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Dear Editor,

It hurts when we see the name of our family, village, district or country in the news for something bad that has happened. As a person, I know I have to be upfront with myself about the natural bias I have when it comes to my judgment on any of these things as it relates to me. I pray that I have had and always will weigh things objectively and fair; but then again, I am only human.

So to see the name of my beloved district of Tuala-tai in the news because of a string of criminal activities in the county, I’d have to admit, I rather look the other way. For us Samoans, our district names are more than just some boundaries on a map – they point to a larger network of kin who share blood and a common history. It is more of a family than it is a place.

I pray that whoever has knowledge of who assaulted Mrs. Catherine Adler in Taputimu comes forward and notifies the authorities, whether that person is from Taputimu or not. It is the right thing to do.

But this assault on Mrs. Catherine Adler is a culminating point for a number of headlines involving drugs in our territory. Along with the reporting have been cries for our matai and aumaga in our villages to stand up and be counted in the war on drugs. And these calls are not off the mark; a strong, engaged and responsible community has always served as the fourth branch of government that amplifies the public good the other three bring to the table.

But the real question is how can our matai and aumaga fight this war, or any other, plaguing our communities? By what authority? By what framework do they operate within the law to assist law enforcement while at the same time respecting our constitutional rights such as due process? And with what funds could they get the appropriate training they would need?

Without deliberate effort, guidance and resources from the ASG and the public-at-large, trying to enlist our village fono and aumaga in the war on drugs (or any other law enforcement activity for that matter) would do more harm than good.

It goes without saying that calling our traditional, fa’amatai system the “fourth” branch is an injustice, as it was here way before the other three. Perhaps a look to our cherished past and to our roots can help address areas where contemporary government falls short.

Let’s just hope it’s not too late.   

Talifaitasi Satele