal year. I understand that there are many ways we could spend $5 million," Muna Barnes.

However, she noted that the project is long overdue.

“The Guam Legislature made a solemn promise that our ancestors who were dug up from the sites for their eternal rest, we promised that we would restore the honor and the dignity they are due,” said Muna Barnes, author of Bill 264-37.

Muna Barnes appealed to her colleagues for consideration.

"Would we wait this long if it was our nåna or tåta in that shoebox? Would we be silent for decades, happily allowing the bones of great-grandparents to be unearthed and unburied? To me, the answer is clear: our government has taken too long to make good on this promise,” she said.

To dispel any incorrect assumptions about an additional 9 acres of buffer zones being added to the shrine’s footprint, Muña Barnes endorsed an amendment that would condition the funding on the size being no larger than 5 acres, which can accommodate the design initially drawn up by the late architect Andy Laguana.

Despite believing testimony from administration officials that the increased size has nothing to do with potential future plans for the surrounding property, the vice speaker felt the compromise was necessary to address opposition that may have risked the bill’s passage.

“As has happened too often in this hall, the simplest of bills, the noblest of intentions get muddied - soiled - with innuendo and conspiracy theories and character assassinations,” Muña Barnes said.

“But all of the regrettable rhetoric from today and yesterday aside, I hope that we, as a body, have disproved any notion that this bill was related to any conspiracy to grab land or limit the footprint available to further develop Ypao point," she added.

“But I also ask for this small consideration: there will always be another priority that would divert funding away from a project like our Nåftan Mañaina-ta Shrine. You don’t have to take my word for it, just take a look at history. It’s been more than 30 years since this very body enacted the mandate for this shrine to be built. It’s been eight years since this body dedicated property for this memorial site. These people, my dear colleagues. They have been waiting long enough. We can honor their contributions, which is indeed our very existence by choosing them today.

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