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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Fighting for Water and Recognition on Guåhan

2023: Fighting for Water and Recognition on Guahan Chris Trinh from Manila University received a Student Media Grant to travel to Guam to document the long-term effects of U.S. military administration of the island on its Native peoples and ecosystems.

Student Media Grant Program 2022-2023

Fighting for Water and Recognition on Guåhan

Chris Trinh completed a diploma in Visual Journalism from the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. They received a Student Media Grant to do a documentary photography project in Guåhan (Guam), which aims to visualize the long-term effects of military administration of the island on its peoples and ecosystems. 

Documentary Photo Project 

Review Chris Trinh's captivating photographs and read individual image captions here:  

Project Summary: Fighting for Water and Recognition in Guåhan 

Guåhan, part of the Mariana Islands chain, and known as Guam in English, has been home to the CHamoru people for thousands of years. Today Guahan is one of 17 remaining non-self-governing territories in the world, and is part of the United States. For the last 5 centuries, Guåhan has been occupied by foreign powers, enduring Spanish, Japanese and U.S. colonial rule.

The United States military owns over 30 percent of the land on Guåhan and every branch of the military has a base on island. Construction is currently ongoing on U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, built on land where a forest once stood. Additionally, this year a large firing range complex on Anderson Air Force Base opened, built on top of the Northern Lens Aquifer (NGLA), which provides 85% of Guam's drinking water. This will result in an estimated 6.7 million bullets being fired over the aquifer every year, which poses a threat to this critical freshwater resource, as well as the surrounding ocean ecosystems. According to a 2012 EPA study, soils surrounding firing ranges tend to retain a wide range of chemical agents, such as lead, after being used. CHamoru environmental activists on Guam have heavily criticized the project, both for its environmental effects and because of the land that was taken from CHamoru families in order to build the Anderson base.

Military presence on Guåhan has resulted in healers losing access to their traditional foraging lands, invasive species being brought in on military transport vessels, wreaking havoc on native ecosystems, and - all too common across colonial lands - a current day where more people speak English than the island's native language, CHamoru.

Many of Guåhan's residents have been resisting military control of their island, calling for decolonization. A pamphlet published by Guam's Commission on Decolonization asks readers the question: "Under the status quo, Guam's future will continue to be shaped not by Guam's interests but by what others want for Guam and from Guam. Is it good enough for Guam's children and grandchildren that their future is being shaped by others?"

This is a story that touches on Indigenous land sovereignty, the legacy of imperialism, military land use and climate change's impacts in the Pacific, all playing out on the shifting ecosystems of a 210 square mile island in the Pacific ocean.

The images below aim to visualize these complex themes, and is the start of a long-term documentary project by photographer Chris Thao Trinh. They are currently seeking funding to return to Guåhan and expand this documentary work across the Northern Mariana Islands.


In solidarity,

Chris Thao Trinh


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