I have heard from enough people to know that our opponents are on a quiet, mean, and frankly racist misinformation campaign against both Leila Fleming Staffler and me. Attacking us for not being fluent in the Chamorro language. Falsely accusing us of not valuing our indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch cultures. Falsely claiming that we would abolish Article XII if elected. Even attacking us for only being “half” Chamorro and (in my case) falsely claiming that I am not Chamorro at all.
One of the qualities I have always admired in Leila is her sincerity, how she puts her heart out there again and again and shows her courage in being vulnerable. She recently shared on social media one of the bravest, most heartfelt statements I have seen, that spoke to why we, like so many others in the Marianas, aren’t as fluent in Chamorro as we wish – and how that doesn’t make us less indigenous, or less respectful and embracing of the island cultures that raised us to be who we are today. Here is that statement, along with my comment among many others in the thread: https://bit.ly/LeilaFBpost.
Leila and I both show our love for our cultures in the things that we do. Leila just completed her second cultural documentary film, this one exploring ancient latte sites and traditional healing plants in the Marianas. I have conducted oral history interviews with indigenous veterans and civilian survivors of war, and studied the indigenous experience of war. I am also learning Chamorro with my dad, studying our family’s genealogy, and writing down the stories I have heard from elders about our family’s history.
In our work in the legislature, Leila and I have supported local funding for Chamorro and Refaluwasch immersion programs in our public schools, and for the operations of the Indigenous Affairs, Carolinian Affairs, and Northern Islands Mayor’s Offices. We both objected to the appalling desecration of ancestral remains at the casino construction site in Garapan. We both opposed the military’s proposals to conduct intensive live fire training on Tinian, and turn Pagan into a bombing range. We will continue to advocate for the protection of our natural, cultural, and historic resources, and elevate these invaluable assets in our economic development plans for the commonwealth. This includes our plans to establish a much-needed cultural center in the Marianas, where people may learn and teach our traditions.
Years ago, I was part of a lawsuit against the CNMI government to protect the sensitive natural, cultural, and historic resources of Marpi, and to compel the government to follow federal and local laws requiring due diligence and public consultation for development. One of the victories that resulted from that lawsuit was getting the government to finally adopt a land use plan for all public lands in the CNMI, which belong to the people of Northern Marianas Descent. A public lands plan is required in our laws and constitution, and this mandate was ignored and neglected for years.
Leila and I have both always strongly advocated for better stewardship of our lands, and we recognize that land is intertwined with our cultural heritage. When I was working on my master’s in planning at the University of Hawaii, I studied land tenure systems across Oceania, and saw that the CNMI’s laws and traditions governing ownership of land are not unique in the context of the Pacific. Land is precious in all of our Pacific cultures.
Also years ago, I wrote an article about Article XII for MP Magazine. Ed Propst was the magazine’s publisher, and the assignment he gave me was to cover both sides of the Article XII debate. I interviewed many people for this piece. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property in the Northern Mariana Islands” was published in 2007, but the issues I examined then remain relevant to this day. (Here is the article: https://bit.ly/ArticleXII).
Though I had to be objective and avoid expressing my own personal opinions about Article XII for that piece, my views then and now were the same. Land is precious in the Marianas, and it must be protected. And I have always, always objected to the corrupt land grabs we’ve seen throughout our history and that continue to this day: the predatory actions of politically connected individuals who have profited from desperation and exploited our people.
So to be clear, for all those who have asked: Leila and I support Article XII. We did NOT support the constitutional initiative recently proposed by a Republican senator to abolish Article XII. Leila and I see Article XII as an important safeguard, one that has been tested and upheld in our courts, and our administration will uphold it as the law of the land. The protections found in Article XII were included in our Covenant and approved in our Constitution by a vote of the people. NO GOVERNOR, past, present, or future, can change the Constitution alone, and anyone who says otherwise is simply spreading misinformation. Only the people of the Northern Marianas can decide the fate of Article XII.
Leila and I love our islands. Our hearts are here, with the land and the people we have dedicated our lives to serving. The values that are dear to us – our love of family and culture, our respect for our history, and our commitment to good governance and the wise stewardship of our resources – these are all values instilled in us by the islands that raised us. These are the values that will guide us in leading our commonwealth to a safer, healthier, more beautiful, and more thriving future.
Si Yu’us Ma’ase, Ghilisou, and God bless our Marianas.
Tina Sablan is the democratic candidate for governor of the CNMI. She is a member of the CNMI House of Representatives and a resident of Susupe.