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    Friday, November 16, 2018-10:51:23A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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To Rep. Alice Santos-Igitol, chairwoman, House Committee on Natural Resources

ON behalf of Matua Council for Chamorro Advancement, I hereby submit our OPPOSITION to the intent of House Local Bill 20-037 that was introduced on August 18, 2017.

Foremost, although the intention of the bill is about our ancient Chamorro ancestors’ human remains; I would like to recommend that “Chamorro” be inserted after “ancient” to ensure clarity and consistency in public laws and regulations in local and federal public policies; and to be mindful that the Chamorros are the aboriginal, native inhabitants, indigenous or first people who have lived in the Marianas for nearly 4,000 years as provided for in our oral and written history, historic and scientific evidence.

Additionally, the heading of the proposed legislation should also reflect the intention of the bill because the language provided for in the heading is ambiguous as to the treatment of whose human remains the proposed legislation intends to address.

This bill, although it did not state in its current language actually calls to amend existing public laws that provide for significant changes to the mandates of the Historic Preservation Office under P.L. 3-39 and P.L. 10-71, respectively — on the management and disposition of our cultural and historical lineage and artifacts in the Northern Mariana Islands; and specifically, on the treatment of our ancient Chamorro or Taotao Tano human remains.

The first section of the proposed legislation stated that the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation pointed out the findings and recommendations of the “Task Force on the Entombment of Ancestral Remains for the Third Senatorial District of Saipan and the Northern Islands…” — a task force convened by the Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council, and was chaired by council member Diego Kaipat.

The bill language stated that the Legislature agrees with the position of the task force “as it reflects the best way to incorporate changes to protect our cultural and historical resources while also serving the public.”

If the intention of H.L.B. 20-037 is to protect our cultural and historical resources; first, the human remains of our ancestors ni man Mo’fo’na are not and should not be addressed as “cultural and historical resources.” They are our ancestors’ human remains.

Additionally, if the intention of the bill is to protect these invaluable cultural and historical of the life history and legacy of our ancient Chamorro ancestors — then removing and relocating their natural burial site as envisioned in this “House Local Bill” is inconsistent to the mandates of the law and HPO policies and regulations that our ancient Chamorro human remains — shall be reburied “at or near” the excavation site; not to be displaced from their original village and burial site, ginen i naturat na Sengsong yan Naftan niha.

Further, this proposed legislation stated and asserts that “this policy reflected the views of the HPO based on the circumstances nearly two decades ago. It is undisputed that it should be evaluated to ensure it reflects current views.”

The question begs, whose policy view is reflected? Is it HPO, investors, developers or the descendants of the ancient Chamorros? And whose policy views should be weighed? What standard should be considered that “ensure it reflects current views” as what this legislation is asserting?

Furthermore, the bill stated that “this Act establishes a centralized reburial site as well as the mandate to utilize this site.”

What this section purports is to cover up and relieve the archaeological digging from past projects conducted by — who knows when and for what projects — because there are numerous archaeological reports that are not readily available for public review and perusal from the Historic Preservation Office.

What this section “…as well as the mandate to utilize this site” also purports to provide the venue in the context that there are numerous ancient Chamorro settlement sites that are being compromised in light of the massive development proposals now underway in Saipan to ensure that developments will not be hampered financially; but our Chamorro cultural and historical heritage will suffer the greatest destruction and the legacy of our ancestors will be lost forever at their ancient settlement sites.

What is more egregious is that this legislation intends to absolve the issues surrounding the human remains of our Chamorro ancestors in the lack of transparency and accountability by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs and HPO on the actual number of human remains that are currently in the HPO storage facility at the office; the location where the human remains were recovered from; and for what project that the particular human remains were recovered.

It is unconscionable and unacceptable that this legislation intends (and HPO) to accede to absolve the responsible archaeologist and contractor of their duty and responsibility to ensure that the “reburial” of the human remains recovered during the respective archaeological project are accomplished upon completion of the project as mandated in the HPO policies and procedures and P.L. 3-39.

Furthermore, the government is aware and has been ascertained by the Resident Executive for Indigenous Affairs, Mr. Roman M. Tudela, that there are hundreds (if not one thousand) human remains that have been stored in the HPO storage container on property at Airport Road office; and most, if not all, are the remains of our ancient Chamorro ancestors.

Additionally, there are hundreds of ancient Chamorro human remains stored in an abandoned and dilapidated concrete crypt immediately behind the Guma Taga in Tinian; including many more in Rota that are temporarily stored by HPO.

