Northern Mariana Islands

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Northern Mariana Islands

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Region: Oceania
Population: 71,912
Language(s): English, Chamorro, Carolinian
Literacy Rate: 97%

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a U.S. territory that is a 300-mile archipelago comprised of 14 islands. Although the U.S. Congress approved a covenant to establish a commonwealth in 1976, it did not become a territory until 1986. Unlike the 12 outlying territories of the United States (Guam, Virgin Islands, etc.), the people of CNMI adopted a constitution for its government functions. Federal funds to CNMI are administered by the U.S. Department of Interiors, Office of Insular Affairs. CNMI is divided into four municipalities: Northern Mariana Island, Rota, Saipan, and Tinian.

The population, as of July 2000, was 71,912 people with 24 percent being under the age of 14. About 28,000 inhabitants are alien workers due mostly to an increase in the tourism and manufacturing (clothing) industries. The resident population is made up mostly of Chamorro, Carolinians, and Micronesians. The three main languages spoken are English, Chamorro, and Carolinian. Some 86 percent of the inhabitants speaks a language other than English at home.

The CNMI educational system is similar to that of the U.S. public school system. Accreditation started in 1987 and is through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Education is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 18.

In early 2001 the public school system of CNMI had 15 facilities with plans to build two more. Of these, 11 served the primary level. The school year runs from August to June with class hours from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in elementary school and 8:15 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. for high school. Teachers are required to have certification. There are also 15 private schools offering education in the primary and secondary levels. In 1995 the pupil-teacher ratio was nearly 21:1.

Numerous programs are offered by the public school system, such as the provision of childcare for 190 families (380 children) whose parents are in school; bilingual education; and Head Start for children under six years of age. The country uses the Stanford Achievement Test 9 (SAT9) as their form of student assessment.

The Commonwealth has one postsecondary institution, Northern Mariana College, that offers programs such as associate of arts or science; adult, vocational, and continuing education; and professional development. For further studies students go to the University of Guam or the University of Hawaii.

CNMI faces three main issues to resolve: a 14 percent unemployment rate, an immigration problem, and reports of industrial worker abuse. A report from the U.S. Congress in 1998 estimates that there are at least 10,000 illegal aliens in the Commonwealth. Additionally, in 1999 several American clothing makers agreed to pay some $1.25 million as a settlement on behalf of more than 50,000 workers forced to work in undesirable conditions. Part of this settlement fund goes to an education campaign to create awareness for better work conditions.

Juanita Villena-Alvarez and Victoria Villena

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Northern Mariana Islands (märēä´nä), officially Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a self-governing entity in association with the United States (2010 pop. 53,883), c.185 sq mi (479 sq km), comprising 16 islands (6 inhabited) of the Marianas chain (all except Guam), in the W Pacific Ocean. The islands lie E of the Philippines and S of Japan and extend 350 mi (563 km) from north to south. The most important are Saipan (capital), Rota, and Tinian. The northern islands are composed of volcanic rock, the southern islands of madrepore limestone covering a volcanic base. All the Marianas are mountainous, with the highest peak (3,166 ft/965 m) on Agrihan. There are active volcanoes, and the islands are subject to typhoons. More than two fifths are Pacific Islanders (mainly Chamorros), and Asians form nearly as large a portion of the inhabitants; there are minorities of Caucasians and persons of mixed descent. Most of the people are Roman Catholics. Chamorro, Philippine languages, Chinese, English, and other languages are spoken.

Livestock, coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons are the chief agricultural products. Tourism, especially from Japan, is a major industry, employing roughly 50% of the workforce. Construction also is critical to the economy. Clothing was formerly the major export, but the liberaliztion of U.S. garment import restrictions in 2005 led to demise of the once significant garment manufacturing industry by 2009. The islands experienced a significant population loss (more than one fifth between 2000 and 2010) when many Asian garment workers returned to their native countries as a result. The Northern Marianas receive substantial financial assistance from the United States.

The Marianas Islands are governed under the constitution of 1978. The president of the United States is the head of state. The government is headed by a governor, who is popularly elected for a four-year term and is eligible for a second term. There is a bicameral legislature. Members of the nine-seat Senate serve four-year terms, while members of the 18-seat House of Representatives serve two-year terms; all legislators are elected by popular vote. Administratively, the Northern Marianas are divided into four municipalities. Residents are U.S. citizens but do not vote in U.S. presidential elections; they do elect a nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Settlement of the islands, by people of Indo-Malayan stock, dates back to c.1500 BC The Latte Culture, beginning c.AD 800, is noted for the surviving large stone pillars and foundations of what are believed to have been ruling class houses, but the nature of the sites had been forgotten by the indigenous Chamorros at the time of European contact. The islands were visited in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, who named them the Ladrones Islands (Thieves Islands). They were renamed the Marianas by Spanish Jesuits who arrived in 1668.

