Friday, December 21, 2007

Ancient Chamorro Remains to Be Shipped Offisland

Ancient remains to be shipped off-island
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff

THE ancient remains excavated from a development site in a Tumon beach property will be sent off-island for analysis, according to the Guam State Historic Preservation Office’s draft plan, which is being protested by cultural activist and former senator Hope Cristobal.

Cristobal also questioned the propriety of reaching a plan with the possible involvement of a preservation official who is also the representative architect of the project developer, Gun Beach Development.

According to the plan, the remains will be packaged in cardboard shipping containers or plastic containers that will be marked “fragile.”

The tentative method of transport is to escort the remains by an individual approved by HPO.

“When it is deemed acceptable to transport through other means than escorting, the remains will be sent via registered mail through the U.S. Postal Service,” the plan stated.

At least 280 remains were dug up from an ancient burial site in a privately owned beach property in Tumon, the site of Okura Hotel’s $30 million development project.

PHRI Western Pacific Division, the archeological company commissioned by Okura Hotel, originally planned to ship the remains for off-island study in August. PHRI, however, quickly dropped the plan following protest by Cristobal’s group.

HPO revived the plan during the Historic Preservation Review Board’s meeting on Dec. 17.

The skeletal fragments will be shipped out in batches consisting of 25 remains per shipment. Subsequent shipments will follow when the previous batch returns to Guam following completion of analysis.

“A waiver to exceed this number will be considered if the total amount is extremely high or the analytical process is projected to exceed five years,” according to the draft plan, which HPO manager Patrick Lujan sent out via e-mail to board members.

“The contracted archaeological firm sending the remains off-island shall take full financial and legal responsibility for the safe return of the remains,” the plan stated.

The preservation board determined that sending fragmentary remains off-island could shorten the research timeframe and expedite the reburial process or gain information by specialized studies.

Results of the skeletal remains analysis will be forwarded to a qualified osteologist according to the standards and guidelines set by the Department of the Interior.

Cristobal, meanwhile, lambasted the Historic Preservation Review Board for drafting a policy that she said will benefit Mike Makio, Gun Beach Development’s architect who is also the chairman of the board.

“Obviously, a conflict of interest is being set up before the actual voting happens at the board meeting where Mr. Makio will publicly recuse himself, making it appear that he is not in conflict,” Cristobal said.

“Policies are paving the way for Gun Beach Development and its representatives to complete the final assault on our Chamorro ancestors in Tumon,” she added.

Cristobal also lambasted the board for allegedly shutting off the public from the policymaking decision.

“I believe the Historic Preservation Review Board should announce their board meetings so the public can be allowed to attend and inform themselves of policies being created for the public’s good,” Cristobal said.

She said the board’s plan will pave the way for other developers to “destroy whole cemeteries by digging them out; rather than redesign the encroaching hotel on the ancestral cemeteries.”

Cristobal also criticized territorial archaeologist Vic April for putting property rights over preservation of Guam’s historical treasures.

“Preservation must go beyond Vic April’s interpretation of ‘preservation.’ It must extend whose traditional rights and common law rights. They practiced their sacred burial rituals hundreds of years ago,” she added.

Preservation officials could not be reached for comment at press time.

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