Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Indigenous Fishing Rights for Chamorros

Later today, Bill 190 will have a public hearing at the Guam Legislature. If passed, the bill would create an Aquatic Resource Council for Guam. One of its main tasks would be to develop guidelines specific for Chamorros using sustainable fishing practices in Guam's waters. Right now the Department of Agriculture is in charge of who can fish where and when, this Council (which would be made up of grassroots activists and representatives chosen by Guam's mayors) would develop another set of rules for Chamorros.

Its been getting plenty of heat in the media on Guam, especially the PDN, which all but called the bill racist in an article on Monday. The two main points of contention are that the bill could lead to Chamorros been allowed to fish in Marine Preserves on Guam, and that the bill is racist by giving Chamorros special rights and could also end up restricting the access of non-Chamorros. There is alot of misinformation and outright lies about the bill that have been circulating, and while there are pertinent issues that you could raise in opposing the bill (such as it could lead to overfishing or depleting of resources), the charges that it is racist are just an attempt to silence and quiet this issue.

I feel that this could be a very important moment in talking about how to manage our resources responsibly, and this Aquatic Resources Council could be a significant force in teaching sustainability and respect for the ocean, while also instructing in sustainble fishing practices. Its also one of those moments where a colony with an indigenous people has to struggle over its identity, and in what forms will that indigenous presence be rejected or accpted. I'm saddened that opponents of this Bill tend to reduce their opposition to the idea that this is racist or that Chamorros can't take care of their own resources.

I'll be writing more about this later since it represents another one of those moments where you can perceive the colonization of Guam. The ways in which we can't even perceive it sometimes, how the ways we colonize ourselves seems so natural and obvious that we simply think its what we are supposed to do.

The PDN article from Monday was so bad, I'm considering responding to it, either in the PDN or on this blog. It even featured a quote by former Guam Senator Joanne Salas Brown, who I was always told is an intelligent person, but showed a clear lack of intelligence when discussing this bill.

If the bill does pass, Brown said it could turn fisherman against fisherman and Chamorro against Chamorro. Few aboriginal bloodlines are still absolute. For example: Brown's mother is a Chamorro who became a U.S. citizen when the Organic Act of Guam was passed in 1950. Her father is from Tennessee. Many others are one-quarter Chamorro, or one-eighth. "The question is: What percentage is enough? Because most of us are of mixed ethnicity. That bill does not address that issue," Brown said.
It is one thing to be against the bill, which she obviously is, but her representation of the bill was almost shameful. It clearly outlines who would count as Chamorro under these rules, and it has nothing to do with purity, which is what she alludes to. Brown also seems to forget her many years as a Senator on Guam, and the fact that bills can be changed and so if she has a problem with the definition of Chamorro, or anything else in the bill, she can not only speak out against it and race-bait and say stupid things all she wants, but she can also be productive about it and work to change the bill. Frankly, that's my biggest frustration from both sides of this issue. Is that neither wants to work with the other. One side says, we are owed this and we know best how to preserve our resources. The other says, you are racist and you will screw everything up! Although I favor one side over the other, I will gladly admit that both sides are wrong, and the best result would come from them working together.

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