Black Lives Matter in the Pacific, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 1.59.45 PM

Since the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I have read and viewed countless news articles, op-eds, solidarity statements, video webinars, social media posts, tweets, and photo albums related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the Pacific Islands and the Pacific diaspora. 

The first thing to note is that there is widespread support for BLM amongst Pacific Islanders (PI). There have been numerous solidarity events in Hawaiʻi (where I currently live), Aotearoa, Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Vanuatu, Australia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and my homeland of Guåhan (Guam). There have also been Pacific-organized events in California, Washington, and Utah, and I have seen PI participate in protests from Kentucky to New York to where it all began: Minnesota. At least two PI were arrested/detained, and there are surely more. BLM solidarity in the Pacific is not new (many BLM solidarity events occurred after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) but it is definitely more expansive today. The largest event occurred in Honolulu, with over 10,000 people attending (this multicultural gathering was organized by Black activists and supported by Hawaiian activists). A few protests have occurred outside US consulates and Aotearoa. There have even been several “paddle outs,” during which surfers paddle out into the water to form a solidarity circle in the ocean. 

Many striking visual images have emerged from the movement and circulated online. These visual statements of solidarity usually combine iconography from both PI and Black culture, such as a raised fist and Pacific tattoo designs. The most common signs read: “Pacific Islanders for Black Lives,” “Black Liberation is Pacific Liberation,” “Micronesians for Black Lives,” “Black Lives Matter in the Pacific,” and other variations.

There have also been numerous solidarity statements from Pacific social justice organizations. These statements usually include: 1) The expression of outrage and mourning about the murder of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other victims. 2) The critique of police brutality, policing in general, institutional racism, and white supremacy. 3) The acknowledgement of and a commitment to address anti-Blackness within PI communities. 4) The racialization of Pacific Islanders as “Black,” such as Melanesians. 5) The recognition of Black and PI genealogies and mixed-race Black Pacific Islanders (BPI). 6) A recounting of our shared struggles against white supremacy in settler colonial contexts. 7) A commitment to support the Black community through direct actions and donations. 

Some statements go further into detail about Black and PI relations and genealogies. People have highlighted how the Black civil rights movements and the African and Caribbean decolonization movements inspired PI decolonization and indigenous rights movements—most embodied in the iconic influence that the Black Panthers had in the establishment of the Polynesian Panthers. Others have pointed to how Black expressive arts (reggae, rap, hip hop, literature, graffiti, and spoken word) and Black intellectuals (Franz Fanon, James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and more) have influenced PI artists and intellectuals. The rich history of Black migration to the Pacific and their contributions to Pacific societies has been shared. Along those lines, the mixed-race BPI community, which has often been invisible and marginalized in the Pacific, is recognized and honored. 

In sharing Black and PI relationality and genealogy, many people have insisted that we therefore have a “debt” to the Black community because of all they have done to empower us, directly and indirectly. In Pacific cultures, “debt” is not a capitalist phenomenon. It is much deeper and refers to ideas about gift-giving, social reciprocity, interdependence, kinship, obligation, support, and mutual aid. Chamorros call this “chenchule’” and it is one of our most cherished values and practices.  

Despite the positivity, there has been, unfortunately, tension and discomfort as well. Some PI have either remained silent about the injustices, or they have openly opposed BLM solidarity. Some say that it is “not our problem” and “far away.” Others have shamed the “rioting” and “looting.” A few have objected for public health reasons, stating the protests put the PI communities at risk of contracting covid-19, especially dangerous since many PI live with older, vulnerable relatives, and that PI in the continental US have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. A few have insisted that PI have our own issues we should focus our energies on, such as decolonization, militarism, and climate change. Within the US, many PI serve in the National Guard, or they are employed as police and private security guards, who have been a part of policing the protests, riots, and looting. 

