Complying with the mandates of the CNMI Constitution


Dear Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and members of the Commonwealth Law Revision Commission:

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with executive director Lee of the Commonwealth Law Revision Commission to discuss issues of importance to many Chamorros of the Northern Mariana Islands pertinent to the CNMI Constitution, specifically, Article 23. The following excerpts of the CNMI Constitution:

Article XXIII Official Seal, Flag and Language:
The official seal of the Commonwealth shall consist of a circular field of blue having in its center a white star superimposed on a gray latte stone, surrounded by the traditional Carolinian mwáár consisting of the following flowers: Ilangilang, flores mayo (seyúr) angagha, and teibwo, on the outer border, and the words encircling the mwáár, “Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” and “Official Seal.”

Source: Second Const. Conv. Amend. 43 (1985).

Section 2: Official Flag.
The official flag of the Commonwealth shall consist, on both sides of a rectangular field of blue, a white star in the center, superimposed on a gray latte stone, surrounded by the traditional Carolinian mwáár. The dimensions of the flag, the mwáár, the star and latte stone shall be provided by law.

Source: Second Const. Conv. Amend. 43 (1985).

Section 3: Official Language.
The official language of the Commonwealth shall be Chamorro, Carolinian and English, as deemed appropriate and as enforced by the Legislature. The Legislature may provide that government proceedings and documents shall be in at least one of the three languages. This section shall not be subject to judicial review.

Source: Second Const. Conv. Amend. 43 (1985).

I decided to inquire at CLRC office, and to write an official letter to the CLRC when I saw that CLRC was conducting a competition and were soliciting artist from the public who are 18 years of age or younger, to sketch a logo for the CLRC, as part of an official art competition, based on Article 23. This project by CLRC is commendable because it supports local artist participation in the creation of the official logo for CLRC and to participate in the CNMI government sponsored activities.

Since the approval of the 44 amendments to the CNMI Constitution in the second Constitutional Convention in 1985, amendment to Article XXlll has created confusion and insensitivity toward the Chamorro people because the sacred symbol—Achu Latte or Latte Stone—the symbol of the Taotao Tåno or Chamorros who are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands archipelago, from southernmost Guahan to the northernmost Urakas in the Ganis or Northern Islands, began to be obscured and slowly disappear from the CNMI government’s official seal and official flag, including official government department, division and agency logos.

The issue on this official logo is that there is no uniformity of what “official logo” in the CNMI government is. On many occasions, the official logo of government departments and entities—Executive, Legislative, and the most recent logo of the Judiciary branch—we often do not see with clarity and distinction the “latte stone” as the cultural symbol of the Chamorro people, the indigenous of the Mariana Islands archipelago.

The “latte stone” is mostly obscured by the star and the flowers—the symbol of Carolinian mwáár in the official logo. And in most instances, the achu latte is obscured by the symbol and logo of the respective branch, department, and agencies.

A classic example of the disappearance of the symbol of the achu latte is the recent official art painting on the west-facing or main highway side wall of the Ada Gymnasium. It was painted and contracted by the CNMI Arts Council under the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and paid for with United States grants monies under the National Endowment for the Arts.

The wall was painted in preparation for the upcoming hosting by the CNMI f or the Pacific Mini Games sports competition originally scheduled for 2021 but was rescheduled to June 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If this art rendition on the Ada Gym is kept as is, then the entire delegation of athletes and visitors from the Pacific Island nations will not recognize the cultural and sacred symbol of the indigenous people of the Marianas, the Chamorro, a symbol that stood for thousands of years, and endured four colonial powers.

The official logo for the Division of Youth Services under the same department, DCCA, is the same issue. The entire latte structure in the center is replaced with striped red, white, and blue lines depicting a facial rendition. The Carolinian mwáár encircles the facial rendition. A tiny latte structure is relegated to the bottom of the Carolinian mwáár beyond recognition. These are just a fraction of the issues with official logos and official CNMI seal propagated in the CNMI government and federal programs that are prevalent and pervasive only on Saipan in the last decade or so.

The issues plaguing the “official seal” of CNMI government branches, departments, division, and agency logos is similar to the “official flag” where the latte structure—the Chamorro cultural and sacred symbol, achu latte—is obscured by the star and the Carolinian mwáár beyond recognition. There is no standard and consistency as of this writing.

Another issue is the “official language.” I came across numerous translations of official documents where the English language was the first official, Carolinian the second official language, and the last official language was the Chamorro, which is the language of the indigenous people of the NMI.

