Thursday, March 11, 2010

Public Hearing Split on Changing Guam to Guahan

Hearing split on island name
By Dionesis Tamondong
Pacific Daily News
March 13, 2010

More than half a dozen people who testified in support of changing Guam's name to Guåhan said it would go far in preserving the island's indigenous culture

Others said Bill 331 was a waste of time, and the changes would unnecessarily cost the government of Guam and local businesses too much effort and money.

Some people suggested nixing the measure and letting voters decide in a referendum, complete with a thorough education campaign.

Educators, business owners, local activists and veterans were among those who spoke during yesterday's public hearing on Gov. Felix Camacho's proposal. The governor last month issued an executive order calling for agencies to refer to the island as Guåhan in order "to reclaim our indigenous name" and "reaffirm our identity as a people."

Camacho also has asked Guam's congressional delegate, Madeleine Bordallo, to initiate the change at the federal level. Until federal law makes the island's name change official, GovGuam will have to stick to Guam when it comes to formal communication.

Those who spoke for Bill 331, most testifying in Chamorro, said the name change would mark an important step in the island's self-determination and highlight the indigenous language and culture.
But some questioned whether Guåhan is truly the island's indigenous name, citing a University of Guam study.

"I would support this bill if, in fact, the name Guåhan is the indigenous name for the island of the Chamorros," Eloy Hara said. "But I also believe that something of this magnitude should be put in a referendum."

Ivan Carbullido said while the intent of the bill is admirable, efforts to change the name -- from government communications to business names -- would be quite expensive.

Sean Larkin said Guam's visitor industry and many companies have spent much time and effort branding the island, and those efforts could be diminished if the change were to take effect.

Larkin said instead of forcing a legal name change, which would be costly and distract from other more important issues, the island can use both Guam and Guåhan references as some local agencies and other countries currently do.

"There's no reason we couldn't use both names together," Larkin said.

For example, while Palau is the official name for the island nation, the traditional name, Belau, is regularly accepted for official and common references, said Hara, citing officials he spoke with during a recent trip to Palau.

Supporters and opponents of the measure received applause from their respective sides, but David Sablan, who called Bill 331 a waste of time, garnered applause from the entire audience after he spoke at the hearing.

The Dededo resident said he felt the bill was just a means for the governor to mark his legacy rather than a sincere step toward self-determination.

"We shouldn't even be discussing this bill right now. We should be discussing our political status," said Sablan, a local artist, Chamorro activist and Vietnam War veteran. "We have the right to change our name, but we don't have the right to govern ourselves."

When significant milestones are made toward the island's political self-determination, Sablan said he would be the first to support changing the island's name to Guåhan.

"Instead of Guam, maybe we should name the island Going ... because our governor, he keeps going and going," Sablan said, prompting applause and laughter from the audience.

Camacho is scheduled to be back on island this weekend.

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