IT ALL started in 1898, shortly after Captain Henry Glass came ashore in Guam to let the locals know that thanks to the Spanish?American War, they had just become wards of the United States. By their nature, Naval forces require ample harbors and port facilities, so a very early order of business for the Americans was taking over all Spanish lands, including existing port and naval facilities at Apra Harbor. As historian Robert Rogers tells us, it was clear from the beginning that “the needs and desires of the military on Guam took precedence over all other matters in the administration of the island.”
In the years to come, in times of peace and times of war, military needs trumped property rights of the Chamorro people. Vast tracts of prime Guam land eventually were occupied with bases, airfields and barracks or simply held in reserve as part of contingency plans. Villages such as Sumay were absorbed into the present?day Naval Base, Guam; their residents were relocated elsewhere and some would never see their former home again.
Even with the end of the Naval government and the arrival of local civilian rule, the military continues to be a major Guam landholder, controlling some 27 percent of Guam’s landmass to this day. Many historic and cultural sites are known to be on these properties, yet they are unknown or seldom seen by non?military residents of Guam. After years of complaints from Chamorros and other island residents excluded from lands to which they have personal ties, the military is taking its first, tentative baby steps toward providing public access.
Interestingly, the military hasn’t presented a ready?made plan to the public for comment, but has instead asked the public to provide it with the information needed to develop such a plan. For example, they would like to know what areas are culturally important, which residents might want to visit. Areas with natural materials and plants used in cultural practices would also be of interest, as would the times of day and year preferred by prospective visitors. I am sure that many of us can make important contributions to this information gathering effort and help to produce improved public access to portions of our island that many of us have never seen.
So far, the Guam State Historic Preservation Office has identified 23 sites that it would like the military to consider in its public access plan.
The sites include Tarague Beach and a pictograph cave, located at Andersen AFB; Sumay Village and its cemetery on Naval Base as well as the site of Pan American Hotel site there; and the Orote historic complex, which includes the Spanish Steps and Well, an archaeological site, cave and rock shelter.
There is no question that the present patchwork policy on access to the bases and other federal property needs to be improved. As we heard during the discussion of this issue, it can literally take many months to arrange a hike to a cultural feature ‘behind the fence’ because of the maze of bureaucratic procedures required by the military. Rather than jumping through these hoops, most people instead rely on a service member/relative or work their personal connections to arrange access.
I would also like to suggest that as part of any military access policy, it is absolutely necessary to educate military security personnel who would have most of the face?to-face contact with civilian visitors, so that their guests are shown due respect as equal stakeholders in Guam.
The comment period to consider input for inclusion in the plan has been extended to Monday, Oct. 31. Comment forms will be found at these websites: NAVFAC Pacific Cultural Resources Information – http://bit.ly/NAVFAC?GuamPA; Guam SHPO – http://www.historicguam.org.
I strongly encourage everyone on Guam interested in having access to sites located on military property to send in your comments. It is important that we know and understand our island’s cultural history and legacy; public access is critical.