Not in Our Name
Editor’s Note: Pohnpei is one of the four Federated States of Micronesia, along with Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae. The people of Pohnpei are mostly Micronesian, with their own language and unique traditions, and the government of Pohnpei has an unusual structure, in which familiar elected representatives in a legislature coexist with the state’s five traditional kingdoms and their respective kings and chiefs. This combined system can lead to difficulties. The current challenge is the state government’s plan to build a casino in the village of Lukop in the kingdom of Madolenihmw, a plan opposed by the kingdom’s people and king. In December, Cultural Survival received an impassioned letter from a Pohnpeian about the casino, along with photographs of the Pohnpei culture and people who are involved. We present both here.
How would you feel if someone threw a party at your house, charged admission, and didn’t invite you, much less inform you? Well that, in a nutshell is what the administration of Pohnpei is attempting to do with its “top priority” plan to establish a 1,000-room hotel-casino resort on our island.
The state governor argues that a casino would generate millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of jobs. This may well be true. But going back to the analogy above, what good would the profits be if, in the course of the party, your house was trashed? And, since you weren’t told there’d be a party and you weren’t even invited, chances are you wouldn’t even get a cut of the sales.
For all the hype about revenues and jobs, one very crucial point—indeed, we daresay this is the crux of the whole matter—has been totally ignored. Did anyone ever ask us, Pohnpeians, if we want a casino on our island? For that matter, has anyone ever asked the people of Lukop Village in Madolenihmw Municipality, who stand to be displaced, if they are willing to give up their homes so that high rollers from who knows where can try their luck at the baccarat and roulette tables?
Has anyone even considered the sentiments of His Majesty, the Hon. Kerpet Hebel, Isipahu the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw (the highest traditional king on Pohnpei), who has publicly expressed his opposition to the casino?
If there is one thing Pohnpei takes pride in, it is in the preservation of our culture and traditions. So precious are these to us that we have even enshrined our traditional laws as part of our legal statutes. Part of that tradition is that no major decisions are ever undertaken without consulting and getting the consensus of the traditional leaders and the people of Pohnpei.
And yet we have members of the Pohnpei legislature crowing that the bill to establish the casino is on the verge of garnering the full support of the chamber.
This administration talks only of revenues and jobs, as if the casino’s presence on Pohnpei would usher us into a golden age of prosperity and happiness. Have we heard anyone in this administration ever discuss the potential social costs of opening a casino on Pohnpei? Has anyone in this administration even told us that Guam, the most advanced island in the Micronesian region, has refused to have anything to do with casinos?
Has anyone in this administration ever discussed how gambling can become an addiction like drugs? Or of the other problems associated with habitual gambling, like racking up huge debts one is unable to pay? Or that states where casinos operate have the highest rates of home foreclosures and bankruptcies? Or that, very often, pathological gamblers turn to crime—fraud, embezzlement, drug dealing, theft—to come up with the money to pay their debts? Or that the criminal activities associated with gambling eventually cost the taxpayers, who have to dish out more for police, courts, probation officers, and the costs of keeping offenders in jail? Or of the economic losses that habitual gamblers cause not only their employers but the state and society itself?
This administration is trying to blind us with bright lights and promises of prosperity, proclaiming that they are bringing in the casino because they care for us. Nothing can be further from the truth. If they truly care for Pohnpei and the Pohnpeians, they would be honest with us. They would consult us, openly discuss the matter with us and, most important, abide by what we, Pohnpeians, believe is right for Pohnpei. It is our democratic right to be informed.
Alas, we do not see this happening here. All we see are lies, subterfuge and hypocrisy. All we see are narrow political, financial, and personal interests being advanced in the guise of the people’s interests.
But the people of Pohnpei are not blind, and we certainly are not fools. We say no, you will not run roughshod over our rights and our lives. No, you will not make a mockery of our laws and of governance. And no, we will not allow you to get away with this, not in our name.
Ringlen Wolphagen served as public information officer for Pohnpei Govenor Johnny P. David, and was an administrative officer for the Pohnpei Economic Development Authority.
John Amato is a professional photographer and registered nurse working in critical care. He began working with Indigenous Peoples in the 1990s and among other projects has photographed Native Americans in the southwest, Aymarra communities in Chile, and Kam communities in China.
John currently resides in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He is documenting natural history and life on Pohnpei. He has also started a program to help restore close vision by testing and providing reading glasses to those in need with donations from the nurses and staff of ICU at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Santa Rosa, CA.
John is a professional photographer and a registered nurse working in critical care/ICU.
Dr. Amy Eisenberg of the International Society of Ethnobiology and Center for World Indigenous Studies was instrumental in making this article happen, doing the initial edit, introducing it to Cultural Survival, and offering advice and fact checking.