Council slams closure of IAO
The Matua Council for Native Chamorro Advancement is indignant over the closure of the Indigenous Affairs Office, saying the office is constitutionally mandated and protects the interest of the CNMI’s indigenous population.
Speaking at a virtual news briefing last Friday, Liana Hofschneider, who is the president and CEO of the Matua Council, said the Indigenous Affairs Office has been closed since Jan. 9, 2023, on the day of the inauguration of the new administration of Gov. Arnold I. Palacios.
“My question to the governor…is why is the office closed? It’s a constitutional office,” Hofschneider said.
She said she was off island at the time of the election and was surprised when one of her staff called an informed her that the IAO had been closed.
The governor reportedly told her that the office had been closed due to a lack of funding, but Hofschneider argued that the government collects millions of dollars from native lands via the Department of Public Lands, so why close only this office but leave other offices and agencies open. “So that’s unsettling,” she added.
Hofschneider pointed out that Article 3 Section 23 of the CNMI Constitution mandates the creation of the office and it is supposed to represent the indigenous population and make sure there was an office for them to go to and air their concerns, or if they have an issue. “That’s why it’s a constitutional office and that’s why it’s very important.”
She said the office was created in the 1985 Second Constitutional Convention. Under the CNMI Constitution, the IAO is headed by a resident executive, whose appointment requires the advice and consent of the Senate.
This simply means, Hofschneider said, that Palacios does not have the constitutional authority to close the IAO unilaterally for reasons that there is no money to open the office, adding that this is a constitutional violation of the intent of the constitutional mandate to serve in the best interest of the Chamorro people. She believes closing the office was a racist act, considering that another constitutionally mandated office, the Carolinian Affairs Office, remains open.
“Honestly, this is really nothing more than a discrimination against the Chamorros, it’s racial action by the CNMI government. …It’s very sad that in our own home, a very small community, that things like these can happen, it’s very unsettling,” she added.
The Matua Council for Native Chamorro Advancement has been serving the CNMI as an advocate for the Chamorros since 2010.