Gov. Eddie Calvo presides over the Guam Decolonization Coimmission's meeting in Adelup on June 12.
Another bloc is emerging. “Let’s talk about a fourth option,” Yigo resident Ryan Calvo interjected from the spectators’ area while members of the Guam Decolonization Commission were wrapping up their meeting at the governor’s conference room in Adelup on June 11.
Guam is debating three political status options — independence, statehood and free association. As if the spiels on the three choices are not discordant enough in the flea market of ideas, Ryan Calvo is seeking to add “tribal autonomy” to the menu.
“The fourth option, basically, would allow the people to have the ability to call Washington directly and let them know what their needs are,” Calvo said, speaking on behalf of the organization called Chamorro Tribe. “We’ve waited long enough on the system that has failed us since the beginning of our first local elected governor. The fourth option will fast-track the process and put an end to our political status limbo.”
The proposal seeks to eliminate the middlemen—the local government—and allow the Chamorro people to govern themselves and negotiate directly with the nation’s capital as a sovereign tribe. For the United States to recognize the right of an indigenous group to self-government and tribal sovereignty, the process requires federal acknowledgment and registration as a Native American Tribe. Once this is achieved, the tribe may form its own government, enforce civil and criminal laws, levy taxes, determine the disposition of tribal lands and exclude people from tribal territories.
The tribal autonomy movement on Guam, though under the radar, has been around since the creation of the Chamorro Tribe (I' Chamorro Na' Taotaogui), which was registered as a non-profit corporation on Jan. 28, 2005.
“The only other way for us to get constitutional citizenship is to become registered as a Native American tribe so that we as a people become incorporated to the United States and the Indian Naturalization Act would automatically naturalize us,” said Greg Schacher, vice chairman of the Chamorro Tribal Council.
Under the Chamorro Tribe’s articles of incorporation, membership would be exclusive to “Chamorro people who are living in the territorial limits of Guam and who at the time of the ratification of this document, possesses one-fourth or more Chamorro blood and any child on one-fourth or more Chamorro blood born to any enrolled member of the tribe.”
Chamorros are not on the current list of 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States. In 2008, the 29th Guam Legislature passed a resolution urging Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo to request the U.S. Congress to grant the Chamorro people full recognition as Native Americans.
“Madeleine Bordallo— who was married to a Chamorro, the maga’lahi Ricky Bordallo—failed us,” Schacher said.
Calvo wants the tribal-autonomy faction to be officially welcomed to the table. “The movement is out there and it’s growing. I’m advocating for it because the people behind this movement have not been given a chance to get a seat at the table,” he said.
Calvo said his fervor for tribal sovereignty was sparked by his frustration with the establishment. “Nothing gets done because of political positioning and pandering that is going on,” he said. “We don’t need a governor to govern us. I don’t need 15 people, when I wake up in the morning, to tell me how to brush my teeth and what to do when they can’t get their act together.”
Victoria Leon Guerrero Joe Garrido
Victoria Leon Guerrero, vice chair of the independent task force, warned that adding another box to the ballot would further drag out the self-rule voting process for Guam. “It will require amendments to the law and we don’t know how long it will take for that to happen,” she said at the commission meeting.
Joe Garrido, chairman of the free association task force, said the proposed “fourth option” basically means keeping Guam’s status quo.
While there is some political will to move away from its colonial status, Guam’s tiny — yet ethnically diverse— island community remains fragmented, if not paralyzed by self-doubt. Those opposed to the idea of severing from the United States are not convinced Guam is politically mature enough to govern itself.
It’s a catch 22, according to Governor Eddie Baza Calvo, who argued that Guam’s political growth has been stunted by the colonial legacy. “Whatever option we choose—statehood, independence or free association—I’ll be happier than I am now. We can reach our full potential and full political maturity,” said Governor Calvo, who advocates statehood. “If the fourth option is anything close to the status quo, then it is a step backward.”
Puerto Rico’s June 11 referendum gives Guam a preview of what the self-rule voting landscape might look like when— or if — a plebiscite actually takes place here. Guam has a lot to learn from the U.S. commonwealth’s feats and failures and Govenor Calvo is keeping his fingers crossed. “We hope for that to happen on Guam, and when the time comes, I hope we have a better turnout.”
The debt-ridden Puerto Rico overwhelmingly voted for statehood in a nonbinding referendum that drew only 23 percent of the electorate. “I can tell you now that, at least from the position of our economy and stability of our finances, we are in a much better position than Puerto Rico,” Calvo said. “When you have a stable community and stable environment, people are not under duress so they don’t make decisions based on duress.”
Mainly fueled by military and tourism, Guam’s economy has been on the upsurge in the past five years, hitting $5 billion in gross domestic product as of 2016. Yet, a big fraction of the population continues to rely on welfare and other public service subsidies from the United States. About 44,900 individuals and 15,651 households on Guam are receiving food stamps and public healthcare benefits, making up the bulk of $298.8 million in annual federal awards received by the territory from different federal agencies.
Joseph Bradley, chief economist at the Bank of Guam, said any of the political status option comes with vast economic opportunities that Guam can explore. But whether the United States has real intention to let go of Guam —a strategic location for national defense— is another story, he said.
“Ever notice that each time Guam’s economy starts picking up, the U.S. finds a way to slow us down. Today, our economy is pretty good and the U.S. is creating a problem by restricting the H2 visa.”
The United States., Bradley suggested, keeps Guam in the Goldilocks zone, where the economy is not too poor to cause a community revolt, but not too prosperous and self-sufficient to cut the apron strings.