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Marianas Variety: Heritage advocates discuss ancient burial sites with NMC students (October 21,2016)

SOME burial sites of the ancient Chamorro have been desecrated by ongoing development projects on Saipan, heritage advocates Liana and her husband Richard Hofschneider told Northern Marianas College students on Tuesday.

Based on information they gathered 416 sets of remains were recovered from April 2015 to Dec. 2015, including those from the 4.1 hectare parcel of land in the ongoing Best Sunshine hotel project in Garapan. There’s also an ancient well in the wetland portion of the construction site, Mrs. Hofschneider said. She and her husband emphasized the significant role that the younger generation plays in protecting their island’s historical sites. The couple told the Current Events class of Northern Marianas College instructor Guadalupe Robinson that they sought assistance from the U.S. Office on Insular Affairs after the CNMI government failed to ensure that the sacred burial site in Garapan received the attention it warranted.

Mrs. Hofschneider said she wrote in June 2015 to Assistant Interior Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther Kia’aina and received a response in Aug. 2015. She said Kia’aina designated OIA’s CNMI staffer Francisco Taitano as the contact person. “Mr. Taitano called me on his cellphone several weeks later. I told him that I would forward documents and as much information as I have regarding Anaguan,” she said, referring to the Garapan site. She said after several initial discussions, there has still been no concrete action. “I am very puzzled by this kind of treatment from a federal employee — this is an important issue.” She noted that Taitano was a key advisor to former Gov. Juan N. Babauta who also served as the CNMI’s Washington representative for 12 years and was aware of the recommendation to include Anaguan in the National Registry. She said the Babauta administration acknowledged the significance of the Anaguan burial site.

According to Mrs. Hofschneider, they also sent numerous letters of protest to the Department of Public Lands, the Historic Preservation Office, the Division of Environmental Quality, the governor and the Legislature. She said they likewise emailed or sent letters to the attorney general, and also to the public auditor regarding access to government records after some offices, she added, failed to comply with the Open Government Act. Mrs. Hofschneider also discussed the draft archaeological data recovery report from Scientific Consultant Services which tries to address the independent 20-page report by University of Hawaii Professor James M. Bayman who itemized serious concerns regarding the archaeological data recovery process at the Garapan site. “Professional standards have been compromised,” she added.

The archaeological data recovery was recklessly done, she said, adding that Scientific Consultant Services “fast-tracked” the excavation which was completed in merely three months. “It is my understanding that Scientific Consultant Services was paid $3.2 million for the project to be ‘fast-tracked.’ This process ensured that the ‘integrity’ of the site was compromised. The kind of destruction that occurred at the sacred ancient Chamorro burial site was intentional. Archaeological data recovery, for example, was done at ‘Stratum III’ but no archaeological data recovery was done on Stratum lV’ except bulldozer excavation.”

She said there are three major areas of concern with the 270-page Scientific Consultant Services report:

  • Why did Scientific Consultant Services not mention or discuss the national registry eligibility of the site?
  • Why did it not include the 260 sets of human remains excavated by Swift, Harper & Fleming or SHARC during the latter part of 1990’s and other archaeological data recovery reports done at the adjacent properties of the former Hafa Adai Beach Tower & Duty Free Shoppers? “As you can see, there is a memorial monument or Latte structure and a plaque immediately below the Hard Rock Café guitar outside the T-Galleria,” she said, adding that the memorial was mentioned in Dr. Bayman’s report.
  • How was it possible to process over 400 sets of remains given the length of time of the project from March 2015 to June 30, 2015, and the number of archaeologists and staff working on the project?

She said Scientific Consultant Services claimed that it was pressed for time by the developer/investor. “This is unacceptable! This reminds me of the Fitial corruption scandal when people were used to facilitating illegal acts. And we all can recall the events that ended in the impeachment of the then siting governor,” she said. Mrs. Hofschneider also told the NMC students about Best Sunshine International’s proposed reburial site.

In Feb. 2016, during a public presentation of Scientific Consultant Services archaeological data recovery, the interment site on the property was mentioned for the first time, she added. She noted that the red dot on the map indicating the site was within the “high water mark” zone and within 150 feet of the shoreline. She said the presenters did not provide any plan for a reburial or a monument. “This precipitated our protest during the hearing and we said our group, the Matua Council for Chamorro Advancement, will provide the memorial monument design and protocol for the site. Immediately after the hearing we discussed this project with a credentialed volunteer to work on the schematics of the monument and the site.”

The Hofschneiders told Variety that the primary goal of their discussion with the NMC students was to ensure “that this kind of incident does not happen again anywhere and especially in the CNMI.” They added, “We must be able to effect change in public policy to address our ancient Chamorro ancestors especially with the recent economic developments here in the CNMI. We must be able to ensure that there is a governing body when we come across any ancient burial site.” They are hoping that the construction of the memorial for the Garapan site and reburial/re-interment process will begin as soon as possible. They then encouraged students to sign a petition calling for the inclusion of the Chamorros in the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act.

“We are the natives in the Mariana Islands. The inclusion is critical because since the 1920s numerous archaeological studies have been done. And as a result many of our ancient ancestors’ human remains and artifacts are in boxes and vaults of museums here and in other countries.” At least 30 NMC students signed the petition.

For more information, go to the Facebook page of the Matua Chamorro Council. You may also sign the petition online at

The petition calls for a reburial/re-interment site at Anaguan, and for the site to be moved in-land and not, as proposed, within the “high water mark” and just150 feet from the coastal waters. “The monument will be a reminder of our people who have lived and thrived on these islands for thousands of years. This is also a place to pay tribute and remember the struggle of our ancestors during the Spanish colonial occupation of our islands as one of the sites where the 30-year Chamorro-Spanish War was experienced. “The memorial monument will remind generations of Chamorro children, visitors and tourists of the rich history of our Chamorro heritage.”

Mrs. Hofschneider said they have asked U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan to have the site included in the National Registry of Historic Places of the U.S. National Park Service. But Kilili said he could not do anything because it is a CNMI issue, she added. “He wanted us to do the petition ourselves. Delegate Kilili did not even offer his assistance in the process.”

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