Self-Determination lies at the heart of the political status question for the people of Guam. The political status issue has been a significant part of Guam's public debate for almost twenty years. What originally began as a Political Status Commision was subsequently renamed the Commission on Self-Determination, a name change that reflects the changing perceptions and desires of the people of Guam regarding our political relationship with the United States. Over the past four years, the Commission on Self-Determination has developed specific draft legislation which would bring about a comprehensive change in Guam's political status as a U.S. territory, in response to pressing social, political and economic changes and ideas. Prominent among the concerns is the need to address the problems and concerns of a people seeking to preserve and maintain a unique social and cultural identity which has evolved for centuries.
THE ANCIENT CHAMORRO AND SPANISH PERIOD
The islands of Guam and the Northern Marianas have been populated since 1600 B.C. Archaeological evidence clearly shows that a vibrant society existed on Guam for at least 3000 years before the first contact with the West occurred in the sixteenth century.
When Magellan landed on Guam in 1521, there were approximately 100,000 "Chamorros" living in Guam and the other islands in the Marianas chain. They spoke one language, shared a self-sufficient agrarian economy, and lived within a highly structured social system. The Chamorros were described in Spanish records as tall, big-boned, robust people with tawny skin and long black hair. The descendents of these same Chamorro people still exist today, providing the social, cultural, economic and political backbone of modern Guam.
But contact with the West over the past five hundred years has produced a far different history for Guam than the centuries of independence and self-sufficiency that preceded the arrival of Magellan. From the mid-17th century until 1898, Guam was actively colonized by the Spanish government. In 1668, a Jesuit priest established the first Catholic mission on the island, bringing to Guam a religious faith that still ghrives as an i ntegral part of Guam society and culture today. For the next thirty years, however, war raged between the native Chamorros and the Spanish government. By 1695, a population of 100,000 had been brutually reduced to less than 5,000, including the decimation of almost all Chamorro men through warfare and newly introduced disease. By the late 18th century, the indigenous population had dwindled to about 1500.
Three centuries of Spanish colonial policy had reduced a self-sufficient independent people to a handful of survivors. And while Guam was no longer the island nation it once was, the descendents of the indeigenous Chamorro people have endured. The influence of the Spanish era can still be found on Guam today: in the island's strong Catholic tradition, in many social customs and practices, in the surnames of most Chamorro families, and in the vocabulary of the modern Chamorro language.
But the indeigenous people of Guam clearly were no longer in control of their island's destiny. Nonetheless, despite colonization and the loss of political control, the Chamorro people have maintained a distinct cultural and social identity to this day.