About Jennifer McKinnon

Jennifer is and Assistant Professor at East Carolina University in the Program in Maritime Studies. She earned a BA in Anthropology from University of Florida and a MA and PhD in Anthropology from Florida State University. Jennifer was a Senior Lecturer in the Maritime Program at Flinders University, Australia for seven years and currently is a Research Associate of Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research in the US. Jennifer is particularly interested in the intersection between community engagement and sustainable heritage management practices.

Public Service Announcements and Archaeology: Protecting WWII-Caves in Saipan

By: Jennifer McKinnon

East Carolina University and Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research

The words public service announcements (PSAs) and archaeology are rarely uttered together. In fact, a quick search finds very few examples of archaeology or cultural heritage PSAs. Yet PSAs can be an effective way of reaching out to a very large audience to promote protection and preservation of heritage. A recent project that explored community consensus building for the protection of WWII-related caves on the island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands utilized radio and television PSAs for the purpose of sharing a message of protection and preservation of caves with the local island community.

In recent years, with more visitors, more development and more spelunking and exploration, natural and human-made caves that hold remnants of both ancient Chamorro culture and WWII history are being more heavily impacted. This activity was brought to the attention of the local community and archaeologists when videos and photographs of cave exploration, artifacts and rock art began appearing on blogs, Flicker and YouTube. This concerned local community members and as a result, a project was created to assess community interest in protecting these resources. Funded by an American Battlefield Protection Program grant, the project consisted of community meetings, landowner consultation and interviews, archaeological survey of caves on private and public lands, development of radio and television PSAs and ultimately the creation of a preservation plan with input from the community.

Why PSAs? The idea of a public service announcement came to me while I was on the island for another project and got a catchy little jingle in my head – “Don’t give snakes a break.” I don’t know the first time I heard it on the radio, but it certainly impacted my subconscious because there I was singing it as I was driving down the road. Had I seen a snake, I probably wouldn’t have given it a “brake.” Brown Tree Snakes are an invasive snake that wiped out indigenous bird populations on Guam, and Saipan has worked hard to prevent and eradicate its presence. In fact, a PSA project raising awareness about brown tree snakes had remarkable results in eradicating them from the island. Bumper stickers, radio jingles, TV commercials, and special events were all part of the plan to raise awareness.

Sooo….when thinking of how we could get the message out to local landowners about how important the caves were to their history as well as that of the wider world, PSAs seemed the best option. Print options like brochures or mailings are limited in that they are generally viewed once and when they are distributed or out of print, they no longer exist. PSAs on the other hand can be aired and thus viewed over and over again, reinforcing the content’s message. When aired during peak time slots such as the evening news, they can become even more effective. For a Pacific island that relies on television primarily for its news, PSAs serve to reach the widest possible audience. In addition, radio PSAs can reinforce and even reach a younger generation of stakeholders.

The creation of PSAs were only one part of the larger cave heritage project but their development built upon all aspects. Landowners who came to the meetings to voice their opinions were invited to participate in the PSAs. They also opened their properties to the archaeological team who visited various caves to get a picture of what types of caves exist, what history they may hold and what is impacting them. Finally, many community members participated in interviews during which they related their and their family’s stories about caves use during WWII. Ultimately the message, “Our History, Our Stories” was chosen as the tagline for the PSAs to reflect the multiplicity of connections the community had to caves. Caves on the island of Saipan provided shelter to the ancient culture when they arrived thousands of years ago, they were the canvas on which the ancient peoples communicated  through rock art and served as their burial grounds. During the war, families used the caves for shelter from bombs and bullets and today they still serve special purposes such as places of commemoration and memorialization. As community member Fred Camacho relates, “This has become part of our family album, and we have the obligation to protect it.”

View all of the PSAs at Ships of Discovery’s YouTube Page.

It Takes a Village to Build a Trail

by Jennifer McKinnon

When I think back on the experience of building a maritime heritage trail, probably much like others who have worked on public or community projects, I get nostalgic about all of the friends and colleagues I met during the process. The old adage about it taking a village to raise a child also rings true for community projects such as heritage trails – it really does “take a village to build a trail.”

