In 2006, the United States and Japan signed an agreement known as the Roadmap for Realignment Implementation. This bilateral agreement initially involved the realignment of some 8,600 marines from bases in Okinawa, Japan to the US territory of Guam in what would be the largest military buildup in the region since World War II. In addition to the relocation of marines, land would be needed to accommodate live round weapons training, as well as housing for military personnel, families and laborers.

The military buildup has the potential to impact many different aspects of life on Guam, including culture, society, economy and environment. Although the details of the planned buildup has since evolved in scope and scale—largely because of political maneuvering and contentious discussions of defense budgets in Washington, DC, and protests in Okinawa—the people of Guam have attempted to voice their concerns and positions—both for and against—the buildup and its impact on the island’s future. One of the most vocal groups to emerge contesting the plans of the US-Japan realignment agreement is We Are Guåhan (WAG).

Draft Environmental Impact Statement and WAG

In November 2009, the Department of Defense (DoD) released a 10,000 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) outlining the plans and anticipated impacts of the proposed military buildup on Guam. A group of community members including mothers, educators, artists, lawyers, business owners, and students collaborated to read through the DEIS and to collect their findings. This group later would come to be known as We Are Guåhan.

For its part the DoD began a public campaign to gather comments about the DEIS and set up several community meetings in different places around the island. The public initially had only 45 days to comment on the DEIS. Eventually, the deadline was extended to give the public a total of 90 days to comment after it became clear that 45 days was too short for the community to read through and digest the extensive volumes of information contained in the DEIS.

To facilitate going through the DEIS, the members of We Are Guåhan, after having read through the document, began sharing fact sheets that summarized information taken from the DEIS at public hearings held by DoD. The fact sheets focused on and highlighted the negative impacts that the proposed military buildup would have on the island, including the destruction of more than seventy acres of coral reef and the construction of a firing range complex on and around Pågat Village, an ancient indigenous village and burial site. The group also emphasized the lack of mitigation measures contained in the DEIS to address the significant impacts on Guam’s schools, hospital, traffic and affordable housing.

To ensure that there would be enough local public response to the DEIS, We Are Guåhan organized a DEIS comment drive. More than 10,000 comments were submitted, outlining community concerns and problems with the proposed plan. Through this effort, We Are Guåhan became the most well known activist organization on Guam in opposition to the proposed military buildup.

Other education and outreach activities

We Are Guåhan’s education and outreach efforts utilize a hands-on approach to understanding the anticipated impacts of the proposed military buildup. The group has organized educational tours to different culturally or ecologically significant areas where the buildup is expected to have the greatest effect. One such tour was to the specific area of coral reef that would be damaged by the Navy’s planned expansion of Apra Harbor to accommodate increased cargo traffic, and another was to Guam’s Northern Aquifer, which supplies most of the water to the northern part of the island. The group also organized a hike series called “Heritage Hikes,” which took hikers to various sites that are part of the history of military land-taking on Guam or were being considered for the site of DoD’s proposed firing range complex.

As public concern over the proposed buildup grew, President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a stopover in Guam at Andersen Air Force Base on his Asia tour in March 2010. In less than three weeks, We Are Guåhan organized a petition campaign, collecting over 11,000 signatures and insisting that President Obama leave the base and enter into the community to address the growing and urgent concerns regarding the military buildup. The White House offered We Are Guåhan 80 base passes to a rally that Obama would hold on base on 22 March 2010. The group organized an event called “We Are Here” to be held outside of the military fence. However, President Obama’s Guam trip was canceled a few days before he was scheduled to arrive.

In April of 2010, We Are Guåhan began creating and distributing the “Grey Papers,” which were summaries of findings made by the DoD and Government of Guam agencies on topics including tourism, affordable housing and schools. The group also created a summary sheet of reasons why the US Environmental Protection Agency rated the DEIS “environmentally unsatisfactory” for the anticipated impacts the proposed military buildup would have on Guam’s drinking water, waste water system and coral reefs. These information sheets were used and referenced by media outlets, public officials and teachers for stories about the military buildup.

The Record of Decision (RoD), a document that authorized the DoD to proceed with its proposal in the EIS, was issued in September 2010. We Are Guåhan held its own ROD rally, ROD standing for “Realize Our Destiny.” The community gathering was held on the lawn of the Ricardo J. Bordallo Governor’s Complex in Adelup, and was visited by various local political candidates, including gubernatorial candidates.

Save Pågat campaign

Currently, the DoD controls about 37,088 acres or more than twenty-eight percent of the entire island of Guam. When considering areas to locate the firing range complex, the DoD initially identified two alternatives: Pågat Village and Sasayan Valley. Because of Pågat’s significance as an ancient Chamorro village site, Guam’s elected officials and the community urged the DoD to leave Pågat alone. However, when DoD released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in July 2010 they maintained their “preferred alternative” of building a firing range complex at Pågat Village. Because of time constraints the DoD was forced to issue its Record of Decision in September 2010, and confirmed again that its “preferred alternative” was the area that included Pågat Village. DoD has tried to define Pågat as a small area that includes the hiking trail, Pågat Cave and the Pågat Arch, but fails to acknowledge that Pågat is a village complex that extends much further, and includes Pågat Point, an area that also has evidence of habitation by Chamorros.

We Are Guåhan, the Guam Preservation Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation sued DoD in November 2010 arguing that DoD had failed to consider all “reasonable alternatives” for its firing range complex. We Are Guåhan also initiated a campaign to educate the community on the significance of Pågat Village. This campaign included a number of media appearances, a series of cleanups, bus stop paintings, a newspaper ad, production of t-shirts, and a “sticker up” day. A year later, DoD conceded they were at fault for not considering other alternatives, and agreed to prepare a Supplemental EIS (SEIS).

In July 2011, federal officials met with local officials and visited the ancient Pågat village. We Are Guåhan organized a demonstration to both send a message and to educate the federal visitors on the significance of the area. More than 400 demonstrators surrounded the entrance to the ancient site holding signs, yelling, chanting, and singing. Later that year, We Are Guåhan began planning the production of a short educational film entitled, We Are Pågat. This production outlined the importance of the historic village and the efforts to save it.

Current activities

We Are Guåhan has maintained its commitment to education and outreach with the launch of the Guam Alumni of the Public School System (GAPSS) program in 2011. Since then, the group has awarded approximately 20 scholarships for high school juniors to take the SAT college admission exam.

We Are Guåhan has continued to table the SEIS scoping meetings, and in 2012, launched the Not One More Acre campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to give voice to the community’s opposition to DoD acquiring more land. In 2012, We Are Guåhan’s short film, We Are Pågat was selected for the 2012 Guam International Film Festival, and was later featured on Guam’s PBS channel.

As of March 2013, We Are Guåhan has been working on behalf of the Guam community for over three years. With relatively little funding, the group’s programs, actions and events have been run completely through volunteer hours with resources donated by the island community.

By Cara Flores-Mays and Leevin Camacho