The quest for self-determination and voting rights, as well as the legacies of colonialism bound some nations in the Pacific, as mentioned in the Community Forum Series: “From New Caledonia to Guahan: Status Updates on the Decolonization Process,” which was recently held at the University of Guam.
Nic Maclellan, a journalist and researcher who has written widely on issues pertaining to the decolonization process said the situation of Guam’s quest for self-determination is replicated across the Pacific Ocean, citing the case of West Papua and New Caledonia.
Maclellan described West Papua’s continued bid for self-determination, where a violent conflict resulted in the death of thousands of people during the 1990s, and a determination of the nation’s political status in the future.
West Papua is a province in the far east of Indonesia, which shares borders with Papua New Guinea to the east. It was previously a Dutch colony and continued to be under its control until the mid-20th century.
He also focused on New Caledonia, a French territory described as a multi-ethnic society with an indigenous population of around 44 percent. According to Maclellan, the South Pacific nation will move into a referendum on its political status in two years' time.
Maclellan also described the events leading to the referendum in 2018, such as the signing of the Noumea Accord in May 1998, which maps out the transition of the nation within a 20-year time frame. The accord promises to grant political power to New Caledonia and its indigenous population - the Kanaks.
According to Maclellan, New Caledonia’s experience could be used by Guam.
Attorney Leevin Camacho also spoke during the forum on voting rights, highlighting the current Davis plebiscite case which was recently in the District Court.
Camacho is an advocate for the preservation of Guam lands, the environment and Chamorro culture and successfully assisted We Are Guåhan and the Guam Preservation Trust in their lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense over the proposed buildup and use of Pågat as a live-round training and firing range by the U.S. military.
According to Camacho, the argument in the case focused on the definition of native inhabitants of Guam, which is defined “as a person who became a U.S. citizen by virtue of the 1950 Organic Act and a descendant of such person.”
In District Court, Special Assistant Attorney General Julian Aguon and attorney J. Christian Adams debated the legality of limiting the plebiscite to the native inhabitants of Guam and their descendants. Adams represented Arnold "Dave" Davis, who has been involved in the strenuous legal battle since 2011 over his inability to register and take part in the plebiscite.
The attorneys argued aspects of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as well as the 15th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination based on race or color with regard to voting by U.S. citizens. They also argued how the Voting Rights Act applied to Guam and whether the plebiscite definition violated provisions in the Organic Act of Guam.
UOG has organized several decolonization forums in the past, including a joint series organized with the Guam Community College and the Festival of Pacific Arts Workshops Committee. Topics covered by the series included exercising the right to self-determination; a deeper look into statehood’s realities, advantages, struggles, and lessons learned; and the critical question of statehood’s impact on cultural survival and indigenous nation building.
The forum, which was sponsored by the UOG Division of Social Work and Chamorro Studies Program, was organized to facilitate an in-depth understanding of the topic among the youth.