A people and their island: do they stand a chance against the U.S. military?

Place Ritidian
Text Kelly Marsh
Text Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Text Maria Hernandez
Text Elizabeth Bowman

Ritidian Point is one of the most beautiful and important natural sites left on Guåhan (Guam), the southernmost of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific.

Its beaches, cliffs and jungles—including some of Guåhan's few remaining ancient limestone forests—are pristine. It is the site of irreplaceable archaeological remains, including unique CHamoru (Matao) latte (stone pillar) villages and cave paintings at Litekyan.

Ritidian is the home of endangered species like the Mariana Fruit Bat and Mariana Eight Spot Butterfly, the last endemic mother håyun lågu tree (Serianthes nelsonii), named after a local family, and certain other plants for traditional herbal medicines (åmot). Litekyan is one of just a few remaining ancient sites of our people, the first known to settle Remote Oceania. It is historic for all Pacific peoples.

It is an important tourist destination, a sacred site for the indigenous CHamoru people, and a place fiercely loved by the original CHamoru landowners who suffered its appropriation by the U.S. military post-World War II.

In social, cultural, archaeological and ecological terms, this is a place to be preserved. It is a United States National Wildlife Refuge and, if returned to the rightful original owners, it could be cared for lovingly by generation after generation of our people.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) proposes to desecrate and destroy Litekyan with a live-fire training range complex on the area upon the cliff we call Tailålo, where it will also impact the numerous ancient villages and other sites below, including Urunao, Pahon and Jinapsan.

Some years ago, the DoD committed to ensuring the buildup would be as beneficial for the civilians outside the military bases here as for those inside. They spoke in slogans of "One Guam" or "Green Guam" and of being "culturally sensitive." And yet, according to the DoD’s own environmental analysis, building their facilities at this place would be the most harmful of all the alternatives they considered.

Why, then, do they want to choose the most harmful option for our people?

Is it "culturally sensitive" and does it promote a "Green Guam" to ensure the destruction of our last håyun lågu mother tree; to destroy the host plants of some of the last of our Mariana Eight Spot butterflies; to devastate our beloved and last-known Mariana Fruit Bat colony, by firing 6.7 million bullets for 273 days and nights per year next door?

Is it "culturally sensitive" to deny access to spiritual and ancestral sites at Litekyan, where our people commune with those who have passed? Does it promote a "Green Guam" to destroy a millions-of-years-old limestone forest and then promote a supposed opportunity to try to recreate that ancient system developed over prehuman aeons from the ashes?

The military has a long history of polluting our environment, including U.S. veterans' reports of dumping Agent Orange around bases here. The military targets our most beautiful and sacred places: the ancestral village of Pågat a few years ago, then Pågan island and now Litekyan (Ritidian), for desecration and destruction.

And yet, the U.S. military presence is why we, alone, of all the ten island groups that comprise Micronesia, were threatened by North Korea. We sit, a target for the enemy and a U.S. possession, which, in being kept as a politically separate non-state from the "real" U.S., diverts such threats and destruction from occurring within the "real" U.S. itself.

There must be a balance.

Why choose a live-fire range site that will harm our sacred ancestral places, out of many available locations? Why target our national wildlife refuge? Why target this beautiful beach and tourist attraction?

The DoD ignored our government agencies that brought up objections. It ignored our scientists, cultural practitioners and community members who spoke out against "Alternative 5," as the proposal to militarize the area at Ritidian is known, repeatedly.

Prutehi Litekyan. Protect our land.

The National Historic Preservation Act requires the military to consider impacts to the community in its projects. Federal law protects our environment and our right to community input—or is intended to—but the DoD has ignored the intent and spirit of that law.Such actions are oh-so-familiar: for decades, military representatives have testified in the U.S. Congress against providing citizenship or even limited self-government to the people of Guam.

It's 2017. Where is their consideration, today, for our right to be heard when making decisions about our land? It's time to listen to the people of the land who will be directly affected by these unilateral U.S. military actions.


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