The United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights recognizes the indigenous people’s rights to protect, preserve, and enhance their cultural, economic and environmental values. In recognizing these values, no state is allowed to deny such pursuits and is charged with the responsibility to facilitate their survival pivotal to the survival and unique contributions to humanity.
Notwithstanding the Covenant between the people of the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, we do not support the proposed military activities on Tinian and Pagan as outlined in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement materials produced by the Navy Department. There are inconsistencies in the material that, when translated, constitute irreversible and disproportionate impacts to both Pagan and Tinian that will lead to Chamorro and Refaluwasch (Carolinian) economic, cultural, and environmental injury, which will subsequently result in human misery not only for the indigenous islanders, but also for the many other peoples who call the Marianas home. This is unreasonable and unacceptable because Chamorro and Refaluwasch lives—and all other lives—matter and contradicts the objective of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights.
Here are three examples to demonstrate our points:
Example 1: Terms and statements are ambiguous, incomplete or difficult to fully understand, thus undermining the intent of the resolution cited above. Section A-1 of the 2015 DEIS states that “The no-action alternative on Tinian” would allow for currently authorized training to continue in addition to the previously approved development and use of four live-fire ranges on the island and the “no-action alternative on Pagan” would allow for the continuation of no-live-fire military training exercises.
This is inconsistent and nothing more than military “double speak” because what is coined as “no action” actually means an intent to act. The “no-action” alternative describes “action” that the military is claiming to have already been authorized. We are afraid that choosing the “no-action” alternative may be misconstrued as implicit acceptance of intended actions that we have no specific knowledge of authorizing. There is no citation or supporting documents in this DEIS to support this alleged approval. The “no-action” alternative should be an implicit statement that we are saying “no” to alternatives I, II, and III and does not incorporate or constitute an acceptance, implied or otherwise, or authorization of any activities. Therefore, this needs to be further discussed and clarified so that it is better understood by the people of the Marianas.
Example 2: Data omissions. Section A-1 of the 2015 DEIS states that “The resources evaluated include geology and soils, water resources, air quality, noise, airspace, land and submerged-land use, recreation, terrestrial biology, marine biology, cultural resources, visual resources, transportation, utilities, socioeconomics and environmental justice, hazardous materials and waste, and public health and safety.”
What data base sets were used for the evaluations of the above-listed components, especially those tied to socioeconomics and environmental justice? What are the time and date ranges of these data sets? What specific methodologies were used to collect the data and make the subsequent determinations offered for public consumption? Without reliable and verifiable proof, the information presented is questionable at best.
Also, future lost-economic opportunities for islanders are not discussed in the DEIS and are ignored. The air space that the military wants exclusive control of, for example, appears to hamper plans for Tinian to develop economically. We understand that the military collected limited flight data from small-plane operations that fly between Tinian, Saipan, Rota and Guam. Hence, more information needs to be provided on methods and uses of data collection and interpretation because we understand these proposals to be restrictive, ambiguous, and unilaterally determined.
Furthermore, the cultural sites go beyond what archaeologists have surveyed. Archaeological surveys are a Western means of defining a cultural site and as such, disregard and omit the indigenous considerations of what a cultural site entails. Our argument, to this day, is that each and every island within the Marianas chain and the surrounding waters have been, still are, and will continue to be culturally significant to the Chamorro and Refaluwasch people. Our cultural sites go beyond what Western archaeology can document, but these “intangible parameters” that we hold so dearly cannot be systematically recorded and therefore become nondescript and rendered negligible.
Every inch of each island and the surrounding waters is culturally significant. Just because archaeological features are absent from a spot on any given island does not mean that it is not a cultural site and therefore culturally insignificant. One would see that archaeology today, inclusive of more recent years, is doing an about-face wherein “intangible cultural elements” are concerned. It is realizing that what cultural groups the world over have known to be true for millennia, weighs heavily in the piecing together of the global picture of humanity’s history, much of which was never written down, but yet is revealed through these “intangible cultural elements.” Two examples would be an Australian Aborigine singing his/her passage through country and a Chamorro/Refaluwasch navigator equally chanting his/her/their voyage to his/her/their island destination.
Example 3. National Environmental Protection Act process and control. It is unreasonable for anyone to assume that within three or four months from now, the people of the Marianas will be able to digest the over 1,300 pages of technical content and then convey their concerns and questions to the military. It is unreasonable to restrict public input to 180 seconds per person and to prevent unused time allotments from being transferred to other speakers. It is unreasonable to hold public hearings at venues that were way too small to accommodate all the people who came to hear what was being presented and opined. It is unreasonable that this tightly controlled and monitored process can be construed as representing authentic dialogue and conversation on a topic that threatens to permanently damage and disproportionately destroy amounts of our tiny island landmass.
Concluding thoughts: We interpret that three or four months to review the material, along with language restraints and the technical and overly descriptive nature of this 1,300-page DEIS document, makes it impossible for villagers to properly read, digest, discuss, and understand what is being proposed in ways that produce comfort and consent from villagers. Thus, we do not approve nor consent to any increase in any capacity of military activity in the Marianas and, at this point in time, view that an extension of six months is needed because villagers must have the opportunity to take the time to fully vet the volumes of information produced by the military or its contractors over much longer periods of time.
By RICK PEREZ, JUANITA MENDIOLA and CINTA KAIPAT
Special to the Saipan Tribune
The authors are members of the Alternative Zero coalition that opposes the U.S. military’s proposed plans for the islands of Tinian and Pagan.