Gubernatorial candidates voice their stances on the issue of political status
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The future of American Samoa’s political status was one of the questions asked of the four gubernatorial team during the recent American Samoa Bar Association forum.
“Share your vision regarding the future political status of our island and its people so that we remain relevant, secure, and prosperous over the next 100 years while still protecting our culture,” was the question.
NUA & SATELE
Candidate for governor Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga T. Nua interpreted the question to mean whether or not it’s time to change the territory's political status with the United States.
He said that since the ceding of these islands to the United States and up to now, there has been no problem with the political status. He said the United States has protected the territory well including, lands, titles and its people.
According to the candidate, what our forefathers agreed with the United States continues today — for example, continued good education for our children as well as the health care protection of the people of American Samoa.
Therefore, he said, there are no problems with all that’s provided by the United States.
However, if there are problems, he said that would be due to our leader (using the Samoan word “ta’ita’i), not being honest, and not working together with the federal government. He says our leader should comply and follow federal requirements so there will be more benefits for the territory.
Nuanuaolefeagaiga pointed to federal COVID-19 funds where the federal government has been truthful and honest in its relationship with the territory by providing millions of dollars. So, he said, nothing is wrong with the current relationship with the United States.
GAOTEOTE & FAI’IVAE
Candidate for governor, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau pointed out our land, culture and matai system were the three important issues to our forefathers who didn’t want those elements to be affected by the form of government American Samoa chose, and that should be maintained.
He recalled a few years ago when he and Tapaau Dr. Dan Mageo Aga were part of the local delegation who visited other states and territories to discuss their form of government. And the delegation recommended maintaining the current status, or form of government, as set forth by our forefathers.
He said that those who the delegation spoke with in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, told them that American Samoa is blessed where it has a form of government where culture and land is protected.
Although American Samoa is an unorganized and unincorporated territory, American Samoa continues on its path where its culture and land are protected, he added
His running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor, Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet told the audience that if a person wants to be a US citizen — “by choice” — that person can do so and become a US citizen. He also said that changing the constitution and a form of government for American Samoa is a decision by the entire community, not by two people.
I’AULUALO & TAPAAU
Candidate for lieutenant governor, Tapaau Dr. Dan Mageo Aga, thanked Gaoteote referring to the trip, where people in Guam were “envious of what we have in American Samoa, the protection of our lands and culture.”
Tapaau pointed out that the question is “asking us to look 100 years into the future. It’s far ahead. And the first thing that we have to make sure, in looking at our political status, is to make sure we have an authentic process. This means that any decision that we make has to be firmly vested in the authority of the people.”
“Our people must choose what our status should be. We have to know what we want. We need to strengthen the legality and stability of our relationship with the United States,” he told the audience. “If our destiny is to stay with the U.S., here are some principles we need to consider.”
Among them is to clarify the purposes, the function, and the promises of the Deeds of Cession. Additionally, establish whether American Samoa’s constitution requires explicit action to see if it “should serve as our territory’s organic act”.
“We need to solidify the rights and make clear the responsibilities of the American Samoa people to its lands, marine and natural resources. We need to strengthen the right to our cultural heritage and the specific role played by the matai in American Samoa,” he pointed out.
“We need to limit the types of legislation that Congress can impose upon the people of American Samoa, and we need to protect the internal self governance of our people,” he said. “We need to enact laws that promote investments, incentives and the territory’s specific economic policies.”
Finally, “we recognize there are many truths in our relationship and our destiny with the United States. As we navigate the waters of an uncertain future, we cannot allow the political process to be taken out of our hands. It must remain in our hands. It is a struggle we cannot afford to lose and we cannot get lost in the journey, because future generations depend on us,” he said.
LEMANU & TALAUEGA
Candidate for lieutenant governor, Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale recalled that during his tenure as attorney general, he had twice represented American Samoa before the United Nations on this very issue. He also represented American Samoa in several regional conferences discussing the issue of self-governance. “So this issue is extremely important for us,” he said.
“Lemanu and I believe that it is time for us to have a serious discussion about our political future because, as Tapaau referenced, if we don’t do it, somebody else is going to do it for us. And we’re not going to like that,” Talauega said.
Furthermore, “Lemanu and I both believe that this discussion of political status needs to happen now and to conclude with a referendum where anybody in American Samoa gets a say about what we do for our future.”
“I disagree that the relationship with the United States is all good. It’s great but there are issues that impact our ability to function as a free people,” he said and points to the mandatory minimum wage law passed by the US Congress with “absolutely no say by the people of American Samoa.”
He said the canneries and most local businesses struggle to pay their employees. “I’m not saying it’s bad to pay our people the right amount but it should be based on our situation, not the situation in California and New York,” he declared.
Another issue he raised is that American Samoa’s delegate to the US House has no-vote on the floor of Congress. “Why is that?” he asked and further pointed out, “Do we want [Congresswoman] Aumua to have a vote on the floor of Congress? We need to speak up and get that.”
Another issue he raised pertains to the federal cabotage law that prevents foreign carriers from flying paying passengers between American Samoa and any US airport.
Also during his tenure as AG, he represented the territory in the American Samoa versus the US National Marine Fisheries Service case which Talauega said deals with another action by the federal government, changing where American Samoans should fish in territorial waters.
“These are our waters, our lands. Absolutely no say by our people,” he said, and explained that ASG used the Deeds of Cession that were presented before the Honolulu federal court, which agreed with the territory. He said this case is on appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“There are a lot of things we need to do here. And we need to act,” he said.
(Samoa News notes that the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling last Friday reversing the lower court’s ruling in the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) in territorial waters. See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for details as well as a separate story in today’s edition.)