Friday, December 3, 2010

Guam Preservation Trust, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, We Are Guåhan sue U.S. Navy & Dept. of Defense over sacred indigenous site

In 2003, environmentalists sued the U.S. Dept. of Defense in a U.S. federal court because its proposed construction of a mega-military base in biodiverse Henoko, Okinawa would destroy the habitat of the critically endangered dugong, the Okinawan national monument. In 2008, the court ruled against the U.S. Department of Defense, requiring it to consider impacts of a new airbase on the dugong to avoid harm.

Now the U.S. military wants to build five live firing ranges encompassing over 1,000 acres overlooking Pagat Village, an ancient indigenous Chamorro settlement. Fearing the live firing ranges will negatively impact Pagat, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and two local organizations, the Guam Preservation Trust and We Are Guåhan, have sued the Department of Defense to stop construction of the ranges.

Dating back to 700 AD, the area features caves, a limestone forest, and stone pillars that may have once been a part of structural foundations or burial monuments used by Chamorro society. The firing ranges would force the closure of Pagat, now a beloved local recreational area, to visitors.

In the complaint filed on Nov. 17, the plaintiffs state that the firing range is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and that Pagat Village is sacred to the Chamorro people, the indigenous people of the U.S. Territory of Guam, who to this day constitute approximately half the population of Guam.

Pagat Village has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since March 13, 1974, and was the first National Register-listed site in Guam.
The Guam Preservation Trust provides more background:

The ancient village of Pågat is a historic site and there is so much to learn from this village. The spiritual connection the Chamorro people feel for this ancient village is very strong and the community's desire to preserve and protect this significant historic site should be embraced and empowered...

The United States military plans to undertake a massive buildup on Guam that is estimated to cause a 45% population increase on the island over the next five years. In addition to concerns about Guam's already overtaxed infrastructure and fragile natural environment, many islanders are worried about the potentially devastating impact on the island's cultural resources. Current plans call for the construction of five Marine Corps firing ranges within several hundred feet of Pågat.

Department of Defense plans for a firing range on a bluff directly above the site would bring military exercises, live ammunition, and security fencing to Pågat. As a result, access to this cherished place will be significantly curtailed, treasured artifacts will be threatened and thousands of years of Chamorro history will be placed at risk.

The Guam Preservation Trust nominated Pågat village to America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Washington D.C.

More background:

"Guam under Fire" by Arin Greenwood, National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Guam Preservation Trust et al. v. U.S. Navy (U.S. District Court, Hawaii) (pdf)

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