Cultural center license threatened

TRADITIONAL MEDICINE: The entrance to the Håya Foundation's clinic located at the Sågan Kotturan Chamoru site near Ypao Point in Tamuning. The Håya Foundation practices traditional Chamorro medicine on their patients. Neil Pang/Post

In addition to the testimony regarding the reservation of land for a Chamorro shrine, the Nåftan Mañaina-ta, proposed by Bill 374-33, senators also received testimony on Bill 375-33 last Thursday which proposes a legislative lease agreement for the use of Lot No. 5173-1-R2NEW-4 by Sågan Kotturan Chamoru (SKC) for use as a Chamorro cultural center.

The lot in question is located above the Hilton Guam Resort and Spa in the vicinity of Ypao Point in Tamuning, near the proposed site of the Nåftan Mañaina-ta.

Currently, the lot is occupied by SKC – one of two cultural centers on Guam, including Gef Pa'go in Inarajan – under the terms of a temporary license issued by the Chamorro Land Trust Commission. Bill 375 proposes the authorization of a legislative lease in place of the license under which no provision for termination would be stated.

Mike Borja, director of the Department of Land Management and the administrative director of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission, testified in opposition to the bill during Thursday's public hearing.

Borja explained that Bill 375 proposed the perpetual use, without provisions for termination, of a property estimated at approximately 8.5 acres and valued at $4.3 million.

According to Borja, the organization currently licensed to use the property, the nonprofit known as Inadahen I Lina'la' Kotturan Chamoru Inc., failed to comply with the terms of the license in regard to its renewal and have been behind on their taxes since 2014.

In a case similar to that surrounding Bill 374, Borja testified that CLTC had been in the process of engaging a commercial lease for the property in an effort to generate funds for the development of infrastructure on other lands in their inventory for use by native Chamorros for residential and agricultural purposes.

Revamping the board

Julie Benavente, a resident specialist in body ornamentation at SKC, told the Post that Inadahen I Lina'la' Kotturan Chamoru Inc. was in the process of revamping their administrative board because the previous board had failed to attend to their duties in regards to the license renewal and the filing of taxes.

"We're revamping the administrative board of our organization so that we can put reliable people on to take care of and rectify the matter," she said.

She further stated that the new administrative board would be comprised by a majority of women.

"Only our women can take care of the culture," Benavente said.

Benavente explained that the board had held a work session following Thursday's hearing to address concerns.

"It actually was a shock for us," she said. "We are going to make sure everything is up to date before the week is out."

Under the provisions of the current license that became effective in 2006, SKC had use of the property for five years, after which they had the opportunity to file for three additional five-year terms for a total of twenty years. According to Borja, the nonprofit failed to submit the requisite written request for a renewal.

Benavente told the Post that she was not worried about the license expiring and said that they had until this Wednesday to submit the request for renewal with CLTC.

SKC's mission

Benavente explained that even though they got the license to use the land in 2006, the cultural center was not opened until 2014 because of difficulty in developing the land for use. She described their efforts as a "labor of love" that required long hours of work and contributions from the community.

Benavente said that though they are now facing new challenges, their mission has not changed.

"The mission of the center is apprenticing the next generation of artisans in all the traditional and contemporary skills that we have available here," she stated.

According to Benavente, the center recently apprenticed five individuals under her tutelage in body ornamentation. She said the products created by SKC's artisans not only perpetuate Chamorro culture and tradition, but they also attract the attention of visitors and tourists who want to see and purchase handmade crafts created using traditional techniques.

Another group that resides on the property, the Håya Foundation, focuses on traditional healing practices.

Frances Meno and Rosie Mateo, who between them have more than a hundred years of experience in traditional Chamorro medicine, spoke to the Post about their mission.

"We want to help the children," Mateo repeatedly said. She told the Post that, earlier yesterday, they had treated some cases of congestion in infants that were brought to them.

Meno explained that they instruct apprentices in the skills of plant identification, collection and the processes involved in using those plants for medicinal purposes. Additionally, she explained the importance of their location as being beneficial for residents who want to find them. Meno said that before they had their facility, they operated out of their homes and that people had difficulty in locating them.

According to Meno and Mateo, they currently have about nine apprentices under their instruction in traditional medicine.

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