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Political candidates must be of Samoan ancestry

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 5, 2010) - An amendment approved Friday afternoon by a majority of Constitutional Convention delegates, is being described by opponents as discriminatory and clearly going against the United States Constitution and laws.

Current provisions of the 1967 Revised Constitution of American Samoa outlines qualifications of members of the Senate - selected by traditional Samoan customs - and House members, who are elected by popular vote.

Among the qualifications is that a lawmaker must be a U.S. national. During Friday’s review and vote on Article II - Legislature, Rep. Maugaoali’i S. Anoai offered a floor amendment and added to this provision that a member of the Fono must be a U.S. national "of American Samoan ancestry."

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, was among the opponents of the amendment saying that it is unconstitutional and will be considered discriminatory because its affects U.S. citizens.

He explained that there are born foreign individuals, who then became U.S. citizens while residing in the U.S. and they will be discriminated against in this provision, if they decide to come to American Samoa to live and this is something that is not taken lightly under the U.S. laws and constitution.

Maugaoali’i and other supporters all agreed that something has to be done to protect these legislative posts for American Samoans only.

Supporters point to foreign parents living here and their children born in the territory who automatically are U.S. nationals and therefore qualify to become lawmakers.

Other delegates pointed out that there is a big legal issue dealing with the unconstitutionality of the provision and it is expected to be challenged in court.

Maugaoali’i told delegates that the intention of the proposed amendment was not to discriminate against any person but to "protect our culture" for future generations.

Faleomavaega said he believes the U.S. Interior Secretary, who reviews all approved amendments, will reject this provision because it’s discriminatory. He also believes the U.S. Congress will reject this provision.

At least three delegates, who are traditional leaders fired back, telling Faleomavaega not to scare American Samoans by making such statements, adding that American Samoa should not be threatened this way.

Faleomavaega responded back that he was not trying to scare or make any threats but was outlining for the benefit of delegates, "the important issues" dealing with federal laws and regulations.

"We are indigenous people...with indigenous rights," declared Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson, adding that American Samoa’s culture and traditions are protected under the deed of cession. "We should stand up for our indigenous rights."

In the end the majority voted and approved this amendment. More details of the argument in Tuesday’s edition of Samoa News.

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