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Dear Editor,   

The recent case in Utah federal courts deciding that persons born on U.S. territory (specifically Am. Samoa in this case) are automatically entitled to citizenship has caused much consternation for all of us who care about the preservation of our culture and traditions. It has also caused a bit of finger-pointing and questioning of intentions from both sides of the issue.

What’s lost in all of the discussion so far is that many, if not all, of our cultural practices and traditions have somewhat equivalent counterparts found throughout the U.S. that pass constitutional scrutiny. If the day were to ever come where we were forced to apply all the tenets of the U.S. Constitution to our great territory, we would have courses of action via a constitutional convention to tailor our customs and practices accordingly.

For example, we can institutionalize our village fono along the lines of the neighborhood boards we find in Oahu or neighborhood councils found in Los Angeles, Tacoma and San Diego. These boards and councils act much like the fono of our villages by working primarily to address issues at the community level. And what is a neighborhood watch other than our version of the aumaga?

Retaining family land in the manner we do today through the Fa’amatai system may be a bit trickier, but I don’t see why we couldn’t also tailor it to work according to U.S. trust law. With a trust, grantors (our families) would leave assets (their lands) in the care of a trustee (their chief) to administer and manage as appropriate.

And the hardest issue for us to address, of course, would be our matai titles. To pass constitutional muster, I’d imagine that we would have to remove the hereditary and aristocratic aspects of these institutions in order for them to survive. That would mean making them elective offices that anyone can run for and win election to.

While we would have to make these offices open to anyone, there is no reason why we could not institute non-discriminatory qualifications that will work to ensure candidates/holders have relation to the family name according to our customs and traditions. Such qualifications could include requiring them to live on family land, provide service to the family and village and/or be nominated by one of the family clans. Any person can technically meet any of these conditions regardless of race, color, religion or sex.

All of the above obviously requires more in-depth analysis and comprehensive work to ensure we cover all of the fine print. Luckily, we are blessed with many of Samoa’s sons and daughters who have that legal background. The idea is that once we constitutionalize our cultural practices and traditions, we can further dress them up in all of the Samoan pomp and ceremony we’re accustomed to. That is no different from what we as Americans do with positions in Congress and the White House to all of the branches of the military.

And we would retain all of our Samoan nomenclature of course: we would still call the fono of a village a 'fono' although it would be constitutionally designed as a neighborhood board.

But outside of working to add a Samoan flavor to the U.S. Constitution, much in the same way we have done with Christianity, our only other recourse is to seek independence or redefine our political relationship with the U.S.

Which brings me to the other emotion (other than consternation and finger-pointing) this debate has conjured: fear. Our dependence on the millions we receive in federal funding every year, leaves our fate ultimately up to the mercy of our masters in D.C. The real question in this debate may be how far are we willing to go to fight for our Fa’asamoa and Fa’amatai if it came down to that or putting food on our table?

Talifaitasi Satele