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Regional media is reporting US citizenship issue divides American Samoans

Tapaau Dan Aga
Source: RNZ Pacific

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A move to bar US citizenship to American Samoans is being seen regionally as a blow to the territory and its people. But as Finau Fonua reports for RNZ Pacific, “many people are happy with the status quo.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review federal laws that barred citizenship rights to American Samoans, the lead in the lawsuit calling for birthright citizenship — Utah-based American Samoan John Fitisemanu said,"It's a punch in the gut.”

"I was born on US soil, have a US passport and pay my taxes like everyone else. But because of a discriminatory federal law, I am not recognized as a US citizen," he said.

It's a fact that has provoked anger among many Americans across the political spectrum given American Samoa's immense contribution to the United States.

"American Samoa has consistently been praised over the years for enlisting more soldiers per capita than any other US territory or state. In 2018, Sai Timoteo, a Hawaiian Republican candidate running for Congress, was disqualified because she was a citizen of American Samoa," said Christina Tausa, a political science lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

"They are US nationals at birth, but they're just not citizens.

"In the war in Iraq, American Samoa had the highest per capita deaths in terms of people serving in the military, so that tells us that American Samoans should have the right to vote in the US elections," Tausa added.


Many American Samoans however, oppose US citizenship. It's a position firmly held by American Samoa's Government amidst concerns that the sovereignty and customary rights of American Samoans would be threatened if citizenship were to be "imposed" on them.

The fear is that if US Federal Law were to apply to American Samoa, mainland citizens could purchase and take ownership of native lands as had occurred in Hawaii.

"The difference between the democratic principle and the historical reality is a very unfortunate, tragic and unjust one," said Tapaau Dan Aga, the director of the American Samoa Government Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review and Federal Relations.

"If you look at the history of the United States, there has been a tragic ending to many of the native peoples. When you look at, for example, the native peoples in the continental US and you can say the same thing about the native Hawaiians... they have come a long way and are still struggling."

For American Samoans opposing citizenship, the protection of native customary rights is paramount, and far exceeds rights granted as Federal subjects.

"There has been no referendum, where the people have said that we want US citizenship... we're born American nationals, so the pathway to citizenship is already open to us," said Tapaau.

"There's something that's important to us and deep in the hearts and souls of the people of American Samoa, and that is the desire to protect our modern lands, culture and language and our way of life."

Tapaau said these protections were the main foresight of the eastern Samoans chiefs who signed cessation treaties with the United States in the early 1900s.

"What our forefathers saw, right from the beginning, was this inextricable link that binds us to our lands, to our ocean, and to our way of life, it's not a perfect way of life. As you know, the intersection between culture and capitalism is a very challenging one.

“Which is more important, 'you want an automatic US citizenship, or do you want to continue the protections that we have?' I can confidently say that American Samoans would choose the latter."

(Source: RNZ Pacific)