Tiara Na'puti's phone buzzes in the middle of the night with a news alert from a Guam media outlet giving its readers strategies to survive a nuclear attack. The University of Colorado professor said for Guam, this, unfortunately, comes with the territory.

As bluster between the United States and North Korea ramps up, an expert on how this conflict impacts the unincorporated U.S. territory of Guam can be found in CU's communication department.

With strong family ties to Guam and an academic background in indigenous studies, Na'puti was tapped to testify before the United Nations Special Political and Decolonization Committee in October urging for decolonization of the island.

"North Korea has actually been threatening our islands for a long time," Na'puti said in an interview this week. "I don't think about this North Korea stuff in a vacuum. It's ongoing, and it's not a surprise to me because it's very clearly linked up to the way the high U.S. military presence makes particular places and people a target."

About one-third of Guam is occupied by U.S. military bases, Na'puti said. The island remains one of 17 "non-self-governing territories" in the world and has been an unincorporated territory of the U.S. since 1898.

With Guam "caught in the crosshairs" between the U.S. and North Korea's friction, Na'puti said it is time for the people of Guam to be heard.


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"It's very difficult to fight for your freedom or imagine having the possibility of having a free and fair vote of the people when your colonizer is here and ramping up these military activities," Na'puti said.

Na'puti recounted how she came to testify before the U.N. in her CU office, surrounded by reminders of the island where her roots grow.

Maps of Guam flank her desk. Postcards from the island dangle where she can sneak a peak of favorite landmarks pictured on the front. Local art decorates the walls. Flags from the Pacific Islands purchased at the U.N. gift shop are a reminder of her mission — Guam's flag wasn't available because of its colony status.

Na'puti is one of the few members of her family not born and raised on the island. Growing up in Missouri with parents in the U.S. Marine Corp, Na'puti quickly realized that the U.S. education system lacked information about her heritage.

"In Guam, there is an often-repeated phrase that Guam is America's best kept secret," Na'puti said. "There are two things happening there. Why is Guam America's? Like possessive? And then why would this place that has 160,000 people living on it be a secret?

"Well, it's not a secret when you talk about it in terms of the military."

During Na'puti's post-graduate studies in Texas, she traveled to Guam to study the island's militarization and talk to the residents who lived through its consequences every day.

One such resident: Hope Cristobal, a former senator in the Guam legislature and chairwoman of a commission advocating for Guam's native people, the Chamorro.

"North Korea has aimed its nuclear missiles at Guam because Guam is heavily fortified with all branches of the U.S. armed forces..." Cristobal wrote in an email to the Daily Camera. "The term 'collateral' is used to militarily describe our unique island and people — collateral damage will happen when we get wiped off the face of the Earth... This is so surreal as to freeze fear into our minds daily. The only way out of this reality is to decolonize Guam."

This was the message Na'puti conveyed to the U.N. when activists from Guam realized Na'puti's access to New York was easier than some of their own. Seventeen Chamorro delegates joined Na'puti in her testimony in October.

"I'm not living their experience right now, and that's devastating," Na'puti said. "Which is weird that I'm like, 'I can't be home to wake up to these threats,' but it's how I feel."

Na'puti watches North Korean aggression toward Guam and the U.S. play out on the news and hopes American residents educate themselves on the history and context of Guam's involvement. She suggested reading up on advocacy organizations such as Independent Guam, Save Ritidian and Prutehi Litekyan.

In the meantime, Na'puti will continue amplifying the voices of those living in Guam all the way from the Rocky Mountain Region, and will turn to a note tacked on her office wall when the distressing news alerts inevitably come: "Breathe in, breathe out, repeat forever."

Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106, hernandeze@dailycamera.com, twitter.com/ehernandez