Guam Leaders Defend Indigenous Rights; Won't Cut Deal With U.S. Justice Department
Feds accuse Chamorro Land Trust of illegal racial discrimination; seek consent decree
By Jerick Sablan
HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 20, 2017) – When it comes to defending the Chamorro Land Trust, the governor does not want to cut any deals with the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the governor's office.
The Justice Department, in a Jan. 13 letter to the governor, stated it believes that the Guam government's Chamorro Land Trust program illegally discriminates on the basis of race. The Land Trust holds public land for the benefit of Guam's Chamorro people, allowing them to receive low-cost, long-term agricultural and residential leases. The Land Trust also issues commercial leases to non-Chamorros to generate revenue to support the Land Trust and its programs — a move some Chamorro residents oppose.
The Justice Department has called for pre-lawsuit negotiations to resolve the issue in the form of a consent decree, according to the governor's office, which stated the administration will be working with the attorney general and Guam lawmakers to discuss available options.
The governor does not want to enter into a consent decree, according to the governor's office.
[PIR editor's note: On March 21, 2017 Pacific Daily News updated this story to say 'Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, in a release Tuesday morning, said she's not signing a consent decree with the federal government over the Chamorro Land Trust. ... "Unfortunately, I expect to be in court shortly regarding the issues being raised by the federal government concerning the Chamorro Land Trust," she said in the release. Read the release in its entirety here.']
“In my two terms now as governor, I have seen and had to deal with consent decrees that have not been good for the people of Guam. The judicial activism that has been liberally exercised by the District Court has cost the people of Guam hundreds of millions of dollars,” Gov. Eddie Calvo stated. “This newly proposed consent decree can deprive the indigenous people of Guam from the justice the CLTC program is meant to provide.”
Guam entered into a consent decree to close the Ordot dump and build a new landfill. It failed to meet deadlines for those tasks, and as a result the island's solid waste operations have been under federal court-ordered receivership since 2008.
The Legislature Friday passed two resolutions by Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje, D-Yona, during an emergency special session, including a resolution that states GovGuam should not enter into a consent decree over the Land Trust issue unless the governor and lawmakers approve.
The other resolution states the Legislature supports an appeal of recent federal court ruling that states the island's pending political status plebiscite also illegally discriminates on the basis of race. The non-binding vote, which is only for native inhabitants, as defined by Guam law, is to determine their preferred relationship with the United States — statehood, independence or free association.
The plebiscite law imposes race-based restrictions on voting rights of non-native inhabitants, which is against the 15th Amendment, Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood wrote in a March 8 decision.
Plaintiff Arnold "Dave" Davis is a white, non-Chamorro resident of Guam. He applied to vote in the plebiscite but was denied, so he sued the Guam Election Commission and others in the government in 2011.
Righting a wrong
Terlaje has said the Land Trust was created to provide lands to Chamorros to right injustices, including the taking of their lands by the U.S. government. The government of Guam tried to find a way to right the injustice of taking lands by finding places for people, she said.
After the Legislature passed the resolutions Friday, Terlaje, in a release, said she was humbled by the overwhelming support for the resolutions.
“The rapid pace of events called for the Legislature’s immediate action on behalf of the people of Guam, to timely render its opposition to both District Court opinion in Davis v. Guam and the Department of Justice’s position on the Chamorro Land Trust Act, as both issues have significant legal and political implications for the government of Guam and its residents,” Terlaje said.
Calvo agreed with Terlaje that the leaders of Guam should stand up for the rights of the indigenous people whose desires have been pushed aside for too long.
“Guam is now faced with the possibility of another consent decree that would, once again, disenfranchise the native inhabitants of this island by stopping or changing a program that was created to right a wrong levied upon the native people of Guam,” Calvo said.
Calvo also agreed with the resolution on the plebiscite.
“The fight to allow the native inhabitants of Guam to vote for their political future should not end with the District Court,” Calvo said. “We must continue to work together to ensure the voice of the native people is heard.”
Calvo said he believes that a self-determination vote should be held and that the leaders of the executive and legislative branches must stand firm in this belief if a vote is to be realized.
The group pushing for the island’s independence, Independent Guåhan, will talk about the issues during its monthly General Assembly on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the main pavilion of the Chamorro Village in Hagåtña.
In honor of Mes Chamoru, the meeting will be bilingual in both English and Chamorro, according to the group.