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American Samoa will again state its case before the UN Decolonization Committee

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale [SN file photo]
“We... do not consider ourselves a colonized people…”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The United Nations Decolonization Committee is again being informed “that we, the people of American Samoa, do not consider ourselves a colonized people,” according to the written statement of ASG and Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga that was presented by Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, at the 2018 Decolonization Committee’s Pacific Seminar, which opens today and runs through May 11th at St. George, Grenada.

Talauega will not only talk about American Samoa’s relationship with the United States, but he will also speak of the challenges of such a relationship, which began with the raising of the US Flag on Tutuila, according to a copy of the statement released yesterday by the Governor’s Office.

At the outset of the statement, Talauega notes that despite still recovering from Tropical Storm Gita in February this year, American Samoa on Apr. 17th celebrated its 118 years of union with the U.S. during Flag Day, which is “perhaps the most important holiday for our local government because it marks the beginning of our existence as a governing body.”

Talauega acknowledges that there were concerns about holding the celebration this year given the recent storm, but he pointed out that the governor and many American Samoans felt strongly that Flag Day had to be celebrated, especially this year.

“I bring this story to your attention, in part, because it highlights the nature and critical importance of our relationship with the United States,” he said. “The union of American Samoa and the U.S. is strong and healthy as ever.”

As a U.S territory, Talauega continued, “We enjoy the protection of the most powerful country in the world,” and the US response following Gita is but “one recent example of the protection we enjoy under the American flag.”

He added, “Perhaps the most important benefit to many American Samoans has been the protection of our culture and our communal land tenure system that is a foundation of our culture.”

He said these ideals were set forth in the two Deeds of Cession (1900 for Tutuila and Aunu’u and 1904 for the Manu’a Islands), which premised in part upon protecting the Samoan way of life and the United States has been assiduous in honoring this commitment.

Despite the many benefits, “We understand that our current form of government is not ideal, and certainly cannot be the final word,” he explained, adding that the territory’s current government exists largely at the pleasure of the U.S. Congress through the Executive Branch. 

“This state of affairs limits our ability to self-govern and exposes us to the vagaries of decisions made in Washington D.C. without our input. There is much work ahead for American Samoa to realize its proper political status and resolve recurring challenges in its relationship with the United States.”

With assistance from the US government, ASG has taken definitive steps to address these issues, said Talauega, adding that in 2016, the governor established the Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review, and Federal Relations that among other things, engages and explores remedies within the political process, “which may lead to us negotiating a more formal agreement with the United States.”

In addition to the political process, ASG is also exploring remedies in the judicial system. He cites ASG’s lawsuit more than a year ago against certain federal agencies, over its move to reduce the Large Vessel Prohibited Area in territorial waters. ASG won in the lower court and the case is pending in the 9th Circuit of Appeals court.

One of the three issues addressed in Talauega’s statement reiterates what others from American Samoa have said before this same committee over the years.

“We... do not consider ourselves a colonized people. We do not live under a regime for which colonization must be eradicated. Our relationship with the United States is one built on trust and respect for our native people and our Samoan culture.

“In addition to the significant protections of our native rights and Samoan culture, our relationship with the U.S. allows us the freedom to operate our local government,” he said, adding that ASG is today run by American Samoans.

“We elect our own Governor and Legislature. We make our own laws. We control our own customs and immigration borders,” he pointed out.

(Samoa News will report on the remainder of the ASG statement later this week.)