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Gov. Togiola defends ‘elder’ delegates

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, June 28, 2010) – American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono has dismissed what he described as "very strong" criticism that a large majority of Constitutional Convention delegates are made up of ‘matai’ and elderly men in their 60s and 70s but not of the younger generation whose future will be greatly affected by the current review of the Constitution.

While there have been several such criticisms lodged with the media, Togiola cited as one example of this criticism a guest editorial published in the June 25 edition of Samoa News written by E.W. Williams titled "The Convention Is Supposed To Be For Everyone."

Togiola, on his weekend radio program, said the makeup of delegates was selected by each county and this effort is being criticized by others, including Williams in his writing. (The Governor didn’t identify on his radio program where the piece was published).

Williams’ letter states in part that "most of the delegates were chosen based on their traditional/ chief status in their districts, their importance in the government/ public, and/ or their political standing. These are mostly men in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who will be influencing our Territory’s future constitution.

"They will probably be dead before the full effect of their decisions become reality. The younger generation of Samoans will have to live with a Constitution that reflects the morals and standards of a bygone age; standards that are dangerously on the verge of becoming too conventional and esoteric because they provide little or no room for growth and fresh ideas," Williams wrote.

Williams letter echoed many comments received by Samoa News through letters to the editor, as well as comments posted on its website, as readers sought out names of all the delegates.

Togiola said there are very important issues that Williams and others with similar opinions should fully understand.

Firstly, he said, our forefathers who signed the Deed of Cession in 1900 -- men whose ages are unknown to us -- were not young men, or women or untitled men (taulelela).

Our forefathers who signed the deed of session were elders and ranking traditional leaders, who were given the trust by their respective families as wise individuals who were making a decision for the future of the territory, said Togiola.

When selecting chiefs, the extended families give their full trust and support to matai, who will do everything to protect their families, he continued.

Togiola did note there are times when families disagree with a person selected as matai, and the issue ends up in court. However, he maintains that the role of a matai still remains to protect extended families.

He said the betterment of the entire family does not depend on just one person, the matai, but for every member of the extended family to make their contribution.

He said he has raised this idea with the younger generation many times -- to continue to contribute to their families and not to ignore, criticize, or run away from their responsibilities as a family member, because if this is the type of action by the younger generation, they should not complain about the decisions made by the matai.

Go to the family gatherings, raise your opinion and get involved, the Governor said.

If your opinion is ignored, don’t give up but continue to maintain your family ties, said Togiola.

A Samoan who serves (tautua) his/ her family should continue to participate in family events and activities and by doing so the chief (matai) will change a final opinion, he said, adding that chiefs will later take into consideration input from family members to better the extended family.

Togiola said he believes Williams in wrong in his opinion that elders should not be making decisions for future generations because it was elders and chiefs who made the decision in the current constitution, which everyone currently lives with.

He said this same young generation complaining about the make up of delegates will probably in later years -- when another Constitutional Convention is called -- tell the future generation that selecting traditional leaders has been the norm from past generations.

According to the Governor the decisions of the ranking traditional leaders, chiefs and elders come down to one thing -- the betterment of American Samoa and its future.

Togiola suggested to Williams and other critics to educate themselves in the Samoan culture -- to obtain a "degree" in Samoan culture and tradition which will provide them with much better understanding, wisdom and knowledge of the Fa’aSamoa, which is used to lead churches, villages and the government.

While American Samoa lives under a democratic system, Togiola said, the Samoan culture cannot be ignored as it goes hand-in-hand in today’s society.

He cited part of Williams letter, "Like our ancient ancestors, I want to embrace the positive things that change can bring and use it for the betterment and survival of our Samoan Culture and People."

Togiola said this is the same intention for everyone involved.

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