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Samoa News Guest Editorial: “Toe Timata le Upega”

The Fale Tele in Utulei is almost completely built and it is a breathtaking project that showcases the beauty of our culture and architecture. 

 Although he would be the last person to want to take credit for it, we owe this colossal achievement to the late Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Paramount Chief Tufele F. Li'amatua.  His persuasive and pleasant demeanor made it difficult for anyone to refuse him.

­In a meeting with DOI Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta and OIA Director Nikolao Pula, Tufele requested technical assistance funding for the “Toe Timata le Upega” project for the purpose of conserving our culture, with the support of Governor Togiola. 

 If Tufele had not been proactive, that critical financial boost would not have materialized, especially given these lean economic times.

 The manner in which Tufele pushed for the Fale's federal funding spoke to the leadership style of this statesman. He never worried about taking credit. He simply went ahead and got the job done. 

 Tufele Fa'ato'ia Li'amatua was born in American Samoa on September 4, 1940.

His 70th birthday gala, organized by his family and loving wife Tofiga, a long time nurse and a veteran in her field was held on Saturday, September 4, 2010, at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium. I was honored to be there.

As the daughter of his running mate and one who was fortunate to be able to view the process up close, some background about the first ever elected Lieutenant Governor of American Samoa is in order.

On June 10, 1976, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Cong. Phillip Burton to allow for the popular election of the Governor and Lt. Governor in American Samoa, rather than appointment by the Secretary of the Interior. The Bill passed the House by a 377–1 majority.

The following year, Governor H. Rex Lee approved Public Law 15-23 on May 16, 1977, which called on the Secretary of the Interior to allow the direct election of the Governor and Lt. Governor.

On September 13, 1977, the Department of the Interior issued Order No. 3009 which provided a "Provision for Elected Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and Creation of Office of Government Comptroller". This paved the way for American Samoa's first popular gubernatorial election in November 1977.

Uifa'atali Peter T. Coleman, who had served a five year term (1956-61) as American Samoa's first and only native-born Samoan Governor appointed by Pres. Eisenhower and his  running mate PC Tufele F. Li'amatua won the 1977 gubernatorial race on November 1, becoming the first directly elected Governor and Lt. Governor of American Samoa, respectively.

Tufele was inaugurated as Lieutenant Governor of American Samoa on January 3, 1978. Coleman and Tufele successfully campaigned for a second full term in office in the 1980 gubernatorial election and were re-elected.

Because by law, they could not run for a third consecutive term, the team had to step down for one term. Coleman and Tufele left office on January 5, 1985, but not before they had successfully completed big projects for American Samoa.

With Paramount Chief Tufele as the first elected Lt. Governor, the Coleman-Tufele team overcame the strong objections of the Interior Department to bring satellite communications here to lay the foundation for a modern telecommunication system as the basis for expanding our ability to attract new development. They also established a transshipment policy to attract more commercial vessels to our port facilities.


Tufele later served as the District Governor of Manu'a and also held the position of Police Commissioner.

In 2006, he was appointed as Chairman of the Future Political Status Study Commission, created to study the political status of American Samoa, which is classified as an unincorporated territory of the United States. Tufele asked for an extended deadline for the commission's findings.

Tufele called for full autonomy for American Samoa in November 2006, citing political weaknesses he felt needed to be addressed by the Future Political Status Study Commission.

He noted concerns that while the Governor of American Samoa is elected by the people, he or she can be removed by the Secretary of the Interior at any time. He also cited three other examples in his argument for complete autonomy for American Samoa.

He reiterated that the UN lists American Samoa as a non self governing territory and also cited Gov. Togiola's application for American Samoa to join the Pacific Islands Forum as an associate member, which the Department of State wanted to rescind because the application had not been handled by the federal government.

In 2009, Tufele was nominated by Gov. Togiola Tulafono to the Board of Directors of the American Samoa Medical Center Authority. He was confirmed by the local Senate in a 14-2 vote.

Gov. Togiola appointed Tufele as Secretary of Samoan Affairs on January 7, 2009 as the successor to Paramount Chief Mauga Tasi Asuega.  Tufele simultaneously became the head of the Department of Local Government upon his appointment to the office. Under local law, the Secretary of Samoan Affairs is selected by the Governor from among the Territory's senior chiefs. The appointment of the Samoan Affairs Secretary is at the sole discretion of the Governor and does not require the Fono’s approval.

Among other responsibilities, Tufele's duties as Secretary of Samoan Affairs included mediating land disagreements, other cultural issues and officiating at ceremonies. He welcomed high-ranking visiting dignitaries, Congressional and other federal delegations, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who visited American Samoa in November 2010.

On his return from the Holy Land, where he and his wife Tofiga had attended an All Nations Christian Government Leaders Summit in Jerusalem, Secretary of Samoan Affairs Tufele passed away unexpectedly in Honolulu on October 13, 2011 at the age of 71. 

Federal and Pacific island leaders from near and far paid their respects, including Samoa's Head of State and Mrs. Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese.

This congenial, humble and understated leader always had a friendly bearing, an easy smile and a kind word to say, which made his accomplishments seem effortless.

The biggest lesson I learned from Tufele was that he always reached out to help those who needed his help, regardless of rank or importance. If he had to take sides, he often sided with the little people, those at the grassroots level, a trait not often seen in a paramount chief. He was accessible and his door was open to everyone.

Paramount Chief Tufele Fa'ato'ia Li'amatua's name deserves to be inscribed on the Fale Tele.  It is the appropriate, correct and honorable way to thank him for making this building a reality and to give respect to the memory of a great leader.