AMERICAN SAMOA BILL WOULD TIGHTEN MATAI CRITERIA

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Must be at least one half Samoan blood

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, August 29, 2009) - Several amendments are being proposed in a Senate bill, introduced Wednesday, that if enacted will make sweeping changes to current matai title laws, including one pertinent requirement for eligibility to be a matai.

Sponsored by Sens. Lualemaga E. Faoa, Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson and Malepeai Setu, the measure is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review, but no date has been set for a hearing.

Lualemaga, a former High Court judge, said the bill is to further protect matai titles as well as provide more solid guidelines for the court in awarding a title when it comes to trial.

An important change to current law deals with qualification of a successor, which states the person, among other things, must be of at "least one-half Samoan blood". The bill seeks to delete these words and replace them with the requirement that the person "must possess a genealogical blood relationship to the original title holder."

The bill also adds new provisions for a person filing a claim succession of the matai title to the Territorial Registrar and the written claim must be accompanied by:

Additionally, the petition must state a family meeting was called and held for the purpose of selecting a successor to the title in question, according to the traditions of the family. In the event the family does not have a sufficient number of members qualified as required to support the claim, the claimant shall so state in a signed affidavit.

The bill also adds that in the event of appeal, the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover costs and reasonable attorney fees incurred in the appeal to be assessed by the High Court against the non-prevailing party.

The bill also proposes to add another provision that in the event of a disputed case "no matai title shall be taken or bestowed and no saofa’i held until the High Court has entered a final, non-appealable order certifying the successor..."

Lualemaga said this provision is to prevent incidents which have happened in the past, where a title is bestowed on a person while an appeal is pending, and in the end, the appeal gave the title to the person who lost during the trial.

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