The most discomfort emerges when PI confront anti-Blackness in the Pacific. Some PI are defensive and claim that anti-Blackness doesn’t exist in the Pacific, which is often depicted as a “multicultural” or “post-racial” “paradise.”  This has been countered by powerful testimony from the BPI community, who have been sharing their personal experiences of anti-Blackness in the Pacific (and, sadly, within their own families and kinship networks). This includes racist slurs, micro-aggressions, stereotypes, colorism, exclusions, bullying, cultural appropriation, disrepect, and more. There have been a couple of webinars on the BPI experience, who have offered emotional testimony both from BPI individuals as well as from PI parents who have BPI children and relatives. Their emotional testimony have shared experiences of racism and anxiety about how anti-Blackness has impacted their families and their fears about their children’s future. Language scholars have even pointed out the racist names for Black people in indigenous Pacific languages. 

In addition to anti-Blackness, the BPI community has spoken to their own feelings about identity and belonging. In terms of identity, the most common statement was BPI individuals not feeling “Black enough” or “Pacific enough.” In terms of belonging, people have felt disconnected from either heritage, especially if they have grown up in the diaspora. One profound insight draws our attention to how one crucial aspect of Pacific identity is a connection to and knowledge of genealogy, whereas Black identity has been indelibly shaped by a violent disconnection from ancestry because of slavery. This difference can also be noted in comparative Black and Indigenous studies. 

BPI identities that have been visible include Black-Hawaiian, Black-Samoan, Black-Tongan, Black-Chamorro, Black-Fijian, and Black-Maori.

In Hawaiʻi, a surprising point of contention has been that some Hawaiians have shamed the “looting” and “riots” as not being “kapu aloha,” a  complex form of the nonviolent direct action that Hawaiian protectors articulated, practiced, and popularized during the ongoing movement to defend the sacred mountain, Mauna Kea. Black and BPI in Hawaiʻi have been hurt by this shaming, especially since it suggests that they are not culturally “peaceful” people. On the other hand, other Hawaiian activists have expressed that rage and violence are proper responses to police brutality and judicial injustice, and that Hawaiians should not compare Mauna Kea to the BLM movement since the violence Black folks face against the police is way more brutal than what Hawaiians faced at the Mauna, and that Mauna Kea itself is a sacred space whereas US cities are capitalist spaces.   

In the settler colonial nations Australia and New Zealand, some politicians and pundits are expressing solidarity with Black Lives Matter in the US but not mentioning racism in their own countries against Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, Maori, or Pasifika peoples (some of whom have been historically racialized as Black), African and other POC. Police brutality and structural racism is a problem there as well, so we can interpret this as an insidious kind of “Blackwashing”—a way to wash over racism in Australia and New Zealand by claiming solidarity with BLM in the US. Many Black, Indigenous, and PI have leveraged the moment to point to this hypocrisy and raise awareness about injustice in their own countries related to racism, poverty, and incarceration. Activists have furthermore raised awareness about “global anti-Blackness,” especially in relation to the colonization and ongoing genocide in West Papua by the Indonesian military and police. West Papuans are similarly radicalized as “Black” and have faced anti-Black violence. 

Within U.S. settler colonialism in Guam and Hawaiʻi, I have noticed that there are some politicians and individuals (who are White, Asian, or POC) who are vocal in their support of BLM and for police abolition. However, I have seen these same people stand AGAINST Chamorro and Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination. This to me points to how some settlers in the Pacific support liberal and progressive reforms, but they don’t support decolonization, which would completely unsettle their power here. This speaks to a divide between civil rights and indigenous rights within “the U.S.-occupied Pacific.” Additionally, Micronesian migrants from freely associated states who live in Guam and Hawai’i have also leveraged this moment to raise awareness about anti-Micronesian racism and discrimination.

My last point is the most difficult one to write about because it addresses a more complicated part of Black and PI relations, and it mainly applies to the U.S.-occupied Pacific. While Black arrival, presence, and settlement in places like Guam and Hawaiʻi dates back to the 1800s (either as part of the whaling industry or to escape racism and seek better economic opportunities) the main reason for Black migration in the 20th century is military service (the history of Black soldiers in the Asia-Pacific region dates back to World War II). In Hawai’i, for example, it is estimated that 30,000 Black people live here, and about two thirds (or 20,000) are connected to the military industrial complex as members of the armed forces or their dependents. While the military itself has been a space for Black civil rights struggle (the commander of the Hawai’i based U.S. Pacific Air Forces, who’s African American, recently commented about anti-Blackness in the military), it has also been a space of violence, militarism, and colonialism against Pacific lands, waters, and bodies (the history of sexual violence perpetuated by US soldiers of all races is something that has sparked the demilitarization movement in the Pacific and Asia). 

