Article 12 is one of the few remaining examples of native/indigenous land autonomy in the United States. This unique position should not be given or stripped away so hastily and irresponsibly. Senate Legislative Initiative 22-01 is a six-page document that threatens to destroy over 40 years of historical indigenous land protection rights and is the last measure of identity distinguishing those of Northern Marianas descent from the rest of the nation.
The CNMI does not have to look far into the past to realize how negatively this will play out for future generations of NMDs. The historical events that stripped Native Hawaiians of their land autonomy are felt throughout the Hawaiian Islands until now and Native Hawaiians are priced out of the ancestral homeland that bears their name. Ask any native Hawaiian or Native American, and they will say their land was stolen and sold to the highest bidder, without their input in its development or use. In my opinion, exercising one’s real property rights in the CNMI is a facade. SLI-22-01 invites struggling NMD families to sell their properties for pennies on the dollar without realizing the true nature of losing a precious resource that cannot be recreated or replaced with something else in the United States. Why would I ever want to sell something my family has held for generations for a life with more bills to pay in the form of land/property taxes, mortgages, land fees, etc.?
Additionally, SLI-22-01 may potentially open the doors to further hardships like property taxes, which the CNMI does not practice, and gentrification, where struggling communities or families are bought and pushed out, paving the road only for those who can afford to live in the CNMI. And lastly, the potential risk of federalization of all land in the CNMI. Why is this even a topic of conversation? History has many examples we can learn from, where the negatives always outweigh any form of economic security in the long run, impacting indigenous communities along the way.
Article 12 should be an opportunity for us to use NMI land responsibly for future generations of NMDs and CNMI residents who call the Marianas home. We have had past opportunities and terrible investments in industries that fundamentally destroy our natural resources and displace families. So why add more fuel to the fire? There are other avenues toward economic success, many of which do not require selling out to the highest bidder. We should learn from the examples of our Pacific neighbors who are doing well economically, like Palau, who did not sell out to the highest bidder and manage their land and ocean resources for the benefit of their communities and not a select few.
Mr. Hofschneider, your proposal of SLI-22-01 is a disservice to all NMDs and CNMI residents who recognize the land the Legislature sits on is first and foremost NMD land. We should not throw away the CNMI Constitution’s protective land provisions of Article 12 on the unguaranteed promise of economic prosperity. I encourage all NMDs, residents, and non-residents of the CNMI supporting SLI-22-01 to look very hard at how history has treated the indigenous communities across our nation, most recently in Guam. These communities have lost or sold their land to the highest bidder, losing their land autonomy altogether, barely improving their situation chasing the “American Dream.” The CNMI should not repeat the history of Native Hawaiians, Native Americans, and other indigenous communities, but we should learn from their past, not invite its destruction.
For all NMDs, we are Chamorros and Carolinians first before anything else. Our leaders of the past and writers of the CNMI Constitution had the foresight to recognize how vital land in the CNMI is and its critical role in ensuring that we are never again without a home we cannot call our own.
Johnny Tudela Aldan, Jr.
As Matuis (sent via email)