DCCA’s Hunter: Local people should decide on ancestral remains

DEPARTMENT of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter said Chamorros and Carolinians should have the final say on the measure to designate public land for the reinternment of ancestral remains.

Introduced by Sen. Paul A. Manglona, Senate Bill 20-75 proposes to designate and reserve up to five hectares of public land on Saipan, Tinian and Rota for Chamorro and Carolinian shrines and the reinternment of ancestral remains.

Robert Hunter

In an interview, Hunter said his department was asked by the Legislature to comment on the bill.

“Usually I come up with a position on a bill and submit a position on that bill. But in this case, I am looking at some issues both pros and cons that I’ve gathered from our [Historic Preservation Office] and from individuals in the community that might be considered, rather than provide a particular position. It should be the Chamorros and Carolinians who should decide what happen to their ancestral remains. No one else should have any say on that.”

He said indigenous leaders, organizations like the Northern Marianas Descent Corp. and other community members should provide their recommendations.

“I don’t think it is the place of this office to take a position on the final treatment of somebody’s ancestors,” Hunter said.

But he said he will present considerations from the HPO report as well as the recommendations he has received from the community.

“One consideration is that there are people who want a place — a park-like setting where they can pay their respects to their ancestors,” Hunter said.

“It is not conducive to pay respect to your ancestors at the corner of DFS or the reinternment in front of the courthouse or in the middle of the PIC grounds.”

He said others believe “it is disrespectful to those remains if they would be moved to a different site.”

He added, “We know this from some archeological evidence — damage to the bones — that there were infightings. There was fighting between different groups occasionally. We don’t know what that looked like. We don’t know if people from Garapan did not get along with people from San Antonio. We know their hostility [and there is] archeological evidence of this, so it may be disrespectful to bury the bones of people from Garapan in another place. Burials took place at sites for reasons we don’t know now, and we should consider this.”

Hunter said developers are required to set aside an area on their property for the reinternment of the remains they remove at a project site.

“Our current policy is to rebury human remains at or as close to the original site. Because of this, there is an additional obligation on developers to cover the cost of reburying, the vault, the markers, the signs, the ceremonies and other expenses,” he said.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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