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Dear Editor,

In his letter to the editor regarding the Fitisemanu v. United States case, Charles Ala’ilima points to a question we all seem to be thinking but don’t want to ask – do we want to remain as a territory (status quo) or vote for some form of self-rule?

Now some may say that we shouldn’t be having a debate on citizenship to begin with. The plaintiffs should have just left things well alone. I strongly disagree with that assessment.

For one, change is not the sole jurisdiction of the courts. The applicability and scope of the law can change literally overnight these days, whether by an executive order, legislation or even by some popular social movement.

Second, the issue is less about the right to automatic citizenship and more the extent to which the Constitution applies to our territory and the implications that will have on our traditional institutions and way of life. Whether it’s this case or another like it 5, 10 or 50 years from now, do we really want to leave that question out there to be decided by some judge?

If anything, this case brings that issue front and center. We can no longer plead ignorance. Either we take the reins into our own hands and chart the course of our future on our own terms, or… we can continue to roll the dice.

But how? Through some form of semi-independent status? And why would anyone want to do that?

A central government is built on the promise of providing for the common good – unbiased, fair, equal and just. Has the ASG proven itself competent and consistent in delivering on that promise? While better than other municipalities in the U.S., to include the swamp that is D.C., the jury is still very much out on that question.

Why move to become a more sovereign state and give more power to a local government that only serves the interest of the powerful, well-connected and those on the inside track? Why remove a layer of federal oversight that actually serves as a last resort to keep those with the power in check?

Without a proven track record of consistent, good governance that rules above parochial interests, there is little confidence that any kind of sovereignty will be in the interest of all of our people.

So where does that leave us? A guy at the bar who’s just listened to both sides but wants to get back to drinking his beer may say something like: “Hey plaintiffs, you’re right, we’re a territory, constitution’s the supreme law of the land, citizenship, free speech, equal opportunity, all that stuff, you’re right. ASG over here is just asking for a time-out… to figure out what that all means to the stuff that’s important to the both of you. Can you give him a break? Thanks.”

An oversimplification for sure.

While I personally believe that all of our fa’a-Samoa institutions can survive full incorporation of the U.S. Constitution, the truth is there’s no body of work that makes that case. There’s been no vigorous debate, no theoretical underpinnings spelt out on paper, no conventions of leaders and thinkers to put such ideas to scrutiny and to the test.

All we have is a court case.

When we looked to create a legislature of our own and move out from under the purview of the U.S. Navy, great leaders like High Orator Tuiasosopo Mariota I and other giants of his time stepped up to the plate and laid the foundations upon which we all stand today.

One wonders if we will ever see their like again.

Talifaitasi Satele