Some PI have underlined “anti-Pacificness” within the military. This includes military conceptions of  Chamorros and Hawaiians as lazy, dumb, and backwards, and the idea that our islands can never be free because we can’t defend ourselves militarily. Anti-Blackness in Guam and Hawai’i (and, I would argue, anti-Whiteness as well) is entangled with anti-military and anti-colonial sentiments because soldiers represent the American military and empire. Black militarism and Black soldier settlers force us to confront the idea that there is no guarantee that Black liberation is Pacific liberation. 

This history hasn’t circulated as widely in recent discussions or events for several reasons. For one, it is quite specific to Guam and Hawaiʻi, so most PI outside these places don’t know this history, or have never experienced anti-Pacificness from Black military personnel. Those who do know this history but omit it from their statements have mentioned that right now we need to keep “Black Lives Matter” centered and that the most important thing for PI is to express our solidarity and focus on the positive and uplifting aspects of our relations. This way, we can build a strong foundation of connection and perhaps down the road we can reckon with demilitarization and anti-Pacificness. The Black and BPI communities don’t always mention Black ties to the military because it has led to the stereotype that Black is “synonymous” with the military (and, in turn, synonymous with militarized violence). They instead highlight the fact that not all Black people in Hawaiʻi and Guam are connected to the military, and offer an alternative narrative of non-militarized Black experiences and contributions.

There is a lot more testimony and listening that needs to happen between PI, BPI, and the Black communities in the Pacific and the Pacific diaspora. There is a lot of pain and trauma, and a lot of healing and repair we need to do. We need to do both anti-racist and anti-colonial work. It will be difficult and take time, but I feel like the solidarity events have created a strong foundation.

Part of this foundation is an essay by Joy Enomoto that has become the most circulated essay during this time: “Where will you be?: Why Black Lives Matter in the Hawaiian Kingdom.” A few Black-led organizations have also been more active in the Pacific: including Black Creatives Aotearoa, Guam Black Network, and The Pōpolo Project (Hawaiʻi). Lastly, the spirit of Teresia Teaiwa—one of our most important and beloved BPI leaders—has been evoked repeatedly, and I believe her spirit will continue to guide us as we navigate Black and Pacific futures. 

“Chanting the Mountains”

uh-maunakea-feature

for Internation Mountain Day, December 11th

 

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because mountains are born from contracting tectonic plates––  

because mountains live on a quarter of the planet’s surface––

because mountains shape local and global climates

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because mountains nourish trees, animals and food crops––

because mountains house native peoples, minorities, and refugees––

because mountains create corridors for migrating species––

because my family lives on a submerged mountain–– 

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because mountains capture moisture from the atmosphere–– 

because mountains filter aquifers and source rivers––

because mountains provide freshwater for half of humanity

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because what else do you call places that are always being desecrated 

by corporations, armies, and nations––

who clearcut, detonate, drill, mine, extract, and pollute––

who violently remove mountaintops––

who violently remove entire mountains 

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we say stop! 

this is our center of creation–––stop! 

this is where we bury and honor our dead––stop! 

this is where we pilgrimage, worship, and make offerings––stop! 

you are hurting our mountain elders

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because there once was a mountain here––

because this deep opened wound was once home

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because what else do you call places that are always being endangered: 

melting glaciers and ice caps, severe erosion and floods, 

eruptions and earthquakes, diminishing crop yields, water flow, and biodiversity, 

scorched earth wars and border conflicts

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because my daughter loves playing at Mānoa Valley park, 

surrounded by the Koʻolau mountains––

because one day she’ll ask us “What is the tallest mountain in the world?”––

we’ll tell her, Mauna Kea stands more than 30,000 feet above the ocean floor, 

home of Papa and Wakea, Earth Mother and Sky Father, 

the birthplace of your Hawaiian ancestors” 

