Eni: Lifetime achievement award

Aleki Sene, Sr. and the late Olo “Freddie” Letuli also honored
Front row (L_R) Eni Faleomavaega, Aleki Sene, Terri Rotter, Dr. Cecelia Alailima Back row (L-R) Olo Letuli Grandson, Tusi Tamasese, Elizabeth Kurtz, Dr. Victor Thompson [courtesy photo]

Samoan Achievers International (SAI) held their biennial awards gala on August 10th at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Long Beach, CA, honoring Samoans for their excellence and service in a variety of different professions, organizations, and career endeavors.

SAI is a community-based nonprofit organization made up entirely of volunteers of Samoan heritage. The emphasis of SAI is to recognize and honor Samoans who have succeeded in their professions and generously given of their time to Samoans, their communities, and the world at large.

The theme for this year’s gala event was “Ole ala ile pule ole tautua” – The path to leadership is service.

American Samoa’s representative to Congress, Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Eight individuals were also honored for their outstanding service and careers.

SAI Chairman, Faleomavaega Falana’i Ala, gave the welcoming address to the large crowd, estimated at more than 500 people. Tui Letuli served as the master of ceremonies.

Idaho State Senator Edgar Malepeai gave the keynote address. Malepeai was originally from Faga’itua, graduated from high school in South San Francisco, later graduating from Idaho State University. He was first elected to the Idaho state senate in 2002, winning 64.6 percent of the vote.

Seven individuals were honored by SAI as well as one community organization. Those individuals were the late Olo Uluao “Freddie” Letuli, honored with the Culture Award. Olo is known as the “father” of fire knife dancing. He appeared in a number of movies, and served as a senator in the Fono for many years.

Aleki Sene, Sr., Executive Director of American Samoa Telecommunications Authority, was presented with the Business Award. Sene is the longest serving director in the history of ASG, serving 11 governors over nearly 50 years. Sene has been the primary force behind the development of the territory’s modern communications systems, including the territory’s first overseas communications with Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.

The Government Award was presented to Malae Elizabeth Langkilde Kautz, six-term mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota. Mayor Kautz is the older sister of the well-known Langkilde brothers who all reside in the territory. Among Mayor Kautz’s accomplishments is serving as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The Health Award went to Cecelia Ala’ilima, MD. Dr. Ala’ilima was recognized for her many weeks of volunteer service in Upolu following the tsunami, as well as 20 years of service to Samoa’s National Hospital and numerous rural district health centers. Dr. Ala’ilima currently serves on the Board of Directors for Queens Medical Center and Moloka’i General Hospital in Hawai’i.  

Dr. Victor Thompson was presented with the Education Award. Dr. Thompson is the Executive Director of the National Pacific Islander Network. He served 29 years as a teacher, track coach, assistant principal, and principal in five Los Angeles area school districts, and was named the 2002 Student Services Administrator of the Year.

Award-winning filmmaker, writer and director Tusi Tamasese received the Entertainment Award. Tamasese is from Vaimoso village in Upolu, and presently resides in Wellington. His debut Samoan language film, “The Orator” has received worldwide praise and attracted international awards.

The Organization Award was presented to the Sisters’ Alumni of the South Pacific. This organization is an all-volunteer non-profit group comprising women from American Samoa, Samoa and Germany. The group’s mission is to encourage educational opportunities for men and women of Pacific Islander heritage. Since its inception, the organization has raised and awarded over $500,000 in scholarships.

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, addressed the large crowd with a speech focusing on the future of American Samoa in terms of its future political status. Following his speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

A very popular exhibition at the gala was a Samoan Cultural Art & Artifacts Exhibit, designed by the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum. The exhibit showcased more than 80 historic pieces, some artifacts dating from the 1850s, including fine mats, war clubs and spears, shell “titi,” original “upeti” and a 19th century “tanoa” from the German years in Upolu. The exhibit was collected by Falana’i and Lisa Ala.


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