Our Islands Are Sacred

From The Saipan Tribune

Northern Islanders consider class action suit

Former residents of the Northern Islands and those who have ties to the area are threatening to file a class action lawsuit against the U.S. military if the planned militarization of Pagan pushes through.

This consensus was made following a two-hour town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Carolinian Utt in Garapan where those who attended also said they feel neglected.

“We are mostly looking at getting the focus together and pushing the interest they [Northern Islands] have for islands in the north. Because nothing is being done for the folks of the Northern Islands,” said Jerome Aldan of the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office.

He pointed out that Commonwealth laws also apply to the Northern Islands because they are part of the CNMI, yet “it seems like they treat the Northern Islands differently and are excluded from all these privileges…privileges like homesteads.”

“For many years the Northern Island folks are lost. They don’t know what is going on and how to get their lands back prior to being exiled here to Saipan after the volcanic eruption,” Aldan added.

The Northern Islands Mayor’s Office earlier said that in the past 20 years alone, 18 applications for land for agricultural homestead for the Northern Islands have remained pending with the Department of Public Lands.

Aldan said that a census conducted in 1969 showed that Pagan was home to 49 residents. The oldest resident was born in 1903 while the youngest was born in 1968.

Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council adviser William Torres, who also made a presentation at the meeting, said that just recently the House of Representatives passed House Bill 18-108 to force DPL to issue homesteads to residents of the Northern Islands.

Northern Islanders Lino Olopai, Cecilia Kaipat Selepeo, Moses Castro, and others also expressed concerns about the future of Pagan.

Castro said that he was born in the Northern Island on Sept. 19, 1942. “I got married there and had three kids, but after the volcano erupted we were sent here,” he said.

Olopai said the government seems to be waiting for a bigger investor to develop the Northern Islands. He also highlighted the clash between Western concept of ownership and the indigenous rights to their property.

“Like this slipper [that I’m wearing], do I need legal documents just to own this slipper? Do I need a lawyer to go through court to own this? Olopai said in Chamorro. “Why not the traditional way? This slipper will get passed on to my children, then it’ll pass on to their children, then generations to come. That’s the traditional way, our property needs to continue to get passed through the generation with no documents,” he added.

Selepeo told Saipan Tribune about her late father, Francisco Borja Kaipat, the first district representative of the Northern Islands who was assassinated in April 1972.

“The following day we had no choice but to come to Saipan from [Pagan]. My mother was shot in the head. My brother who was 11 years old at that time was shot in the shoulder but he had to be brought to Guam,” she said. “But also because our mother was disabled, we had no choice but to stay here.”

She was born in Pagan in 1970 and has longed to go back to her birth island. Last year on August 2013, she finally managed to join a trip going to Pagan.

“To finally reach the place 42 years later brought back a lot of memories. That’s why when I came back to Saipan after the trip I felt that I needed to get a property up there,” she said.

Now that she is in her 40s she is willing to go back to Pagan, which she described as a healing place.

Aldan said that it is sad to see that nobody is entertaining their concerns.

“It’s all a mater of justice to these folks, they’ve waited so many years. Some of our ancestors, elders, and some folks of the listed census for the Northern Islands are probably gone as we speak right now,” he said.

“Despite where you are in the Northern Islands, we are still in the CNMI,” he added.


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