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we’ll have to tell her about the violent construction 

of massive observatories atop Mauna Kea––

we’ll have to explain why scientists yearn to see 

billions of light years into space yet refuse to see 

the sacredness of this place

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we’ll also tell her about the aloha ʻāina protectors––

who stopped the groundbreaking of a Thirty Meter Telescope––

who bravely stood on the access road, held hands, and chanted: 

“ku kiaʻi mauna”––

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because 

We are Mauna Kea 

we are Lamlam 

We are Nakauvadra 

We are Popomanaseu 

We are Taranaki 

We are Uluru 

We are Lata 

We are Silisili 

We are Panié 

We are Orohena 

We are Nemangkawi 

We are Terevaka 

We are Tabwemasana 

We are Kao 

We are Enduwa Kombuglu  

We are Ngga Pulu 

We are Giluwe 

We are Haleakala

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we’ll teach our children: 

when you feel threatened, 

hold your palms out, touch 

your thumbs and pointers together 

to form a triangle, 

       like this–– 

and remember : when we stand 

to defend the sacred, we will be 

as strong as mountains–– 

remember : when we stand 

to protect the sacred, 

our voices will rise 

to the summit 

of the sky––

“This Changes Everything” (Earth Day Poem)

My wife and I take our 2-year old daughter to the first Hawaiʻi screening of Naomi Klein’s documentary.

The line for the documentary is long, almost as long as the Hawaiʻi endangered species list.

Unlike the endangered species list, there aren’t many natives in this line.

Of all the white people here, I’d estimate that 99% of them want to save the earth, while the other 1% are critical of salvation discourse.

The theatre feels small and uncomfortably full, like an overbooked ark.

The white people around us start coughing, which triggers intergenerational trauma and inherited flight instincts in my body.

Our daughter starts to become restless, too, so my wife breastfeeds her until she falls asleep.

I, too, have always kind of hated films about climate change.

Not because they feature cliche polar bears, but because they’re all made by white people.

In the climate movement, indigenous peoples are the new polar bears.

We sport a vulnerable-yet-charismatic-species-vibe, an endangered-yet-resilient-chic, a survive-and-thrive-swagger.

Plus, we cry “native tears,” which are the saddest kind of tears.

Do you remember “The Crying Indian” PSA from the Keep America Beautiful campaign, which launched on Earth Day in 1971?

The television ad featured a non-native actor, “Iron Eyes Cody,” playing a Native American who rows his canoe down a littered river and past smoking factories, until he reaches a dirty beach that leads to a busy highway.

A voice says, “Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. And some people don’t. People start pollution, people can stop it.”

The commercial ends with a close-up on his fake “native tears.”

When the natives in “This Changes Everything” cry, the white people in the theatre cry “white tears” extra-loudly.

I hate it when white people cry extra-loudly, as if they’ve never seen native people cry in real life.

When the documentary shows polluted native lands, the white people gasp extra-loudly.

I hate it when white people gasp extra-loudly.

“Stop gasping so loudly!” I shout in my head. “Everything already changed for native peoples centuries ago!”

The film ends with the emotional labor of “native hope.”

We sneak out of the theatre during the post-documentary discussion, when the first white person exclaims extra-loudly “WE MUST SAVE THE PLANET!!!!!”

I whisper to my wife: “The Geological Society should refer to this era of human destruction as the Wypipocene.”

She jokes that we should make a documentary about how climate change is finally making white people uncomfortable.

Our documentary will be titled: “Melting Glaciers, White Tears.”

“Interwoven”

“Interwoven”
 
1
 
I come from an island
and you come from a continent,
yet we are both made of stories
that teach us to remember
our origins and genealogies,
to care for the land and waters,
and to respect the interconnected
sacredness of all things.
 
2
 
I come from an island
and you come from a continent,
yet we both know invasion.
Magellan breached our reef
thirty years after Columbus raided
your shore. We were baptized
in disease, violence, and genocide.
We both carry the deep grief
of survival.
 