This official practice in the CNMI government has placed the indigenous language, Chamorro, as the last official language in the CNMI. This practice began to appear after the second constitutional convention amendments were approved in 1985, and became effective under Article 23 (XXlll).

My question is how can an indigenous language that represents the Chamorros, officially recognized in 1977 as one of the two official languages (and English) at the beginning of the constitutional government in the Northern Mariana Islands in 1978, now relegated to the last “official language” in CNMI government documents? And should the official language translations be “in that order”—Chamorro, Carolinian, English or Chamorro, English, Carolinian—consistent with the 1985 amendment?

The inclusion of the Carolinian language and the Carolinian mwáár were officially recognized in 1985 as one of the official languages and symbol in the CNMI under Amendment 43 of the 44 amendments introduced in the second constitutional convention.

As we are all aware, the Chamorro language has been spoken by the indigenous people for thousands of years here in the Northern Mariana Islands. This language survival and preservation is credited to the Catholic mission in the 1660s to present and, most importantly, to the fierce resistance of the Chamorro women who ensured that the language survived through their children.

For a statistical and comparative purpose, the 2010 U.S. Census stated that there were an estimated 12,000 Chamorro population in the CNMI and about 2,000 Carolinian population. The recent 2020 U.S. Census have yet to be officially published, as this will be an additional and an important resource material in moving forward on the status of Chamorros in the Northern Marianas.

Another equally important issue is a CNMI statute that became Public Law 1-8, after Senate Bill 3-3, S.D.1, H.D.3, C.D.1 was “disapproved” by the First CNMI governor, Carlos S. Camacho, on Aug. 4, 1978. But the third legislature under the leadership of the late Speaker Oscar C. Rasa and Senate President Lorenzo I. Guerrero overrode the governor’s disapproval on Aug. 10, 1978.

This public law provided the language that government “boards or commission shall have at least one member who is of a Carolinian descent…” However, the law did not provide a language that “at least one member who is of a Chamorro descent” shall be appointed as well.

This statute has yet to be repealed and has not been challenged, whether it is constitutional in the courts. I believe that this statute is discriminatory against the indigenous Chamorros and it is also discriminatory against all ethnic groups in the NMI as far as meeting the qualification to be appointed in CNMI boards and commissions.

Lastly, as probably some members in this important and honorable commission may be aware, that my family, the Hofschneiders—are both of German descent and a cultural and ancestral lineage to Yap Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, in the municipality of Gagil, in the village of Miup. My cultural and ancestral lineage to Yap comes from my great-grandmother who married a German gentleman during the German colonial administration of the Caroline Islands in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

My grandfather, Henry Gigabai Hofschneider (died and is buried on Tinian) ,along with many Chamorros who settled in Yap in the 1800s during the German period, were returned to the Mariana Islands after World War II in 1947. Thereafter, my grandfather became a community leader in the NMI.

My father, Richard Villagomez Hofschneider, is one of 10 siblings who was born in Yap, but were eventually resettled on Tinian and Saipan after World War II. Also, my grandmother, Ana Dela Cruz Villagomez, on my father’s side, was buried at the Chalan Kanoa cemetery in the early 1950s. She, too, was part of the 1947 resettlement from Yap, and then to Saipan for medical attention during the U.S. Navy administration of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Both my late father and mother, and majority of their siblings, including my grandparents, spoke fluent Yapese language and are descendants of Yap’s cultural symbol, the “stone money.” When I was growing up on Tinian, I always heard my parents, families, neighbors from Yap and visitors from Yap, speak fluent Yapese language in our home and in the community. Fortunately, I can understand some words and phrases in the Yap language. But I am still learning, hopefully, to speak it with fluency someday. The Yapese language is different from that used for the Carolinian language translation for document translation in the CNMI government and the CNMI national anthem.

My question to this honorable commission members is whether the CNMI Constitution Article 23 is inclusive of my Hofschneider Yap heritage, and does it discriminate me and others under this constitutional provision in our CNMI government? And whether the language provided in Article XXlll, Section 2, “The dimensions of the flag, the mwáár, the star and latte stone shall be provided by law”—is enacted or in the process of enacting it, or does the Legislature have a plan to enact to this effect?

I appreciate and thank you in advance for your time and consideration to review my inquiry on this important issue for all of us who live and decide to make the Northern Mariana Islands our home.

Si yu’us ma’ase and respectfully submitted,

Richard Untalan Hofschneider
via email

Richard Untalan Hofschneider
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