Fono 75th Jubilee Celebration
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa’s Legislature commemorated its 75th year, today, Nov. 30, 2023, at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei.
The one day celebration brings together lawmakers of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale will lead the program, as the Master of Ceremonies.
The Department of Public Safety will proved the Honor Guards, followed by the National Anthems of the United States, and American Samoa.
Reverend Elder Faaeteete Saifoloi of the EFKAS of Amaluia and Reverend Faalili Otineru- EFKAS Fagalii along with the Fagalii EFKAS Choir, are to present the Devotional Service.
American Samoa’s Governor, Lemanu P.S. Mauga will address the gathering, and will be followed by IIga Fofo I. F. Sunia keynote speech, according to the program.
Remarks will be made by Senate President Tuaolo Manaia E. Fruean.
A feast will be followed by special entertainment from Leone High school, along with EFKAS Youth Talalelei ole Faaolataga who will wrap it up with the Taualuga.
The final program of the event that Samoa News was able to obtain has the text of messages recognizing and celebrating the 75th Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the American Samoa Legislature from Senate President Tuaolo Manaia E. Fruean, Speaker of the House Savali Talavou Ale and US Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata Coleman Radewagen.
A background of the 75th Diamond Jubilee Celebration is also offered in the final program.
Senate President Tuaolo in his message highlights the celebration as an incredible journey “that has brought us to this point, and a moment to celebrate the enduring spirit of our beloved American Samoa.
“As we gather to commemorate the first Fono session called by Governor Vernon Huber on October 26th, 1948, we must remember that this was American Samoa’s first steps toward self-determination of governance — a monumental leap towards shaping our own destiny while nurturing our unique cultural heritage and traditions.”
Tuaolo writes of “the great wisdom of seeking truth, “Tofa Saili” of our forefathers, the pioneers of the first Annual Meeting, which later became known as the Senate (Maota o Alii), and the House of Representatives (Maota o Sui), cannot be overstated.
“Their vision to craft a government that has stood the test of time, guiding us through the complex relationships between our leaders, raising issues of our constitution, constant communication with the United States while safeguarding the essence of Samoan culture, language, and the tenure land system.”
To the youth of American Samoa, Tuaola gives the “responsibility to carry forward the legacy of our forefathers and to continue preserving the essence of this unique system of governance.
“It is a system that not only empowers us but also serves as an example to other Territories and States that yearn for the freedom to chart their own course while safeguarding their cultural heritage.
“Let us stay committed to ourselves, to the principles of democracy, cultural preservation, and self-determination that have been the cornerstones of American Samoa’s success.
“Together, we can ensure that the “Tofa Saili” continues to burn brightly for generations to come.”
In his message, Speaker of the House Savali Talavou Ale thanked “the people of American Samoa for your unwavering support over these past 75 years.”
Pointing to “all the families, villages, districts, and congregations of American Samoa,” he said faafetai tele lava for “your prayers and support are the foundation upon which our success is built.
“Your steadfast faith in our leaders and your commitment to our shared values have been the driving force behind our legislative accomplishments.
“We stand as one, bound by the ties of the FaaSamoa and our faith.”
Talavou wrote, “It is our hope, as leaders, that each year, we continue to improve our ability to govern with efficiency.”
Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata Coleman Radewagen added her warmest congratulations and thank you’s in her message to the Fono “upon 75 years of representing our people, and I celebrate with you and our people in this 75th Year Jubilee.”
She says it is “wonderful to think back on our heritage and recognize with gratitude the local leadership that first began all these successful years of self-governance. In 1947, our leaders at the time had the vision to actively seek more local influence.
“Eventually, they gained momentum in American Samoa’s effort to have a real voice in our government.
We hold their memories in our hearts, starting with the first Fono convening in 1948, then in 1952 as American Samoa began working with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“Likewise, we think fondly of President Dwight Eisenhower for building on those early self-governing steps by first appointing a Samoan governor of American Samoa in 1956, followed by our first election of a governor in 1977 with a vote of our population.
“At that point, we became truly a locally led territory – a 30-year process dating back to that first Fono.
“Each of those early leaders had an important part in our history that still benefits and guides us today.
“It is in that spirit,” Amata says that she has sponsored a bill “in the U.S. Congress, now working with the legislative process in the Natural Resources Committee, undertaken in direct response to a Resolution of this Fono, to take one more step confirming our honored principle of self-determination by removing an unnecessary approval mechanism from Washington D.C., affirming that once our people have spoken in amending our Territory’s Constitution, our Constitutional amendments are the right and responsibility of our people.”
Whereas: On September 25 , 1905: Commandant Moore ordered a: “PROCLAMATION CONCERNING A MEETING OF NATIVE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES NAVAL STATION, TUTUILA.”
This meeting would take place on October 20, 1905, at Fagatogo, American Samoa.