Community projects by their very nature are incredibly complicated, but can be infinitely rewarding. In a community as diverse as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), any project leader must understand that there are multiple voices to be heard and incorporated. This can be learned the hard way or the hard way. What I mean by the hard way is that no amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible.

First training in underwater archaeology held in the CNMI.

This is the task that I set about doing six years ago when I stood in front of a crowd in a smoky little restaurant that consisted of both divers (there to see my presentation on heritage trails) and an angry group of fishers (there to see a second presentation about a national monument which was set to restrict their access to fishing and thus their livelihood). What I found that night was a community so passionate about their right/heritage of fishing and opposed to more official colonial platitudes and restrictions. What I learned that night was two things: first, that no matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth; and second, the CNMI community was one with a long history of struggling with outsiders and outside ideas, and if progress was to be made, the idea should be locally generated. To this day these two lessons have held true to form and earned friendships and collegial relationships that will last a lifetime, not to mention some great research projects.

The idea for developing a heritage trail was conceived by staff at the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and shared with me when I first visited the island in 2007.  Though originally aiming to build a Spanish colonial research agenda, I was quickly taken by the incredibly diverse and intact heritage related to the WWII Battle of Saipan. With a little friendly persuasion from the HPO, I found myself in conversations about mapping, preserving and interpreting submerged WWII sites which included planes, tanks, shipwrecks and assault vehicles of both Japanese and US forces. The idea to apply for a National Park Service Battlefield Protection Grant launched a one year grant awarded to Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, which eventually turned into a four year project (and has now moved inland). After holding several public meetings and discussing the trail with various stakeholders (dive shops, boat operators, government agencies, humanities groups, visitor’s authority, etc.) the trail began to take shape. Sites were chosen based on stakeholder and public interest, the history and archaeology was researched with an inclusive approach (including Chamorro, Carolinian, US, Japanese, and Korean groups) and products were carefully researched so as to reach the widest audience possible (all ages and divers and non-divers alike). In addition, since a focus on sustainability was key, the project included both heritage awareness trainings for end users and a conservation survey and management plan (funded by a second Battlefield Grant) that collected baseline data for the HPO.

The interpretive products that make up the trail include nine waterproof dive guides and four double-sided posters in both English and Japanese; a 2D and 3D interpretive film for the National Parks on Guam and Saipan (produced in conjunction with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, and Windward Media); and a website which includes information about the Battle and submerged heritage sites.

Poster from the WWII Battle of Saipan Maritime Heritage Trail.

But let me come back to the idea of it taking a village…the entire project from concept to completion would not have been possible if it were not for the interest of the local community. At every step of the way agencies and volunteers were not just included, but critical to the work. HPO conceived of the idea and several staff members assisted with recording the sites and conducting historical research; they also participated in training, first as trainees (Underwater Archaeology Training) and then trainers (Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar). Coastal Resources Management (CRM) provided in-kind support through the use of boats, fuel and the assistance of staff (i.e. captains, enforcement officers and biologists), as well as participating in and providing instruction during the training sessions. In fact, one CRM employee was so devoted to the project, he took vacation days so that he could participate in the field work! CRM also initiated a program to place moorings on the trail sites in order to minimize impact by visitors. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provided in-kind support by offering boats, captains and expertise. CNMI Council for the Humanities promoted the project to the public by sponsoring public lectures and radio programs. NPS American Memorial Park hosted events such as public lectures, trainings and film viewings. Marianas Visitors Authority provided useful visitor and diving statistics in the planning process. In addition to the government agencies, private individuals hosted barbeques, provided in-kind support for hiring vessels, volunteered to conduct field work and historical research, provided translation services, gave local tours, set up interviews with family members, lent vehicles, and generally treated us as family.

CRM employee David Benavente working underwater.

From 2007 to the present I’ve had the privilege (and I do mean privilege) of working with the community/village of Saipan to record and research their maritime history from their colonization of the island some 3500 years ago to the more recent and tragic conflict of WWII. But I suspect there will be many, many years to come because like a snowball rolling down hill, interest builds momentum and once a village gets excited, who knows what may come of it…

So what are your experiences with creating trails or working with a village (community)? In what ways was the success of your project the immediate result of community input and assistance? Do you think the rewards of working with a community outweigh the complexity of the process?