Dozens of people waited to enter the Guam Cultural Repository open house on Jan. 19.

Rear Adm. Benjamin R. Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas, speaks to media.

Photos by Isaiah John Aguon


Community receives update on Guam Cultural Repository



Journal Staff

Officials and members of the public had the opportunity on Jan. 19 to get a better understanding on the management and preservation of cultural resources like ancient artifacts, during an open house hosted by Joint Region Marianas at the Guam Cultural Repository, located at the University of Guam campus in Mangilao.

An hour before the event, Rear Adm. Benjamin R. Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas, hosted a press conference with Guam media. He said the event is the only time JRM would host the open house as “ … when the very important artifacts … are once transferred and stored here … we won’t be able to do something like this.” The JRM intends this to be an annual event, although at a different location in the future, Nicholson said.

Nicholson said, “When this facility is operational in the coming months it will provide security for precious collections discovered throughout Guam and the opportunity to learn even more about the important history of inheritance.

“A small portion of the items to be kept in the repository were discovered through the construction of Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz; however, the vast majority of the artifacts to be stored and curated here were not from the Department of Defense construction and have long been within the possession of the Government of Guam,” he said.

The $12 million facility sits on a 10-and-a-half-acre site. The 13,230 square foot building occupies a quarter of the property. The construction of the Guam Cultural Repository began in 2020 and it opened in October. The Department of Defense provided a $12 million grant to support the recommendation made by the Office of Economic Adjustment, now known as the Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation or OLDCC.

The Department of Defense and the Guam State Historic Preservation Office negotiated mitigation plans in 2011 for the “cumulative environmental and archaeological effects of the Marine Corps relocation of Guam,” Nicholson said. “The Department of Defense in collaboration with the Government of Guam recognized the need for a cultural repository facility which would provide a suitable location for the curation of archaeological properties and serve as a source of information for Guam’s rich history and culture for generations to come.” These plans were agreed upon in the 2011 programmatic agreement, designed to “avoid, minimize and mitigate potential cumulative effects of the Marine Corp relocation.”

“I am very confident this cultural repository would be a world class facility for the curation and the long-term preservation of precious artifacts through Guam’s history,” Nicholson said. “This facility will serve as a key resource for ongoing research, education and interpretive activity by and for the people of Guam. And it will also enhance outreach in tourism activities as visitors tour our island [and] come to know and appreciate the history of the CHamoru people in Guam and throughout the region.”

While the press conference was being held, more than two dozen people protested the management of the Cultural Repository in front of the building. Participants held signs that said, “CHamoru Lands + Artifacts in CHamoru hands” and “The Repository belongs to the People.” The protest was organized by Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, a group dedicated to the protection of natural and cultural resources. Former senator Hope A. Cristobal was a participant.

Through a memorandum of agreement between the Department of CHamoru Affairs and UOG, the university will staff and manage the repository.  (See “A home of their own: Cultural repository readies for construction, in the Aug 3, 2020, issue of the Journal.) SSFM International built the repository.

A federal grant through the Office of the Governor will fund repository operations.

As for ancestral remains, Guam state historic preservation officer Patrick Lujan, Guam State Historic Preservation Officer, said ancestral remains will not be stored at the repository. “Repositories are generally not meant to carry human remains; it is only for artifacts,” he said.

Because it has remains dating back 100 years, the Guam Museum will continue to hold them until there is a shrine for remains, Lujan said. The Naftan Manaina-ta Shrine was designed a long time ago by the late Andrew T. Laguana, architect, and will be constructed at Ypao Point in Tamuning.

Lujan said locating funds to build the shrine is stalling its construction. “It is one of the major projects that the Government of Guam is pushing for through law, trying to get funding through the Guam Legislature,” he said. “It is time that we finally find that final resting place. It is on the forefront of the governor and the Guam Legislature to fund that final project.”

Archaeologists and other experts answered questions from the public about projects, achievements, processes and procedures of historic artifacts and items discovered during military construction.

Visitors and media were restricted on where photos and videos could be taken inside the facility, despite there being no human remains or sensitive artifacts on display during the open house. There were a few replicas or models used by the archaeologists as non-diagnostic training and educational aids that were available for the public to review. Additionally, each of the poster stations featured information about the process undertaken by the Department of Defense to preserve and protect cultural resources in Guam.

Sen. Roy A.B. Quinata, chairman of the Committee on Self-Determination and Historic Preservation, attended the cultural resources open house, as did Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero, Sen. Therese M. Terlaje, speaker of the 37th Guam Legislature, Sen. Joanne M. Brown and James C. Moylan, Guam’s delegate to Congress.