In the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), there are at least three groups of people with privileged claims to the islands’ territory—the U.S. Military and indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch peoples. Because the CNMI is a dependent territory of the U.S., the military retains certain legal rights over the islands and the surrounding sea and air space. At the same time, the CNMI’s constitution grants Chamorro’s and Refaluwasch legal rights over the ownership and sale of their land and restricts non-indigenous ownership and sale, as a way to ensure that this territory remains in the hands of indigenous people. Increasingly, both Chamorro's, Refaluwash, and the military articulate these territorial claims in terms of “the environment”—stewardship, conservation, and protection for future generations.
Militarism is not just resisted, but actively engendered, negotiated and even promulgated by Chamorro's and Refaluwasch. Finding answers as to why this is so given the histories of colonialism in the lives of indigenous people throughout the Pacific and beyond, can be found at least in part, through the examination of the environment as a site through which power moves. While many indigenous people see their environments as inextricably linked to their family lineages and identities, the military often views the land, sea and sky surrounding the Marianas as large-scale “realistic” training grounds, strategically located away from the U.S. mainland to conduct testing. This research charts how these everyday, shifting understandings of “the environment” have co-produced new social and political realities for indigenous peoples in the CNMI.