3
 
I come from an island
and you come from a continent,
yet we both know the walls
of boarding schools. We were punished
for breathing our customs and
speaking our language. We learned
the Western curriculum
of fear and silence.
 
4
 
I come from an island
and you come from a continent,
yet we both know desecration.
We witnessed minerals, trees, wildlife,
and food crops extracted for profit.
We mourn lands stolen and re-named,
waters diverted and dammed.
We inherit the intergenerational
loss of removal.
 
5
 
I come from an island
and migrated to your continent.
Hundreds of thousands of us
have settled in your territories
for military service, education,
health care, and jobs.
We were so busy searching
for better lives, we didn’t ask
your permission. We didn’t even
recognize how our American dream
was your American nightmare.
 
6
 
Native American cousins, I see you now
across this vast, scarred continent,
reviving your languages and cultures,
restoring native schools and tribal governments,
planting heritage seeds and decolonizing your diets,
blockading pipelines and protesting mining,
fighting for renewable energy
and a sustainable future.
 
Native cousins, I see you now
dancing, chanting, drumming,
rapping, writing, researching,
publishing, digitizing, animating,
filming, video gaming, and
revitalizing your ancestral stories.
I hear and honor your voices.
 
7
 
I come from an island
and you come from a continent,
yet let us gather, today, and
share our stories of hurt,
our stories of healing.
I hope, seven generations from now,
our descendants will continue
interweaving our struggles.
I hope the stories we share today
and in the future will carry us
towards sovereign horizons.

“(The Birth of Guam)” (Poem)

“(the birth of Guam)”

Guam was born on March 6, 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the womb of Humåtak Bay and delivered [us] into the calloused hands of modernity. “Guam is Where Western Imperialism in the Pacifc Begins!” St. Helena Augusta, tayuyute [ham] : pray for [us]. The annual reenactment of “Discovery Day” is a must see for all tourists: Chamorros-dressed-as-our- ancestors welcome Chamorros-dressed-as-the-galleon-crew. After the bloody performance, enjoy local food, walking tours, live reggae bands, and fireworks! Guam was adopted on December 10, 1898, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, and Spain ceded [us] to the United States. “Guam is Where America’s Western Frontier Begins!” Guam was declared an “unincorporated territory” on May 27, 1901, when the Supreme Court Insular Cases decided that the U.S. constitution does not follow its flag. “Guam is Where America’s Logic of Territorial Incorporation Ends!” Guam was kidnapped on December 8, 1941, when Japan bombed, invaded, and occupied [us]. “Guam is Where the Greater East Asia Co- Prosperity Sphere Begins!” On July 21, 1944, the U.S. armed forces returned and defeated the Japanese military. Guam was naturalized on August 1, 1950, when the Organic Act bestowed U.S. citizenship upon [us]. “Guam is Where America’s Passports Begin!” Guam was pimped out on May 1, 1967, when Pan American World Airways arrived with the first 109 Japanese tourists. The Guam Visitors Bureau birthed a new marketing slogan: “Guam is Where America’s Day Begins!” Since Guam is located 2,000 miles west of the international dateline, [we] instagram the sunrise before anyone in the fifty states. For the past 30 years, a straw poll on Guam has accurately predicted U.S. presidential elections, even though our votes don’t actually count in the electoral college. “Guam is Where America’s Voting Rights End!” This ironic streak ended in 2016, when Hillary Clinton received 70% of the ballots cast on Guam, yet Donald Trump still won #notmycolonizerinchief. St. Thomas More, tayuyute [ham]. After the election, [we] begin the countdown to Super Bowl Monday, a sacred day when all Chamorros leave work and school in procession to the altar of the television. St. Sebastian, tayuyute [ham]. I attended George Washington High School on Guam, but I often skipped “English” class because the haole teacher made [us] memorize boring, canonical verse. “Guam is Where America’s Poetry Begins!” Sorry not sorry if I threw everyone’s rhyme and meter off.

“Family Trees” (Poem)

Family Trees

for the 2016 Guam Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Educator Symposium

1

Before we enter the jungle, my dad

asks permission of the spirits who dwell

within. He walks slowly, with care,

to teach me, like his father taught him,

how to show respect. Then he stops

and closes his eyes to teach me

how to listen. Ekungok, as the winds

exhale and billow the canopy, tremble

the understory, and conduct the wild

orchestra of all breathing things.

