Options for Am Samoa’s future political status are laid out
St. George’s, GRENADA — Those attending a gathering of the United Nations Decolonization Committee are hearing about the challenges American Samoa faces in its relationship with the US, and the “way forward” as far as a future political status of the US territory.
Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, traveling with the Governor’s chief of staff, Fiu J. Saelua, is making American Samoa’s presentation on behalf of the governor and ASG, at the 2018 Decolonization Committee’s Pacific Seminar at St. George’s, Grenada, which ends May 11.
The presentation covers three main issues and the territory’s official statement to the committee was released Tuesday by the Governor’s Office.
Talauega notes that American Samoa’s relationship with the US “is not without its challenges.”
He explained that Congress has yet to pass an organic act to organize a permanent government for American Samoa.
According to the presentation, Congress delegated its authority over the administration of the territory to the US President, who first used the Navy, then the Interior Department, to directly administer the Territory.
“As a result, despite the autonomy we have received from the US through the years to administer our own government and practice our Samoan culture, our government continues to exist by virtue of delegation of authority from Washington D.C.,” he explained.
“The lack of formal agreement establishing a permanent government for American Samoa exposes us to actions being taken from far away that impacts upon us in ways we cannot anticipate nor for which we can adequately plan,” he said, adding that in past years the territory has presented to the committee examples of US policies and laws that have had devastating impacts on the local people, and economy.
Perhaps the most significant, according to him, is the minimum wage laws, which continue to have a debilitating impact on the local tuna industry. “These challenges are amplified by our small size and our location far from Washington, D.C.,” he continued.
Talauega said entering into an organic act or another form of formal agreement with the US is an option available to American Samoa to solidify its political status and ensure the protection of its people and unique Samoan culture.
“This is perhaps the most viable option available to American Samoa given our long history with the United States,” he said, adding that any discussion between American Samoa and the US regarding a covenant or an organic act would be governed by the terms of the Deeds of Cession, which are federal law, and have been adjudicated and upheld in federal courts.
According to him, any agreement between the US and American Samoa cannot ignore the terms of the Deeds.
“The Deeds of Cession and the extensive record of our relationship with the US are two important tools to help American Samoa in any future discussions with the United States about its political status.”
He went on to say this could be a platform to address issues such as increasing the territory’s representation within the federal government by giving its Congressional delegate the right to vote on the US House floor “and clarifying the status of people born in American Samoan – whether U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals.”
“But some fear that engaging in discussions of this sort will threaten the protections we currently enjoy, especially protections of our Samoan culture,” he said.
“If challenged, the land tenure system and other aspects of the Samoan culture would most likely be declared unconstitutional... This fear, perhaps a big reason why American Samoa remains the only unorganized territory of the United States, is however, in my view, overstated.”
The AG said ASG is “taking the lead and moving at a much more methodical basis towards a resolution of this important issue,” referring to the political status.
And this is being spearheaded by the ASG by engaging the youth and other members of the community to discuss and exchange ideas. vFor example, ASG is hosting a Youth Summit this summer to explore political status, constitutional amendments, and issues regarding our relationship with the US.
“The next steps in the political process will require continued serious dialogue among all the people of American Samoa,” he added, citing choices for a future polit ical status:
• maintain the status quo, which causes us continuing concern due to the future uncertainties in issues such as federal law and policies;
• consider an Organic Act, like Guam and the Virgin Islands, which would draw us closer to the US, but would likely lock us into economically untenable circumstances;
• look to the idea of Com- monwealth status akin to Puerto Rico and the CNMI; or
• consider some form of free association.
“All are possible. Not all are viable,” he said.
In conclusion, Talauega emphasized, “American Samoans are proud and loyal Americans. We have been members of the American Family for over 100 years - and our patriotism is manifested in one of the highest rates of enlistment from any State or territory” in the US Armed Forces.
“Our connections with the United States are indeed deep and entrenched.”