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Explaining “view from Am Samoa” on birthright citizenship

Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Aga and others
Tapaau Dr. Dan Aga addresses Georgetown Univ. law students,

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa’s unique relationship with the United States has attracted interest from law students at Georgetown University in the U.S and resulted in an invitation for Tapaau Dr. Dan Aga, director of the ASG Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review and Federal Relations to present virtually on Apr. 11.

Tapaau presented on the seminar titled, “The Constitution of Empire,” after being invited by Professor James Campbell, a Yale graduate, now, on the Georgetown University Law School faculty

And one of the questions asked during the seminar dealt with territorial leaders, lawmakers and others who are strongly opposed to automatic U.S citizenship for person’s born in American Samoa.

Asked for his view on the outcome of the event, Tapaau told Samoa News this week that, “it's important for Americans to understand a perspective unique to our people on why it's so important to protect lands and culture even if it means rejecting US citizenship.”

“Professor Campbell is one person who understands our right to self-determination,” Tapaau pointed out. “Maybe a few students at Georgetown law have a better and more balanced understanding of the view from American Samoa.”

Tapaau shared with the private news media, including Samoa News, questions he was asked during the seminar, as well as his responses.

Professor Campbell asked “how it was that there was such wide and unified opposition” from the Legislature, via Senate Resolution No. 37-3 — and elected territorial leaders — against special interests like the “Equally American” group and lawyers for the plaintiffs who sought to have automatic U.S citizenship by birth — referring to the Fitisemanu citizenship case.

Tapaau first explained that “we believe it to be a moral, ethical, and constitutional imperative for Samoan lands and culture to be protected from an indiscriminate constitutional interpretation that would apply the US Constitution in its entirety and with complete uniformity and without regard for American Samoa’s specific history and unique indigenous land tenure system of the native Samoan people.”

Further, “demographics support the wide and unified opposition because most people in American Samoa are Samoan and most of them live on communal lands and practice Samoan culture.”

He also said that, there is “an understanding both deep and wide that ‘our own self-evident truths’ were not written down in books but were passed down in oral traditions from generation to generation. They tell us that these islands are our home and must be protected for the ones we love — even for those yet unborn.”

Another question was about the coordination with other US territories and Tapaau responded that there was little solidarity between American Samoa and the US territories.

“If our brothers and sisters in the US territories want a citizenship equal to that of citizens living in states, they have every right to pursue it.  But does it matter to them that it is not what we want?  We cannot stand by and let a resolution carry that is to our detriment and passively become the sacrificial lamb in the effort to overturn the Insular Cases,” Tapaau pointed out.

Another question was about the role of the United Nations and where American Samoa stands. Tapaau told the seminar about the time of the late Gov. Tauese P.F Sunia political status hearing back in 1992(3).  And he recalled what a traditional island leader said at the time in Samoan — meaning: "When Hurricane Ofa hit our islands, where was the United Nations?  When – only one year later — Hurricane Val destroyed homes and property, where was the United Nations? Our lot is with the US.” 

Tapaau also told the seminar about his first United Nations Committee of 24 meeting — referred to as the Decolonization committee.

He learned that the US hasn’t sent representatives to these meetings for years and that the “status of the US insular areas … was an internal US issue and the Special Committee had no authority in any way…”

(Samoa News notes that Tapaau also shared with the seminar his official statement to that meeting held in 2017, representing ASG and Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga.)

There was also a question about the public education efforts for the younger generation.

Participants discussed how important it was to encourage and provide opportunities for a civil discourse, recognizing that communicating questions and controversies is essential in a democracy.

Tapaau explained the methodology for teaching critical thinking, and said it was a universal mission to teach the people to make educated and informed decisions.

The seminar was also informed about the first on-line student constitutional convention and on-line referendum held in April 2022 when COVID restrictions were tightly enforced.

On the Fitisemanu automatic US citizenship case, Tapaau expressed his personal opinion that “maybe those individual Samoans, who took the case, believed—or were led to believe—they were the passengers and overturning the ‘Insular Cases’ was just the vehicle. Time has proven it’s the other way around. These Samoans were the vehicle, and the ‘Insular Cases’ was really the passenger.”

In closing, he said: “Any future framework for our island territory involving the application of the US Constitution must take into account the right to self-determination of the Samoan people.  This framework must be based on the inextricable link between the land and the ocean and the Samoan way of life. A definition of self-determination that severs this link could have the kind of tragic consequences experienced by many of the world’s colonized peoples.”

Tapaau was assisted by his staff during the presentation.