Okinawan activists premiere documentary and declare solidarity with Guam

Representatives from activist groups on both Guam and Okinawa read out a statement of solidarity regarding resistance efforts against military expansion. The livestream of the panel is on Prutehi Litekyan's Facebook page. Photo by Audrey Meno

Shannon Ada and Audrey Meno
Triton’s Call Staff

A group of indigenous Ryukyuan women from Okinawa was invited by various activist groups on Guam to screen a documentary and hold a forum on the historical connections of US militarization and resistance efforts on Guam and Okinawa on Oct. 23 and 24, respectively.

These events took place at the University’s Lecture Hall and were conspired in efforts to build a friendship and release a statement of solidarity with the Okinawan community.

Prutehi Litekyan, Independent Guahan, Fuestan Famalao’an, the UOG Women and Gender Studies program, and the UOG CLASS Dean’s office co-sponsored the events.

Ikuko Isa and Yukine Ashimin, co-founders of No Helipad Takae Resident Society, an activist group in Okinawa, premiered their documentary, which supported their call for the removal of US bases in Okinawa and opposes the construction of new bases.

The documentary film Takae, the Forest of Life depicts the lively flora and fauna of the Yanbaru rainforest in Okinawa, Japan where over 4,000 animal and 1,000 plant species depend on the habitat for survival. These include 170 endangered species on the Okinawan Red List.

The documentary explains the importance of preserving this natural habitat because of its beauty and endemic endangered inhabitants.

According to the Japan Times, Yanbaru forest is also being considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. The activist group argues that the military installations must be removed before giving the forest this status.

The documentary shares the effects of the US military presence on the Okinawan community. Military helipad construction is considered to have serious adverse effects to the Yanbaru forest wildlife and local Takae community.

According to the Japan Times, “The concrete used to build paths at the site and the tilt-rotor, low-flying Osprey fleet will cause environmental damage.”

Locals featured in the documentary expressed frequent fear of potential osprey accidents, as they describe the aircraft to be accident-prone. The ospreys also emit a low frequency, which allegedly causes nausea and headaches on locals, distracts students from focusing in class, and hinders the small community of about 150 people from living a peaceful life.

The locals of Takae began nonviolent sit-in protests in 2007 to delay construction. Another conflict shown in the documentary was the struggle the community faced with the Japanese government, who sent 1,000 riot police officers to remove the locals from blocking construction sites just last year.

Sabina Perez, spokesperson of Prutehi Litekyan commented on the visiting activists.

“These women have been fighting for 10 years. The Okinawan resistance has been very inspirational due to their relentless efforts and their humanitarian approach. They simply want to live peacefully in their own homelands. It is because of their strong connection to their sacred land with its unique and endangered flora and fauna that they’ve been willing to resist military expansion.”

The construction of the helipads completed in 2016, but the group is still working towards their removal.

On October 24, a public forum was held at the lecture hall. Dr. Vivian Dames, host of Beyond the Fence, moderated the panel of five scholars and activists.

The panel consisted of Isa and Ashimin, joined by their interpreter, Mizuki Nakamura, along with Dr. Lisa Linda Natividad, president of Guahan Coalition for Peace & Justice, Sabina Perez, co-organizer and spokesperson for Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, and Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international studies at Brown University.

The panel presentations discussed the history of Okinawa’s relationship formation with Guam in the Guahan-Okinawa Solidarity Movement, the formation of Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, and an Okinawa militarization overview and their resistance efforts.

“Having them here helps to bring awareness to people on Guam as well as to people in Okinawa,” said Perez. “It’s a networking event where we can share our support with each other and also increase awareness about each other’s struggles and resistance.”

Isa, Ashimin and representatives from different activist groups on Guam read out a statement of solidarity in which they highlighted the new friendship between the groups of Okinawa and Guam and declared a communal fight towards protecting environmental resources.

“By connecting with each other and raising our voices together, we can create enough awareness to effect change. To link Guam and Okinawa is a first step for this and is a ray of hope,” said Ashimin.

The panel was live streamed and can be viewed on Prutehi Litekyan’s Facebook page.

According to Perez, Prutehi Litekyan and Independent Guahan released separate statements of solidarity.

“There are a lot of parallels with Takae and Prutehi Litekyan. We are communities that value a protection of what is sacred to us and we should have a voice in how our homeland is being used,” Perez said.

Prutehi Litekyan is a direct action group dedicated to the protection of natural and cultural resources. Their efforts have been focused on preserving the land of Ritidian.

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