Monday, August 06, 2007

Desecration of Chamorro Remains at Okura

Cristobal’s group seeks a stop on digging at burial site
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff
August 7, 2007

FORMER senator Hope Cristobal, president of the Coalition for the Protection of Ancient Cemeteries, has asked the Guam Preservation Review Board to order a stop on further digging at Gun Beach, where an ancient burial site has been discovered.
Cristobal asked the board to “cease all ongoing archeological activity and save to what is left of the ancestral cemetery.”

But Patrick Lujan, deputy historic preservation officer, said the existing law prohibits the government from interfering with private projects.
Guam Okura Hotel, which owns the Tumon property, is undertaking a $30 million development project on the site, where 280 ancient human remains had been dug up.

“The law that we have upholds the rights of private property owners. So we cannot just go there and stop them from whatever they are doing,” Lujan told Variety.

He said the government has no reason to stop the project because the landowner has complied with the mitigation requirements which are among the conditions under the permit issued to the property owner.

Cristobal said members of the coalition disagree with the way it is currently written as it fails “to protect ancient Chamorro remains, or acknowledge that indigenous Chamorro traditions should be recognized as legitimate cultural items for national protection.”

“Inside the legal document, however flawed, the key language which, if interpreted in a more progressive way, could function to protect ancient burial grounds from shoddy archeology and mitigation preservation, which the coalition does not count as true preservation,” Cristobal said.

“This issue is inextricably tied to our political status of dispossession,” she added.

Cristobal also asked the preservation board to stop the developer’s plan to ship the remains that had been removed from the site off-island via the U.S. Postal Service.

The coalition is also demanding that Okura Hotel redesign its project in way that would allow the burial site to remain in its original place.

The group is also calling for the creation of a Chamorro Burial Council that will serve as a community resource and advisory group that will deal with issues related to ancient burial sites.

Cristobal criticized the Historic Preservation Board for its failure to provide public information about what has been found in the development site.

But Lujan said the board didn’t make public disclosure about the discovery of the remains because “we were concerned about potential looting and further destruction of the area.”

“We rather hold information until a study is completed and released,” he added.

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