Nominally a possession of Spain until 1898, the islands were sold to Germany in 1899, except for Guam, which was ceded to the United States. The islands belonging to Germany were seized by Japan in 1914 and were mandated to Japan by the League of Nations in 1920. U.S. forces occupied the Marianas (1944) during World War II, and in 1947 the group (exclusive of Guam) was included in the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Residents approved separate status for the Northern Marianas as a U.S. commonwealth in 1975. They became internally self-governing under U.S. military protection in 1978, and trust territory status was officially ended in 1986. Benigno Fitial, from since Jan., 2006, resigned in Feb., 2013, after he was impeached. He was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos, who won election to the office in 2014.

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Northern Mariana Islands

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Region (Map name): Oceania
Population: 71,912
Language(s): English, Chamorro,Carolinian
Literacy rate: 97%

The Northern Mariana Islands, located in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines, were settled by ancestors of the Chamorros Indians around 2000 B.C. In 1521, explorer Ferdinand Magellan claimed the islands for Spain, which ruled them until selling them to Germany in 1899. At the start of World War I, Japan seized the islands until the close of World War II, when they became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States via a United Nations mandate. The islands became self-governing in 1975, and in the 1980s, its citizens received both U.S. citizenship and the civil and political rights of the U.S. Constitution. In 1990, the UN terminated the Trust Territory, but the U.S. remains responsible for foreign affairs and defense. Although the official language is English, most of the population speaks another language at home, such as Chamorro or Carolinian. The population is approximately 72,000, and the literacy rate is 97 percent. The U.S. President serves as the Chief of State, but the Head of Government is local. There is a bicameral legislature with a Senate and a House of Representatives. The garment industry is the most important segment of the economy, but tourism, mostly from Japan, also plays a major role, as does agriculture.

The media enjoy freedom of the press and speech. Two newspapers print Monday through Friday: the Saipan Tribune and the Marianas Variety. Both are available online. The Saipan Tribune publishes in English. The Marianas Variety print edition features both English and Chamorro, but its online edition is English only.

There are five radio stations, two AM and three FM. There is one television station and one Internet service provider.


"Annual Survey of Freedom Related Territory Scores," Freedom House (2000). Available from

"Country Profile," (2002). Available from

"Northern Mariana Islands," CIA World Fact Book (2001). Available from

Saipan Tribune, (1998) Home Page. Available from

Jenny B. Davis

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Northern Mariana Islands

At a Glance

Nickname: America's Best Kept Secret

Capital: Saipan (38,896)

Size: 184 sq. mi. (477 sq km)

Population: 74,612

Statehood: Unincorporated

Electoral votes: 0

U.S. Representatives: 1 (nonvoting)

The Place

The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands is a chain of 16 islands in the Pacific Ocean, south of Japan and east of the Philippines. Combined with the island of Guam, these islands make up the full Mariana Islands. The Mariana Islands are part of the region in the Pacific Ocean known as Micronesia.

The largest island in the Northern Marianas is Saipan, which is also the capital. The second-largest island is Tinian; Rota is the third largest. Most of the population lives on these three islands. Seven of the northern islands have active volcanoes. The islands have a warm climate year-round and receive about 84 inches of rain annually.

The Past

A group of people known as the Chamorros first began to settle in the Northern Marianas around 1500 b.c. Another group, known as the Carolinians, first came to the Marianas after 1815, when typhoons (huge storms) washed out their homes in lower Micronesia. The first European to see the Mariana Islands was Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Spain quickly claimed the region, but did not settle the area until 1668. The islands were ruled successively by Spain, Germany, and Japan. Japan controlled the Northern Mariana Islands until 1944, when the United States took them over as a United Nations trusteeship during World War II. In 1975, the United States allowed the Northern Mariana Islands to choose its own government officials, and it became a U.S. commonwealth in November 1986.

The Present

Residents of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands are considered U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential elections. They have one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, but this representative can vote only in committees. The Northern Mariana Islands' government is made up of a 9-member senate and a 15-member house of representatives, and the three largest islands have mayors. The United States provides defense and handles international relations for the islands.

The island of Saipan is the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands and is home to about 90 percent of its population. Saipan contains the seat of government, a busy seaport, and an international airport.

The economy is based on tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture. Tourism is the largest industry. The islands manufacture textiles, and agricultural exports include vegetables, beef, and pork. Government jobs are also critical to the economy of the Northern Mariana Islands.