Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Guam is a single, limestone island and an overseas territory of the USA, and officially the westernmost part of the USA. It is very cyclone prone.
Under the Treaty of Paris (1898), when Spain ceded Guam to the United States after its defeat in the Spanish-American War, the US Congress was granted responsibility for the ‘native inhabitants’.
From the Spanish colonial era onwards there was immigration and Spanish, Filipino and American influences have transformed some elements of indigenous Chamorro culture. Guam has been under US administration since 1898; it became an ‘unincorporated’ territory in 1950.
From 1898 to 1950, the Chamorros were not citizens of the United States of America, but rather were citizens of Guam, with the military government assigning a civilian identification number to each Chamorro on the island. In August 1950, the Chamorro became ‘qualified’ citizens of the United States under the enactment of the Organic Act of Guam of 1950 – ‘qualified’ in that not all provisions of the US Constitution apply to Guam. The Organic Act provides that the US Congress has authority to amend or repeal any law passed by the Guam Congress
In the 1990s Guam has sought to redefine its political relationship with the USA, with the Guam Congress establishing a Commission on Decolonisation, to educate the community about options for self-government and self-determination. However the work of the commission was under-funded and had little success and the US government has opposed many of Guam’s proposals, such as indigenous rights, mutual consent, local control of immigration and the return of military land. The Government of Guam unsuccessfully took these issues to the UN Special Committee on Decolonization in 1994.
There has been extensive migration to Guam in the postwar years, especially from other parts of the USA, the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. By 1950 the Chamorro population was a numerical minority, with the US-born population making up more than a third of the population. Since then the Chamorro population has more or less remained in a minority position while the Filipino population has grown to almost a quarter of the total. In the past decade there has been significant migration from Micronesia, especially the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.
Main languages: Chamorro, English, Filipino
Main religions: Christianity (mainly Roman Catholicism)
Minority groups include Filipinos, Europeans, Koreans and Micronesians.
Guam has long been a significant US military base, of major strategic importance, with a considerable European population. The indigenous population were Chamorros, as in the adjoining Northern Marianas, with some similarities to other Micronesian populations.
Guam has a single legislature. There has been little interest in independence. By contrast, there has been a steady recent increase in expressions of Chamorro identity. A pressure group, campaigning for the rights of indigenous people, Chamorru Nation (Nasion Chamoru), emerged in 1993 to appeal for stricter control of migration to Guam, because it was regarded as a threat to Chamorro culture and political and social stability. A wholly Chamorro radio station began in 2003.
In 2005 Chamorro activists revitalised themselves, opposed the presence of nuclear weapons in Guam and water privatisation, and sought to resuscitate themselves as Pacific islanders and sought greater access to military land. There have been conscious efforts to preserve language, dance and other aspects of a declining Chamorro culture. The economy is centred on government, United States military spending and tourism (mainly from Japan) but tourist receipts have steadily declined over the past decade.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Nasion Chamoru (Chamorro Nation)
Sources and further reading
Souder, Laura Marie Torres: Daughters of the Island – contemporary Chamorro women, Micronesian Area Research Center, Monograph No 1, University Press of America, Lanham, 1992.
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation Working Paper 2006, “retrieved 3 August 2007, http://www.un.org/depts/dpi/decolonization/docs_working%20papers_2006.htm”
Digital Micronesia (links to Guam websites): “retrieved 3 August 2007, http://marshall.csu.edu.au/Guam/index.html”
Chamoru.com covers history, languages and current news for the Chamorro community in CNMI and internationally: “retrieved 3 August 2007, http://www.chamoru.com/”
Weingartner, G., The Pacific: Nuclear Testing and Minorities, London, MRG report, 1991.