2

“Niyok, Lemmai, Ifit, Yoga’, Nunu,” he chants

in a tone of reverence, calling forth the names

of each tree, each elder, who has provided us

with food and medicine, clothes and tools,

canoes and shelter. Like us, they grew in dark

wombs, sprouted from seeds, were nourished

by the light. Like us, they survived the storms

of conquest. Like us, roots anchor them to this

island, giving breath, giving strength to reach

towards the Pacific sky and blossom.

3

“When you take,” my dad says, “Take with

gratitude, and never more than what you need.”

He teaches me the phrase, “eminent domain,”

which means “theft,” means “to turn a place

of abundance into a base of destruction.”

The military uprooted trees with bulldozers,

paved the fertile earth with concrete, and planted

toxic chemicals and ordnances in the ground.

Barbed wire fences spread like invasive vines,

whose only fruit are the cancerous tumors

that bloom on every branch of our family tree.

4

Today, the military invites us to collect

plants and trees within areas of Litekyan

slated to be cleared for impending

construction. Fill out the appropriate forms

and wait 14 business days for a background

and security check. If we receive their

permission, they’ll escort us to the site

so we can mark and claim what we want

delivered to us after removal. They say

this is a benevolent gesture, but why

does it feel like a cruel reaping?

5

One tree my dad never showed me is

the endangered hayun lågu, the last

of which is struggling to survive in Litekyan

its only home. Today, the military plans to clear

the surrounding area for a live firing range,

making the tree even more vulnerable

to violent winds, invasive pests, and stray

bullets. Don’t worry, they say. We’ll build

a fence around the tree. They say this is an act

of mitigation, but why does it feel like

the disturbed edge of extinction?

6

Ekungok, ancient whispers rouse the jungle!

Listen, oceanic waves stir against the rocks!

Ekungok, i taotaoʻmona call us to rise!

Listen, i tronkon Yoga’ calls us to stand tall!

Ekungok, i tronkon Lemmai calls us to spread our arms wide!

Listen, i tronkon Nunu calls us to link our hands!

Ekungok, i tronkon Ifit calls us to be firm!

Listen, i tronkon Niyok calls us to never break!

Ekungok, i halom tano’ calls us to surround

i hayun  lågu and chant: “We are the seeds

of the last fire tree! We are the seeds of the last

fire tree! We are the seeds of the last fire tree!

Ahe’! No! We do not give you permission!”

“Family Trees” (Poem)

Family Trees

for the 2016 Guam Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Educator Symposium

1

Before we enter the jungle, my dad

asks permission of the spirits who dwell

within. He walks slowly, with care,

to teach me, like his father taught him,

how to show respect. Then he stops

and closes his eyes to teach me

how to listen. Ekungok, as the winds

exhale and billow the canopy, tremble

the understory, and conduct the wild

orchestra of all breathing things.

2

“Niyok, Lemmai, Ifit, Yoga’, Nunu,” he chants

in a tone of reverence, calling forth the names

of each tree, each elder, who has provided us

with food and medicine, clothes and tools,

canoes and shelter. Like us, they grew in dark

wombs, sprouted from seeds, were nourished

by the light. Like us, they survived the storms

of conquest. Like us, roots anchor them to this

island, giving breath, giving strength to reach

towards the Pacific sky and blossom.

3

“When you take,” my dad says, “Take with

gratitude, and never more than what you need.”

He teaches me the phrase, “eminent domain,”

which means “theft,” means “to turn a place

of abundance into a base of destruction.”

The military uprooted trees with bulldozers,

paved the fertile earth with concrete, and planted

toxic chemicals and ordnances in the ground.

Barbed wire fences spread like invasive vines,

whose only fruit are the cancerous tumors

that bloom on every branch of our family tree.

4

Today, the military invites us to collect

plants and trees within areas of Litekyan

slated to be cleared for impending

construction. Fill out the appropriate forms

and wait 14 business days for a background

and security check. If we receive their

permission, they’ll escort us to the site

so we can mark and claim what we want

delivered to us after removal. They say

this is a benevolent gesture, but why

does it feel like a cruel reaping?

