What does sustainability look like for Pacific Islands in Oceania, namely the Mariana Islands? What does it entail for islands that are ancestral homelands for Indigenous peoples, as well as the U.S. military presence that claims/colonized the island? Dr. Tiara Na’puti, Indigenous Chamoru/Chamorro scholar and activist with roots in Guåhan/Guam and Assistant Professor (Associate Professor as of July 1) of Global & International Studies in the UCI School of Social Sciences says the conversation ought to be about “genuine security,” a term her recent publication uses from the International Women’s Network for Genuine Security. This concept asks that we take a deeper look at what is required for people and places to be secure, including justice across race, gender, and national boundaries; an end to militarism; planning that accounts for the needs of local people; and a sense of “well-being, and long-term sustainability of our communities” (WGS, n.d.).
Dr. Na’puti spoke at a recent seminar co-hosted by the Climate & Urban Sustainability Program (CUSP), the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation, and the School of Social Ecology. There, Na’puti highlighted the complicated role that the U.S. military plays in the lives of those living in Guåhan. She, for example, shared her published research about “disaster militarism,” exposing the irony in calling upon the military as a first response to disasters linked to climate change, like super-typhoons (with increased intensity and frequency affecting the Mariana Islands), when the U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels and the most significant contributor to climate change. On one hand the military first-response seeks to support disaster recovery and protect the livelihoods of residents. On the other, the U.S. military prioritizes protecting the island from disasters and sea level rise precisely because these climate catastrophes pose threats to their existing military bases – with another military buildup planned and construction underway. In the context of genuine security and climate resilience, Na’puti argues the actions of the military are not making Guåhan more secure if they are protecting the island in order to continue military activity which contributes to climate change – a primary cause for the need for such protection in the first place. On May 24, 2023, Guåhan was stuck by Super Typhoon Mawar with sustained winds of 140 mph, and weeks later thousands of residents are still awaiting water or electricity to be fully restored. Yet, as Indigenous human rights lawyer Julian Aguon recounts, grassroots community groups are providing mutual aid, essential services, and support for genuine security. Though an emergency declaration was declared by U.S. President Biden, the cascading impacts of this super typhoon also reveal the complexity of the island’s political status as an unincorporated territory and the environmental destruction caused by the U.S. military.
The ongoing presence of the military on the island has also caused the citing of multiple Superfund sites, areas of land or water with severe environmental damage from toxins, all of which are located on or near current and former U.S. Navy and Air Force bases. Dr. Na’puti indicated that there are contradictions in the environmental protection efforts on the island. Technically governed by the environmental laws of the United States, some activity does not always seem to follow the associated regulations. As an example, Na’puti spoke of Prutehi Litekyan, Save Ritidian’s advocacy against a live ammunition firing range which locals on the island are concerned will negatively impact the protected Guam National Wildlife Refuge area and freshwater aquifer adjacent to the proposed range. Of particular interest to Dr. Na’puti is the way local advocacy groups such as Independent Guåhan and Protect Guam Water are navigating the complicated relationship with the military in their messaging, given ongoing colonial control and considering the U.S. military is also the largest economic contributor to the island.
CUSP and the Blum Center are grateful to learn from the expository work of Dr. Na’puti on the complex social, political, and environmental issues on Guåhan and the way it informs similar questions of climate
resilience for other island nations and territories, but also in California and throughout the continental U.S. as well.
Thank you to Dr. Na’puti for her feedback and revisions to this post.
The definition for genuine security included in this post was informed by the Women for Genuine Security (WGS): http://www.genuinesecurity.org/
Access the research and advocacy groups referenced in this post:
Na’puti, T. R., & Frain, S. C. (2023). Indigenous environmental perspectives: Challenging the oceanic security state. Security Dialogue, 54(2), 115–136. https://doi.org/10.1177/09670106221139765
Na’puti, T.R. (2022) Disaster Militarism and Indigenous Responses to Super Typhoon Yutu in the Mariana Islands, Environmental Communication, 16(5), 612–629, DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2022.2026798
Aguon, Julian. (June 14, 2023) “Hope is a Ghost Island: Three weeks ago, a Category 4 cyclone tore through Guam, but her people are not waiting to be saved.” The Nation, https://www.thenation.com/article/environment/guam-mawar-hope/
Change.org (n.d.)“Protect Guam’s primary water source from contamination,” Protect Guam Water, https://www.change.org/p/united-states-senate-committee-on-armed-services-protect-guam-s-primary-water-source-from-contamination
Prutehi Litekyan, Save Ritidian (n.d.), https://www.saveritidian.org/
Independent Guåhan (n.d.), https://independentguahan.org/