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The Northern Marianas are a chain of mainly volcanic islands in the north and limestone islands in the south between Guam and the Philippines. They are prone to cyclones and some islands experience volcanic eruptions.

In 1947 the islands became part of the US strategic Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), but in 1975, 78 per cent of the population voted to become a Commonwealth of the United States.

From the 1960s there was considerable emigration of Filipinos, other Asians and Micronesians into the Marianas, and in the 1980s and 1990s an even more substantial migration of Chinese to work in the textile industry. At its peak in the mid-2000s some 17,500 Chinese, alongside some Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis, were employed in the industry. The collapse of the industry after 2005, with more effective American regulation of labour standards, has led to substantial return migration.

The economy is heavily dependent on United States support, especially after the virtual disappearance of the textile industry, with new trading regulations, and the present decline of the tourist industry.

As with other US possessions in the northern Pacific, CNMI has some links to the US military network in Micronesia, hosting intelligence and communications bases on Tinian and Rota and a bombing range at Farallon de Medinilla. Saipan became a forward military base in the 2000s.

Main languages: Chamorro, English, Filipino

Main religions: Christianity (mainly Roman Catholicism)

Minority groups include Filipinos, Chinese and Micronesians

Almost the whole population (90 per cent) of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) live on Saipan. The indigenous population are Chamorros (as in neighbouring Guam), but in the nineteenth century there was a substantial immigration of Carolinians (mainly from what are now the outer islands of Yap and Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia).

The Northern Marianas has a bicameral legislature. Only 39 per cent of the population was born in the Northern Marianas, and a majority of the population are of Asian origin. Foreign migrant workers cannot usually become permanent residents (much less citizens) so the citizen minority dominate business and political life and tightly regulate migration.

In almost every context the Chamorros and Carolinians are indistinguishable, though the government has a ‘special assistant’ on Carolinian affairs.

Minority based and advocacy organisations

Department of Community and Cultural Affairs
Tel: +670 664 2576
Website: http://www.gov.mp

Sources and further reading

Chamoru.com (history, languages and current news for the Chamorro community): http://www.chamoru.com

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Government Website: http://www.gov.mp

Digital Micronesia: http://marshall.csu.edu.au/CNMI/index.html

Howard P. Willens and Deanne C. Siemer, An Honorable Accord: The Covenant between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, Pacific Islands Monograph Series, No. 18, Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 2001

Weingartner, G., The Pacific: Nuclear Testing and Minorities, London, MRG report, 1991