Each district was required to appoint eight representatives from the people of that district, with the district governor and county chiefs of each district.
The main objective of the meeting was to “receive a public expression from the people as to whether they desire the Government to sell the surplus copra of the Samoans for the year 1906.”
Later, this meeting became known as the “First Annual Meeting,” it would be the first time a free and open discussion by representatives of the people was allowed, although it was contradictory to the Samoan Way.
On October 26th, 1948 Governor Vernon Huber called a Special Session of the new FONO.
This session aimed to organize the Legislature to begin preparations to receive a US Congressional Committee arrival to American Samoa on November 13-16, 1948. On its first day, the first order of business was to swear in an all-new “faipule” under the Oath of Office.
Shortly after, the House delegates elected Honorable Puaatuua Salofi (Salanoa S.P. Aumoeualogo) as the first Speaker Pro Tem. On the second day, the FONO elected its first permanent Speaker of the House, Mariota Tuiasosospo
In the House of Alii (Senate), they elected the first Chairman, Le’iato Tunu. The House of Alii carried out its proceedings in the traditional Faa Samoa manner due to not having established rules.
Seventy-five years later, over 900 courageous men and women have served in the Legislature of American Samoa between 1948 and 2022
Over 70 of the past members of the Legislature are still surviving and contributing to our beloved island nation.
A testament to their enduring dedication to serve the people of American Samoa.
On March 19, 1971: The passage of the 1971 amendments by the Secretary of the Interior finally made the FONO a “full-time” entity.
The 1971 amendments were approved by voters and sent to the Secretary of the Interior. Of these four, the most significant amendments gave the Legislature the power to appropriate.
Amendment 1: This amendment stated that the Governor must receive approval from the Legislature when the proposed budget is submitted to the FONO for appropriation.
Amendment 2: This amendment stated that full-time members of the Legislature could not hold other government offices. It was also popularly known as “the amendment against dual compensation.”
Amendment 3: This amendment established that in accomplishing a “full-time” status, the Legislature would meet in two regular sessions each year instead of one. Also, the Governor was granted the power to call a “special session” without limitations.
Later, in 1979, the Secretary of the Interior approved to extend the session days from 35 to 45.
Amendment 4: This amendment changed members’ compensation from $300.00 annually to $6,000.00; this was made effective on July 1, 1971. In 1971, a gallon of milk cost $.50, and a gallon of gas was $.35.
HISTORY OF THE GAVEL
In the heart of the South Pacific, where the warm ocean waves meet the shores of American Samoa, there stands a hallowed hall—the Chambers of the Legislature of American Samoa. Within this sacred space, a silent witness to the daily flow of democratic aspirations lay: the legendary gavel. It had been the venerable arbiter of justice and order for seventy-five years, passed down through generations of Samoan governance.
In the early days, when the whispers of Western democracy first reached the Samoan archipelago, the gavel found itself in the hands of the first all-Samoan Legislature led by Speaker Mariota Tuiasosopo and Senate President Le’iato Tunu.
Local politics, once governed by traditional Samoan chiefs, the villages and districts embraced a novel concept – a democratic system of government.
With a newfound voice, the people utilized a voting system to express their constitutional rights, anointing leaders who would guide them into a future of self-determination.
The gavel’s handle, worn and polished by the touch of countless leaders, became a tangible link between the past and an undetermined future in democracy. It had witnessed impassioned speeches, heated debates, and the birth of an organized political landscape where the voters found resonance within the chambers.
As the gavel presided over 10,000 hours of official sessions and deliberations, it symbolized wisdom and truth-seeking. Its solemn strikes echoed throughout the Territory’s history, guiding Senators and Representatives through decisions that would shape the destiny of the people of American Samoa.
The gavel’s job was resolute and firm, a constant reminder of the responsibility bestowed upon those who held it. The gavel maintained its silent vigil through storms of political upheaval and the calm of stability.
It became an unwavering beacon of faith, goodwill, and compassion for the people of American Samoa. Each strike of the gavel served as a reminder that, in pursuing a better tomorrow, the leaders must be anchored in the values of justice and integrity. Senators and Representatives have come and gone; their tenures were as transient as the passing tides, but the gavel remained—a symbol of continuity in the ever-evolving tapestry of governance.
It became a touchstone for the leaders, a humble embodiment of the weighty responsibility they bore. The gavel was not just a tool; it was a custodian of the democratic spirit that flowed through the chambers of the Legislature.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a golden glow on the Chambers of the FONO, the gavel stood as a testament to the endurance of democracy. It was more than an inanimate object; it was a living relic, a guardian of the ideals upon which American Samoa was built.
The leaders may change, and their ideologies may shift. Still, with its storied history, the gavel remained an unyielding pillar of stability—a silent witness to the past, present, and the unwritten chapters of American Samoa’s future.