5

One tree my dad never showed me is

the endangered hayun lågu, the last

of which is struggling to survive in Litekyan

its only home. Today, the military plans to clear

the surrounding area for a live firing range,

making the tree even more vulnerable

to violent winds, invasive pests, and stray

bullets. Don’t worry, they say. We’ll build

a fence around the tree. They say this is an act

of mitigation, but why does it feel like

the disturbed edge of extinction?

6

Ekungok, ancient whispers rouse the jungle!

Listen, oceanic waves stir against the rocks!

Ekungok, i taotaoʻmona call us to rise!

Listen, i tronkon Yoga’ calls us to stand tall!

Ekungok, i tronkon Lemmai calls us to spread our arms wide!

Listen, i tronkon Nunu calls us to link our hands!

Ekungok, i tronkon Ifit calls us to be firm!

Listen, i tronkon Niyok calls us to never break!

Ekungok, i halom tano’ calls us to surround

i hayun  lågu and chant: “We are the seeds

of the last fire tree! We are the seeds of the last

fire tree! We are the seeds of the last fire tree!

Ahe’! No! We do not give you permission!”

“Family Trees” (Poem)

Family Trees

for the 2016 Guam Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Educator Symposium

1

Before we enter the jungle, my dad

asks permission of the spirits who dwell

within. He walks slowly, with care,

to teach me, like his father taught him,

how to show respect. Then he stops

and closes his eyes to teach me

how to listen. Ekungok, as the winds

exhale and billow the canopy, tremble

the understory, and conduct the wild

orchestra of all breathing things.

2

“Niyok, Lemmai, Ifit, Yoga’, Nunu,” he chants

in a tone of reverence, calling forth the names

of each tree, each elder, who has provided us

with food and medicine, clothes and tools,

canoes and shelter. Like us, they grew in dark

wombs, sprouted from seeds, were nourished

by the light. Like us, they survived the storms

of conquest. Like us, roots anchor them to this

island, giving breath, giving strength to reach

towards the Pacific sky and blossom.

3

“When you take,” my dad says, “Take with

gratitude, and never more than what you need.”

He teaches me the phrase, “eminent domain,”

which means “theft,” means “to turn a place

of abundance into a base of destruction.”

The military uprooted trees with bulldozers,

paved the fertile earth with concrete, and planted

toxic chemicals and ordnances in the ground.

Barbed wire fences spread like invasive vines,

whose only fruit are the cancerous tumors

that bloom on every branch of our family tree.

4

Today, the military invites us to collect

plants and trees within areas of Litekyan

slated to be cleared for impending

construction. Fill out the appropriate forms

and wait 14 business days for a background

and security check. If we receive their

permission, they’ll escort us to the site

so we can mark and claim what we want

delivered to us after removal. They say

this is a benevolent gesture, but why

does it feel like a cruel reaping?

5

One tree my dad never showed me is

the endangered hayun lågu, the last

of which is struggling to survive in Litekyan

its only home. Today, the military plans to clear

the surrounding area for a live firing range,

making the tree even more vulnerable

to violent winds, invasive pests, and stray

bullets. Don’t worry, they say. We’ll build

a fence around the tree. They say this is an act

of mitigation, but why does it feel like

the disturbed edge of extinction?

6

Ekungok, ancient whispers rouse the jungle!

Listen, oceanic waves stir against the rocks!

Ekungok, i taotaoʻmona call us to rise!

Listen, i tronkon Yoga’ calls us to stand tall!

Ekungok, i tronkon Lemmai calls us to spread our arms wide!

Listen, i tronkon Nunu calls us to link our hands!

Ekungok, i tronkon Ifit calls us to be firm!

Listen, i tronkon Niyok calls us to never break!

Ekungok, i halom tano’ calls us to surround

i hayun  lågu and chant: “We are the seeds

of the last fire tree! We are the seeds of the last

fire tree! We are the seeds of the last fire tree!

Ahe’! No! We do not give you permission!”