This legislation intends to consolidate all of the human remains now at the HPO facility that have been stored for decades; including the 263 (50 are at the CNMI Museum) in the care of Swift & Harper Archaeological Resources or SHARC; including the most recent excavation of 416 of our ancient Chamorro ancestors who were desecrated from i Sengsong Anaguan by the contracted archaeologists Scientific Consultants Services Inc. or SCS; and are being stored in a 40 footer metal shipping container for over two years by Best Sunshine and Imperial Pacific International.

It is important to note that nearly 700 of our ancestors dated 1100 A.D., were intentionally excavated from their graves — man ma estotba ginen i Naftan niha — in March 2015 to make way for the construction of the former Grand Mariana Hotel & Casino by Best Sunshine International and developed by Imperial Pacific International, which is where the Imperial Pacific Resort sits directly on top of the entire footprint of the ancient grave site.

In fact, P.L. 3-39, Section 11 states, “Prohibited Acts — It shall be unlawful for any person, partnership, business, corporation or other entity who willfully remove or take any artifact that is of historic or cultural significance to the people of the Northern Marina Islands, or knowingly destroy, remove, disturb, displace, or disfigure any cultural historic property on public or private land or in the water surrounding the Northern Mariana Islands as designated by or eligible for designation by the Historic Preservation Office as a cultural or historic property…”

This legislation intends to consolidate all of our ancestors’ human remains regardless of which village and burial site they naturally resided during their life and their burial site at the time of their death that was decided and chosen by their clan.

Hence, the re-interment and reburial of our ancient Chamorro ancestors to their natural settlement and burial site are integral to our cultural, historical and traditional heritage left behind by our ancestors. It is significant to the descendants of all Chamorros and the future generations of Chamorro children.

That said it is imperative that the 263 and 416 of i Taotao Sengsong Anaguan must be re-interred within the Imperial Pacific Resort property perimeter as it is their natural burial ground; provided that the archaeological report is final; analyses report of the remains and artifacts are thoroughly scrutinized; and the “Reburial Plan” submitted by SCS, BSI and IPI is carried out accordingly to P.L. 3-39 and HPO policies, regulations and procedures as soon as practicable.

More importantly, this proposed legislation should not be exclusive to the decision-making process of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation (HLB); instead, it should and must be in the form of a House Bill because these are the ancestors of all Chamorros — Saipan, Tinian, Rota and all islands in Gani; including all Chamorros who are currently residing in Guahan, the United States and elsewhere for employment, medical and military.

Additionally, this proposed legislation provides a free-hand for abuse by HPO in this language: “§103. Exemptions. The Historic Preservation Office shall designate via policy, rules and regulations, the activities and persons that shall be exempt from the requirements of this Act.”

This provision is open for abuse by HPO and may lead to corruption on what activities to exempt; and who will be exempted in the application of the law. And the end result will be the permanent destruction and desecration of our invaluable and irreplaceable cultural and historical heritage as what we have witnessed recently at the Anaguan archaeological fiasco.

The Legislature should and must empanel an Ad-Hoc committee to oversight the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs under the direction of secretary Robert H. Hunter, its Division of Historic Preservation Office; including the governor appointed “State Historic Preservation Officer” and HPO director Mertie Towai-Kani; including the HPO advisory board members, to find out why there are hundreds, if not a thousand, human remains, that are most if not all, ancient Chamorro human remains that continues to be stored at HPO storage spaces without accountability for over two decades; and status of the archaeological reports; including reburial plans for the respective archaeological projects.

The Ad-Hoc committee report should provide the details of what needs to be done next by the Legislature to provide policy direction in the disposition of the human remains now in HPO custody for decades; the legal direction for the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Public Auditor; and financial requirement for the archaeological reports, cultural and scientific analyses, re-interment site preparation, and reburial process.

I remain humble and look forward to the WITHDRAWAL of H.L.B. 20-037; and instead introduce a House Bill that will provide immediate funding to ensure that the 263 of our ancient Chamorro ancestors’ remains that were excavated over 18 years ago in the care of the CNMI government and SHARC; are scientifically and culturally analyzed; and reported as required by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Parks Services and CNMI HPO. This needs the Legislature’s urgent attention and merits a “Special Session” as soon as possible.

In closing, we are cognizant that the Legislature must balance economic development with the mandates of the CNMI Constitution Article XlV and public laws. We encourage the Legislature to engage in a comprehensive legislation that provide policy direction for HPO to ensure greatest protection of our Chamorro, i Taotao Tano, cultural and historical heritage to benefit the generations of Chamorro children; including your grandchildren who are ultimately the heir to this invaluable and irreplaceable cultural and historical heritage and resources.

Si Yu’us Ma’asi.

The writer is the president/founding member of MATUA, Council for Chamorro Advancement.