Historian backs ‘Guahan,’ senator bats for self-rule
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 03:32
by Tiffany Sukola | Variety News Staff
A LOCAL historian stands behind Gov. Felix Camacho’s initiative to adopt “Guahan” as the island’s official name, despite harsh criticism from some local residents.
Camacho signed an executive order on Monday after delivering his final state of the island address that calls for all “Guam” references in official documents to be replaced with “Guahan,” the island’s indigenous name. The governor also asked legislators to enact a similar measure to adopt the name-change as well.
University of Guam Chamorro professor Peter Onedera said critics of the governor’s initiative are missing the point of this unprecedented move. He said he has heard opponents of Camacho’s decision say that the name-change will have no effect on the Chamorro people.
However, Onedera said he fully supports Camacho’s move because he sees this is a chance for the Chamorro people to finally have a say in what happens to their island. “This is a step in the right direction,” said Onedera. “It’s about time the Chamorro people are empowered.”
Onedera said local residents should not let this opportunity to give the island its proper name back. “Other names were given through time, from the Spanish, the Japanese and the Americans,” he said. “But no one ever asked the native people if it was ok or got permission from them to use these new names.”
According to Onedera, “Guahan” and “Guam” have both been used in historical documents referencing the island. However, the natives called their island “Guahan.”
Americans started calling the island, ‘Guam’, when they arrived in 1898, said Onedera. The name stuck after the island was referenced as “Guam” in the Treaty of Paris.
The first naval governor, Richard Leary, requested that the island be officially named, “Isle of Guam.”
Onedera added that residents should feel empowered because they finally have a chance to voice their opinion on the matter.
However, Sen. Judi Guthertz said that while Camacho’s intentions are all well and good, changing the name of our island is not a legacy.
“A legacy is achieving something really remarkable on a significant issue,” said Guthertz in a press release yesterday. “I would suggest that the Governor concentrate…on establishing a new and improved political status as his legacy.”
Guthertz added that Camacho should convene the Commission on Decolonization and the Guam First Commission to address the issue of political status.
Onedera also said that he would like to see the next administration take a more proactive role in preserving the island’s culture and language.
“We are losing things of value to our culture,” said Onedera. “I hope the next administration has more cultural sensitivity.”
Onedera said he believes the Chamorro language is not used nearly enough throughout the island. The Chamorro language, he said, should be used more in official documents and during public speeches.