Mixed reactions were aired at the first public hearing of Best Sunshine International, Ltd. regarding the archeological work they’ve done on the developer’s site in Garapan where the Grand Mariana Casino and Hotel Resort will rise.
Following a presentation by Scientific Consultant Services principal investigator Michael Dega on the findings of their months-long dig, the floor was opened for the public to comment, especially on the topic on where the remains will be interred.
Saipan Young Professionals’ Mable Ayuyu was among a handful of those who thanked Best Sunshine for what they have done particularly in educating the public on what they were able to find at the site. Ayuyu said education is very important.
She also thanked BSI for thinking of putting up a memorial. BSI shared their idea of having an interment and memorial site as close to the beach as possible where a cultural garden and a hut will also be situated.
“As far as the location, thank you for thinking of putting up a memorial,” Ayuyu said.
Matt Manglona called on other members of the public to have a say on where the interment site and suggested that they vote on where the remains will be placed.
Guma’ Simiyan Manaina-ta Cultural Group founder L.J. Castro also thanked BSI for reaching out to the public but asked for the remains to be treated with respect as they were taught at an early age to revere their ancestors.
“Put yourself in our ancestors’ shoes, how would you like to be treated?” Castro said.
Vice speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), who was a former executive director of the Historic Preservation Office, shared to the public of the best policy that if remains had to be disturbed, they had to be placed as close to where they were found as possible. If the interment site would be different, then it has to be accessible to the public.
“This is not the first project like this,” Deleon Guerrero said, pointing out that similar projects were also done for other establishments such as the DFS Galeria.
Another member of the public raised the question on what happened to the remains found in other establishments such as Hyatt Regency Saipan and Palms Resort among others.
Still, others raised the question of if the dig was showing disrespect to the ancestors.
Among those who voiced out this concern very blatantly was known preservationist, storyteller, and navigator, Lino Olopai.
“How dare you put my family’s bones in small bags? How dare you send my family’s bones for DNA testing?” Olopai said.
Olopai raised the question if there were proper rituals done before the dig and before the remains were disturbed from their resting place. Olopai argued that there are ways on how to do that and asked BSI if they were able to do so—to which BSI legal counsel Viola Alepuyu responded that they did hold rituals before the dig.
“We pray to our bones before we remove them,” Olopai said.
Being of Carolinian descent, Olopai said he was angry that there was no mention of the Carolinian cultures.
“I am insulted and I am angry,” Olopai said.
Olopai recognized that “we all need to move forward,” however he urged for the Carolinians and Chamorros to take a stand.
Responding to questions on whether they have been culturally sensitive, Alepuyo said yes, and that they have followed and even went beyond HPO’s policies and regulations.
In her comments, MATUA Council for Chamoru Advancement president and founding member Liana S. Hofschneider reminded the public how they have pleaded before to have an alternate site for BSI’s project because of the historical significance of the site.
However, Hofschneider said it is not BSI’s fault that the site, which they urged to be included in the National Registry of Historic Places and under the protection of the National Historic Preservation Act, is now “desecrated.”
Hofschneider pointed out to some members of the public and voiced out that it is HPO’s fault. She called on the resignation of HPO director and state historic preservation officer Mertie Towai Kani and those in the advisory board.
“This is the most blatant, gross disrespect to show me in red dot how my ancestors are going to be buried. Shame on you guys,” Hofschneider said.
She called on the public to participate in having a model on how their ancestors will be buried in at least 2,000 to 3,000 square meters of their choosing and near coastal waters.
Regarding the best location on where the site will be, “We will choose. Not Best Sunshine, not Historic [Preservation Office],” Hofschneider said, “All Chamorros will have to decide that.”
Mike Fleming, principal investigator of Swift Harper Archaeological Consultant who did a dig in the late ’90s on the same site which was the former Samoan Housing and Nakamoto Development property, backed Hofschneider’s comments against HPO saying that “our own government has failed the people” in protecting the cultural artifacts and sites.
Fleming brought copies of a letter that he said was “proof” of the government’s failure and handed it out to BSI representatives to distribute to the public.
The letter, however, was not distributed and members of the media were not allowed to view it. Alepuyo said they would need to provide it first to HPO before sharing it to the public.
Richard Hofschneider suggested for the remains to be “put right in the middle” closest to where it was found and have BSI redesign the project that they currently have.