Proposed plans clash with promises of civilian- military society decades ago
TINIAN—An island people are “threatened” in the Northern Marianas.
On Tinian—where two-thirds of land is leased to the U.S. Department of Defense—the U.S. military proposes live-fire ranges on land it has left idle for decades, after plans for a military base inclusive of shared schools, water, power, and even a movie theater have failed to materialize since the beginnings of the Commonwealth 40 years ago.
The leased land, described by farmers as “prime” and by historians as cultural and historic “playground,” is now a proposed stage for live-fire practice. Landing ramps built on coral beds, restricted access to land and air, and a high impact area for mortar, grenade, rocket and artillery-live fire, among others, is planned for the island.
For the people who call Tinian their home, though, the answer to these military plans is an unequivocal “No!”
At the Marine Corps Forces Pacific’s public hearing on Tinian last Thursday, about 300 Tinian residents gathered to support a “no action” alternative to the military’s proposed training.
A common plan for all training alternatives proposed in the draft environmental impact statement is the “high impact” firing range.
Kimberly King-Hinds says the plan for this range shows no respect to Tinian land and people.
“[The draft impact statement] is nothing more but a plan to destroy Tinian and destroy our culture. What you call restricted access to beaches, to coastal zones, alterations to the sea floor, to taking away coral, to eliminating certain fish species is what we call our customary right of way of feeding our families.”
“What you call your cattle grazing mitigation plan is a threat to our food supply and our ability to be self-sustaining. What you call restricted access to cultural sites is really a denial of our ability to practice our traditional and customary rights of going to the forest to pick doni, going to pick our medicine, going to pay respect to our dead… And what you call not just 20—but your 22 to 40 weeks of training—is an economic chokehold on this community that has been struggling to be self-sustaining and to steer clear from being a welfare economy,” she said.
“What you call a high impact training zone is what I call tai respetu—no respect! No respect for land and no respect for people in this community!” she said to great applause.
Another speaker, Eric San Nicolas, said the Department of Defense does not own two-thirds of Tinian—“they leased it,” he said. “So at the end of the day… we are the patrons of the land.
“…Many of you who have gone out with our parents like I have to pick doni, to catch ayuyu… all of these things are connected to the land.”
“I’ve walked through those forests… talking stories with my mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa from both sides—that’s how we learn our culture, because Chamorro is not a written culture. We inherit it by talking stories with our parents and our grandparents. You can never put a monetary value to that… you can never return that. Our land is connected to our souls. The moment we are given the land it already belongs to our children, even if they have never been born. So how can we sell something that is not ours?” he said.
Tinian Mayor Joey San Nicolas gave the island leadership’s unequivocal position when he spoke. He noted the “devastating effects” on Tinian’s “reef, jungles, and soil” from live-fire that would leave their own “soils lost” to them and “make land essentially unusable.”
San Nicolas noted that “cleaning up has never been a priority” for the U.S. who he said has left stored waste on Tinian. To note, it’s unclear right now if the Chiget mortar range, beside a popular Tinian blowhole, can or ever will be cleaned up of its leftover munitions or contaminants.
“If the military builds and uses these ranges as proposed, we will never get those lands back… The millions of bullets, grenades, rockets, and bombs fired everywhere will make our lands essentially unusable. Will that waste have long lasting effects on our drinking water?” he said, noting that they have “responsibility” to the island’s future generations.
To applause from the crowd, he said, “We, the leadership of Tinian, oppose the plans outlines in the draft EIS.”
“The military should select the “no action” alternative,” he concluded.
Sentiments that night also exposed the promised vision of a military economy decades ago with the perceived vision now of artillery shells, grenades, and noise and aquifer pollution.
Serafina King-Nabors said, “Forty years ago, we were marching for the Covenant” but the live-fire ranges and the lease of whole of island of Pagan were not on the CNMI’s negotiating table.
“Leave us with our beaches,” she said.
One man, who said he was a special bodyguard to U.S. ambassadors during the Covenant talks, said he “brought the Covenant to Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.”
But nevertheless, while he even has a daughter in the military, he could not support the military’s current plans on Tinian.
“We’ve got 11 miles on Tinian, OK? Two-thirds of that 11 miles belong to you guys, the military. We have only 3.6 miles of living space so I don’t know what else you want from us…” he said.
Hinds also noted how “Americans came here and you promised my parents and our grandparents that you were going to build a school and you were going to build a military base, and you were going to provide for us jobs through a military economy.”
It appears Hinds was alluding to the “Technical agreement regarding use of land to be leased by the U.S. in the Northern Marianas” that was executed decades ago.
Signed by U.S. ambassador F. Hadyn Williams, the personal representative of the President of the United States and other CNMI officials in May 1975, the agreement paints the terms of a military and civilian society co-existing with each other.
The agreement, copies of which were obtained by Saipan Tribune, details provisions that would govern future relations with U.S. and civilian authorities. These arrangements would be accomplished through a “Civil-Military Advisory Council,” the agreement notes.
The agreement also details provisions of access to fishing sites and beaches that would “remain open at all possible times” or at the “same access” levels of military personnel and families unless military training risks prohibit it.
The agreement also notes that utilities will be planned on an islandwide basis in coordination with the CNMI, and that excess capacity would be available to the civilian community on Tinian.
Emergency care in military facilities would be provided by the military to all residents when available on Tinian, the agreement notes. It adds that where health facilities are not available on civilian level, the military would provide this also.
The agreement also details provisions of fire emergency services, an “integrated local school system,” seeking of local services by the U.S. government, and the “use of base movies by the civilian community.”
Now it appears these assurances shouldn’t have been made, indicated MARFORPAC executive director Craig Whelden in an interview after the hearing.
“I don’t know what happened 30 or 40 years ago,” he said. “Perhaps there was some indication, there was a plan at one time to put a base here… [But] if you look at Guam and the base there either at the south or north end—Andersen Air Force Base or Apra Harbor Naval base—those are restricted spaces,” the director said.
“Nobody can go inside those unless you have an authorized ID card. So as I heard that comment from several people, I thought to myself… If we came in and put a base on the northern two-thirds of Tinian, there’d be a gate from one ocean to the other side and the only people authorized up in there would be ID card holders. So it’s kind of a mischaracterization that the people of Tinian would get access to the northern two thirds if we had a base—because bases all over the world, in the continental United States and Okinawa and Guam—they all have gates with access control.”
“Civilians have no access to commissaries. Those are for ID cardholders… So I don’t know what was said 30 or 45 years ago, but I can tell you from 50 years of experience with the military, if they built a base here there’d be a fence from one side to the other and a gate nobody can go into.”
“I don’t know what was said back then, and perhaps, things were said that shouldn’t have been said,” he said.