Keep the torch of culture alive

Editor’s Note: Ella Eusebio is a student at Kagman High School. The following is the text of her speech at the Attorney General Cup speech competition last May 4.

Latte stone quarries, coral reefs, Mt. Tapochau, flame trees, and the maas. These are some of the variables that make our islands beautiful. The reasons why we have a paradise at the palm of our hands. A golden treasure. Their vacation place is what we proudly call home. But what if I tell you that all of this will be taken away from you? From all of us? That my generation is the last generation to ever see the full potential of its beauty. What would you do?

We are so wrapped up in a cocoon of safety. We are hidden away from the acquisitive eyes of others that we have become comfortable with the idea of having this forever. Except that, there are so many challenges, decisions to make and risks to take before even getting close to this idea. One of these risks is the Insular Cases Doctrine. A fight between upholding the islands’ riches or abandoning everything we have now.

The Insular Cases Doctrine in 1901 stated that the newly acquired territories from Spain were ruled under the U.S. Constitution by the Supreme Court but full constitutional rights did not automatically extend to all areas under American control or what they called “unincorporated territories.” Today, these “unincorporated territories” include here, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

After World War II, the Northern Mariana Islands was placed under the control of the United States. In between 1969 and 1972, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, of which the Northern Marianas was a part of, began questioning its future with the United States. The United States then worked with the Northern Mariana Islands to establish a commonwealth that was approved by its people in 1975.

The United States and the Northern Marianas worked to create a unique relationship through the establishment of a Commonwealth Constitution, promoting a republican form of government on the islands and a Covenant signifying the bond between the U.S. and the Northern Mariana Islands.

It was not an easy process. There were issues and conflicts that needed to be addressed and resolved before the NMI fully became the CNMI. Because of this, the Insular Cases Doctrine was slowly applied to the CNMI.

The first large issue was the right to a jury trial that the Trust Territory had tried to make a guarantee in 1976, but ultimately failed. This issue came up again in 1984 with the NMI v. Atalig case in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Northern Mariana Islands, being a unincorporated territory, was not required to follow all aspects of the U.S. Constitution as stated in the Insular Cases Doctrine as the sixth amendment was not a “fundamental right.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in 1990 in Wabol v. Villacrusis that, under the Insular Cases Doctrine, landownership in the CNMI is sacred and cultural and not a “fundamental right.” It is not about economic gain and that Section 4 of Article 12 of the Commonwealth Constitution that limits landownership to only NMI Chamorro or Carolinian descendants was legal. 

The last major challenge to the legality of the Commonwealth Constitution and Covenant occurred in 1999 through the case of Rayphand v. Sablan. In this case the plaintiff argued that the CNMI was not following the one person, one vote concept required under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Ninth Circuit once again ruled that the “one person, one vote” concept was not a “basis of all free” government and that CNMI was legally allowed to give equal representation in the Senate to each of the main three islands. 

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly defines what it means to be a U.S. citizen. It protects certain rights of people. This amendment can be divided into three different clauses: The Citizenship Clause, which states that people born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. The Due Process Clause, which ensures that all U.S. citizens are treated the same way in court. And the Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees the same rights, privileges and protections to all citizens. If the U.S. Constitution is fully applied to the CNMI, then the Insular Cases Doctrine has violated the 14th Amendment. 

Even here in the CNMI, where the Covenant and Commonwealth Constitution have been upheld by the Ninth Circuit the three major times that it has been challenged, many here are conflicted of supporting or opposing the Insular Cases because of its violation of the 14th Amendment. 
Many of those who oppose the Doctrine believe it to be a reminder of colonialism that once ruled the world. Where one race is better than the other and has more rights and privileges, one such being the right to own land as here where ownership is restricted to indigenous people only. They believe that if the Doctrine was gone, we would be treated equal in the eyes of the U.S. and would be able to vote for the President. To have a real voice, but in turn we would lose the only protection we have for keeping our islands. 

For opponents who question this, look east to Hawaii. It is a state that does not have the same protections as us but can vote for the President. It is tourist-friendly and promotes its culture to tourists through leis and luaus that stay in the expensive resorts. It seems like a place to be, but in reality the largest landowners are non-Hawaiians. Some even own entire islands. The native Hawaiians have lost their land and culture. The state has declared a statewide homeless emergency because its homeless rate is 50 people out of every 10,000 residents. This is double the homelessness rate in 43 other states. The people in Hawaii blame the poor “house placement” as the land is not owned by Native Hawaiians. Is that what we here in the CNMI want just so that we can vote for President? So we can be “equal” according to the U.S. Constitution? Because in the end, the CNMI is just dust, a point-blank space and probably the last priority out of everywhere in the United States. Is the risk really worth taking?

Supporters of the Insular Cases Doctrine insist that its continuation will preserve our islands’ culture and history. To me, this is the view of the majority and personally I would rather live in a place, knowing it is well-loved, taken care of and respected by its people. People who know the history of where they stand. People whose family tree goes six feet down to its roots.

Yes, the Insular Cases Doctrine has its downsides. We cannot vote for the president. Certain people cannot own land. The U.S. Constitution does not have to be fully implemented here. But if you look past these limitations, you see the Doctrine is here to protect us. Only in the territories do you see the native language still spoken regularly, making Chamorro and Carolinian equal in status to English. Without this protection, how long would these languages last? 

People say that the Doctrine limits our rights, but to that I say we still have a voice. Knowledge is a powerful weapon. Technology has made our island more accessible. No one can ever fool you if you know your rights. But one can never turn back time to bring culture back to life once they kill it.

If you put both choices on a scale, then one will be evidently heavier than the other. The most difficult part here is not keeping the cultures we have alive. The most difficult part is having to walk away with that torch that lights up our island and handing it to someone else. I myself am not an indigenous person. I am not of Chamorro or Carolinian descent, but I bravely stand here in front of you, asking you to keep protecting our islands. I may be a small voice, but I will use my voice hoping that someone else can hear me. 

As Don Henley once wrote, “Some rich men came and raped the land/ Nobody caught ‘em/ Put up a bunch of ugly boxes/ and Jesus people bought ‘em/ ‘nd they called it paradise/ The place to be/ They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea/.” I don’t want this verse to become a representation of here. 

Taking everything into account, I support the Insular Cases Doctrine because it is the only foreseeable way of shielding our islands from all the mercenaries. They will say 
that they want nothing but the best for our islands. They will say that they truly love our culture, historical places and everything about us, but what lies beneath that is their true desire. We do not need to sacrifice the hundreds of years of culture, heritage and history. We do not need to betray this paradise, this hidden gem and this golden treasure. We do not and should not kill it over our desire [for] full sovereignty. Do not be the one to hand out the key to killing us. Do not be the one who will pour water on the fire of culture that the ancient folks ignited thousands of years ago.

Ella Eusebio (Special to the Saipan Tribune) Author

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