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“Ala’ilima responds to Uifa'atali Amata”

Dear Editor:

I would respectfully disagree with Congresswoman Uifa'atali Amata's statement in her recently published letter that I have not addressed self-determination in the context of this citizenship lawsuit. In my May 26, 2021 letter to the House Resources Committee, a Committee on which Congresswoman Amata serves, I wrote the following:

[M]y clients’ case and any reconsideration of the Insular Cases will not address – much less answer – any questions about American Samoa’s self-determination or future political status. The question for American Samoa self-determination and political status is whether the people of American Samoa would like to be part of the United States or would like to be independent – not which individual rights secured by the U.S. Constitution apply. As Lt. Governor Ale testified, in American Samoa “there is no serious discussion of going [towards independence]. Some 120 years of being a part of the American family has really instilled in all of us that we are Americans and part of the American family.” So long as American Samoa is under the U.S. flag, my clients simply demand their constitutional right to be recognized as U.S. citizens, even as they continue to support broader questions of self-determination and political status being resolved through the democratic process.

 I fully support the idea of self-determination because the people of the territory and their representatives have the right to decide how they wish to govern themselves locally. The United States is governed by a federal system with a strong central authority guided by the U.S. Constitution in the federal government and separate authorities in the 50 states or in U.S. territories that are guided by both the US Constitution and their own state or territorial constitutions.

The Ali'i and Faipule of Tutuila and Aunu'u and the Tui Manu'a with his Ali'is and To'oto'os made the voluntary decision to cede sovereignty Tutuila/Aunuu (1900) and Manu'a (1904) to the United States federal government. That was an act of self-determination since they wanted to be part of the United States. Since the Deeds of Cession, American Samoans have slowly assumed greater control of self-governance in the territory starting with the establishment of a Fono with laws replacing Navy regulations then with the U.S. Department of Interior assuming authority from the Navy, and then the return of educated Samoans to run agencies of government in the 1950s. Two prominent returnees were Uifa'atali Amata's father, Peter T. Coleman (Attorney General) and my father, Vaiao J. Ala'ilima (Human Resources).

My father left Tutuila for Upolu in 1955 and became a senior advisor for the leaders of the independence movement there. Because of his close connections in American Samoa he was tasked with gauging the interest in American Samoa of joining together in independence. The answer from the Ali'i and Faipule of Tutuila/Aunu'u and Manu'a was a resounding no. Because of the decolonization effort by the United Nations it was no coincidence that when Western Samoa achieved its full independence in the early 1960s under its United Nations approved constitution, the Department of Interior had also approved the American Samoa Constitution to show that the territory's local governance was to continue to be developed under United States sovereignty within the federal system.

Since the enactment of the territorial constitution American Samoans have revised, refined and expanded their local governing rights in the territory at constitutional conventions and the conventions clearly established that the desire for the people of American Samoa was that it should remain inside the US federal system. All our local politicians have made it absolutely clear to the United Nations that the union with the United States since the Deeds of Cession remains strong. I find no American Samoans who seriously wish to change directions and move towards full independent sovereignty like Samoa or towards a semi-independent sovereign status like Federated States of Micronesia.

The position I take is that American Samoans since the Deeds of Cession over a century ago chose their self-determination path for governance of the territory and that path has always been under United States sovereignty. There is no desire to change it. So as long as U.S. sovereignty is maintained over American Samoa, the Fourteenth Amendment’s constitutional guarantee of U.S. citizenship applies to anyone born here. Self-determination is about American Samoa’s political status, not about whether individual constitutional rights apply on U.S. soil in American Samoa. I believe both the United States Constitution and our fa’a Samoa are flexible enough to accommodate the territory remaining under United States sovereignty. If our leaders seriously believe that our fa’a Samoa cannot be reconciled with the United States Constitution then they should focus on convincing American Samoans to change the current political status, not denying people born here US constitutional rights available to them under the current status.

Charles V. Ala’ilima