More About The Northern Marianas Islands


Located just north of Guam, Saipan is 3,300 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii; 5,625 miles from San Francisco; 1,272 miles from Tokyo; and 3,090 miles from Sydney, Austrailia. It is also adjacent to the famed Marianas Trench, the world’s greatest known ocean depth of 35,810 feet. CNMI are the northernmost group of islands in a region of the Pacific commonly referred to as Micronesia. Although the island Guam is a part of the Mariana Archipelago, it is politically separate from the Commonwealth and is administered as an unincorporated territory of the United States. The Northern Mariana Islands have been in political union with the United States since 1976 when the Covenant to Establish the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was signed by President Gerald R. Ford.

The Commonwealth's population is concentrated on the main southern islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. Saipan is by far the most populous and developed with an economy supported by a tourism industry. Tinian, only three miles to the south of Saipan, has a much smaller population (3,136) that reside in the southern one-third of the island. The northern two-thirds are leased by the U.S. government and used for military training exercises. Rota, at the southern end of the Commonwealth, also possesses a small population (2,527). The other southern islands of the Commonwealth include Aguiguan, two miles south of Tinian, and tiny Farallon de Medinilla located 30 miles north of Saipan. Aguiguan is uninhabited. Medinilla, also uninhabited, is leased to the U.S. military and used as a target for aerial bombardment training. To the north of Medinilla are nine islands commonly referred to as the "Northern Islands." These islands are geologically more recent and several possess active volcanoes. Currently, only a couple of islands in this group is inhabited by a handful of residents.

History of The Marianas

The Northern Mariana Islands were first settled around 3,000 B.C. by ancient seafaring people who journeyed in outrigger canoes. They sailed across the vast expanse of the open Pacific, north and eastward from Southeast Asia. Because of linguistic similarities, these people are believed to be from the Indo-Malaysian group.

The Mariana Islands were first encountered by the Europeans in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, a Spanish explorer, during his world exploration in search of gold and spices. In 1668, 147 years after Magellan's encounter, Fr. Diego Luis de San Vitores, a Jesuit priest, arrived in the Mariana Islands with the mission to convert and implement Christianity among the Chamorros-thus beginning the colonization by Spain. The islands were named after Queen Maria Ana of Spain.

In 1815, the Carolinians, led by Chiefs Aghurubw and Nguschul started the settlement of the indigenous Carolinians to Saipan. Consequently, Carolinians and Chamorros are both considered indigenous to the Northern Marianas, and both languages are official in the Commonwealth.

In 1899, Germany bought the Northern Marianas from Spain, and the islands remained under German rule until the start of WWI in 1914.

In 1914, Japan captured the islands from Germany as World War I was taking place in Europe. It was believed to be under a secret agreement with the British to keep peace in Asia during the war. After WWI, Japan received the islands by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and then later as a mandate under the League of Nations in 1920. The island became a battleground during the WWII campaign as Japanese and U.S. forces collided to gain control of the Pacific.

In July of 1944, The U.S. forces gained control of the Northern Mariana Islands. The islands were granted to the U.S. as the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947.

Later in the 1960s, Chamorros and Carolinians made their desires known regarding their future political status. Not wishing to remain a part of Micronesia, and desiring close political association with the United States, a Marianas political delegation began direct negotiations with the U.S. government. These negotiations were undertaken to separate the Northern Marianas from the Trust Territory and to establish a permanent political union with the United States. The resulting agreement, referred to as the Covenant, was drafted during five rounds of bilateral negotiations between the Marianas Political Status Commission and the United States government held from December 1972 to February 1975. This marked the first time that a U.S. insular possession was granted the right to negotiate its future political status directly with the U.S. government.

Under the terms of the Covenant, indigenous residents of the Northern Mariana Islands enjoy U.S. citizenship (made effective in 1986) and are afforded full protection under the U.S. Constitution. The Covenant also grants the people of the Commonwealth internal self-government with a popularly elected governor, a bicameral legislature and a judiciary which includes an autonomous Supreme Court. The Covenant also restricts land ownership to persons of Northern Marianas descent, provides multi-year funding for essential capital improvement projects, and allocates land for use by the U.S. military.

Similar to other United States territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands do not have representation in the U.S. Senate, but are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a delegate who may vote in committee but not on the House floor.