Take a look at Swains, it needs a fair chance, says its non-voting faipule
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Swains Island has so much to offer in terms of assets, including seabed mining once that is up and running. At the same time, it is long overdue for Swains to get what they are entitled to and that is a vote in the House of Representatives.
Swains Island Rep Su’a Alexander Eli Jennings shared with Samoa News how he has “felt bullied” over the years.
The lawmaker has taken his awareness programs to the next level, with more community outreach and publishing advertisements to inform the public about the rich history of the Swains Island.
He told Samoa News — Swains Island has been a territory of the United States for over 166 years, since the Guano Act of 1856.
“As such, Swains Island was made a part of American Samoa by an Act of Congress, not by a Deed of Sessions, on March 4, 1925 and has been part of American Samoa for 97 years.
“The Swains Island copra helped to stimulate the newly formed U.S. Territory of American Samoa.”
Adding that in 1856 there were only 39 States, this was 70 years after the Revolutionary War.
“So when US took over American Samoa right away they wanted a harbor because of the military benefits, but Samoa had no national resources other than the harbor and so the Navy requested the Swains Island be brought in to help stimulate the fragile economy,” said Su’a.
He said Swains Island brought in copra which was very prosperous at that time to help stimulate American Samoa’s economy.
“In 1950 when the Navy left, the Department of Interior came in and built two canneries and when they were fully functional they become the largest producer of US canned tuna in the world.
“And Swains contributed over several hundred miles of oceans because we got 200 miles to Swains and then another 200 miles to International waters so that's 400 miles extra [EEZ] that Swains brought in to feed the canneries; which they had done for the last 70 years. Swains has been an economic asset for American Samoa.
“There are a lot of rapidly growing developments in undersea bed mining and it is happening right now trying to proceed a lot of island nations in the Pacific like back at the beginning of the fishing times and it just so happens Swains has a lot of those things that you're looking for.
“So Swains is looking at being an even a greater economic asset for a long time in the future — if seabed mining ever gets kicked off.”
“Many Swains Islanders sacrificed their lives and became decorated heroes in the U.S. Armed Forces. Others went on to become distinguished government Leaders, Church Leaders, and prominent Traditional Leaders.
“The only voice Swains Island has had for sixty-some years in the American Samoa Government is a non-voting Delegate in the House of Representatives. This political arrangement has greatly contributed to the deteriorating state of Swains Island today.”
Regarding the Swains Island Delegate being selected not elected, Su’a explained this is to protect Swains’ rights culture and traditions.
“But taking away the right to vote in the House — that is a violation of the rights of the people of Swains and the constitution is very clear we cannot make laws that violate the rights of people. We are the only US Territory that can make laws to protect land and culture without violating the Constitution of the US. This is an exception,” according to Su’a in an interview with Samoa News.
Additionally, Senators are elected similar to the Swains Island Delegate but were given the House of Representatives delegate yet there is no vote.
He said with the vote Swains can have a “real voice, Swains can argue and it’s a very difficult position to be in. When you sit in meetings yet you know you have absolutely no influence no matter what you do.
“And Swains is often the butt of every joke, and people make fun of Swains, but it’s a hard thing to sit in there and not say anything and that's why I refuse to attend some meetings and it is intimidating sometimes and I can't stand that,” said Su’a.
“Sometimes I felt being bullied, but I try to be patient.”
Adding that some of the jokes make others look good at the expense of Swains.
“I just need a chance I can argue so much for Swains and it took me eight years to bring this to where it is now.
“We fought against all odds as we couldn’t get it through the legislature and we didn’t get it through the review committee and we finally got it by force, by chance at the Constitutional Convention, the last item on the last day,” he said.
“I am confident once the people understand the situation with Swains the same effect will happen similar on the day of the Constitutional Convention; once all the delegates got to hear a little something about what Swains island is, there was the overwhelming support of 63/43 votes and that was the first time the delegate heard what Swains was all about it, they would let us vote,” he said.
He said residents are forced to vacate their homes due to the lack of transportation, communication, and basic infrastructure to sustain life.
“In order to revive Swains Island back to its original state and rightful standing in the Territory of American Samoa, and therefore come to the general election the public must approve giving the right to vote to the Swains Island Delegate in the House of Representatives.”
According to Su’a there is no recognition of Swains by the American Samoa Government “as a community, as an island and until this Government recognizes Swain island, they will never recognize our community and the only way to do that is to give them a vote,” he said.
Another issue Su’a pointed out is that with COVID funding of over one billion, Swains was only given $3,400 and that led to aggressive campaigning to get Swains a vote in the House.
The funding available should be for Manu’a Tutuila, Aunuu and Swains however that did not happen.
Samoa News pointed out there is no one living in Swains, but Su’a said that is true this is due to transportation issues.
“Transportation is the life of people of Swains, sea transportation, and look at Manu’a without transporting of goods to their islands, they would devastate. Swains is 200 miles further away and cutting off their transportation and that forced us to leave the Island. “When I first came here, transportation was three-to-four months a year and it went up to six months without any transportation to Swains and our people were forced to leave,” he reiterated.