14. Most American Samoa Youth Support Traditional Selection Of Senators

While some at summit opt for more democracy, majority favor retaining cultural role of matai

By Ausage Fausia

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 11, 2016) – The majority of young people who attended the Youth Summit last week voiced their opinion during their debate held last Friday, the final day of the summit —  that senators should continue to be elected according to the Samoan custom — by the councils of the counties they represent, which is also stated in the Constitution of American Samoa.

They also believe that making any changes to the Constitution of American Samoa will not only affect the Political Status of our Territory, but also minimize our chances of getting more assistance from the federal government, in terms of financial aid.

The government sponsored four-day Youth Summit ended on a high note last Friday, when more than 200 young people who took part in the week long program were given the chance to voice their opinions on three different issues: Should senators be elected; Should the Samoan language be the official language of communication; and Should police officers carry guns in American Samoa.

Director of the Department of Human and Social Services, Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona told the young people that the issues that they are debating were among the many essential local issues the Fono has been debating for years.

“…and today, you’re now given the chance to voice your own opinion about these issues, so that our leaders will know where are you stand …” said Taeaoafua before the debate on the senators’ elections began.

He also reminded all the young people that whatever they say today should remain the same when they become leaders of American Samoa in the future.

Twenty three young men and women were given the opportunity to explain their thoughts during the first debate about the senators, which lasted an hour and ten minutes.

Salamasina Aumua said that American Samoa should continue to respect what our forefathers have already laid down for the people of Tutuila and Manu’a by letting the senators be elected according to the Samoan custom.

“I believe that we shouldn’t change our status quo. Currently, we are electing the candidates for the House of Representatives but we are selecting our senators through our traditional system. I believe that the senate serves as a check and balance in our legislative body…”

While other people believe that times are changing and American Samoa needs to modify and adapt with change, and elect senators and other officials through their qualification and educational background, Aumua said that people should also be very prudent and wise in keeping part of our tradition alive.

“We need our elders’ wisdom and discernment, their voice is an integral part of our checks and balance system, and it is their voice that cherishes our culture, our lands and our heritage, it is their voice that is passionate about the things that really matter to us, our people, our heritage, and our culture, and I believe that our senators should continue to be elected through our Samoan system”, concluded Aumua.

Another powerful message to uphold the Samoan system when electing senators was from Mr. Tiso Skelton, from Pago Pago who will be a senior this year at Tafuna High School.

Skelton said that if changes are made to the Constitution of American Samoa by electing senators, not only the dignity of the Samoan custom and its culture will fade away, but the wisdom that was carried forward by our forefathers will also fade.

“I strongly support that our senators should continue to be elected in accordance with our Samoan culture”, said Skelton.

Selaina Tootoo from Fagaitua High School felt that senators should be elected because all voters in American Samoa have the right to vote. She also said that if the current Administration believes that ‘people first’ is their motto, then giving the chance to “all people” to vote for senators is the right thing to do.

“There are other qualified people who can be elected to be a senators, but they are not given a chance to sit on the senator’s seat at the Fono, because senators are elected according to the Samoan system, so giving the chance to everyone who wants to take up the post is the right thing to do,” said Tootoo.

Hope Autele of Matu’u and Faleasao, Manu’a also said that senators should be elected by all voters in American Samoa, not just a small group of matai in the village.

“If the governor and representatives are elected by our voters, senators should be elected by all American Samoa voters, who are paying taxes to fund the government,” Autele said.

One of the many interesting thoughts of the day about this issue was from Juby Lotulelei, one of the few young people who supported changing the way our senators are elected.

“I have a lot of respect for all of our elders who are serving in the Senate today. They did a phenomenal job for American Samoa by establishing laws to guide our country, and to protect people from committing crimes, but I believe that most senators are of old age and need rest. Give the change to the people of American Samoa to vote for those who have the strength in mind and health in body to become senators, and also those who have the qualifications to become senators,” Lotulelei said.

She also pointed out some of the things that have happened in the past, which gave her the thought that it’s about time to elect our senators.  She said that when former governor Togiola Tulafono in September 2012 supported the movement to elect senators, she was also listening to some of the village elders who also supported changes in the Constitution.

“My concern is the way our senators are being elected today — by a few number of matai — while the majority of the villagers were just sitting without saying anything.

“While technology is moving forward and making things easier around the world today, I believe that it’s about time for American Samoa to move forward, too, by changing our Constitution and give the chance to our people to elect our senators,” she said.

“There are too many accustomed to the traditional election process right now, we need proper election of the senate. American Samoa will never experience new areas if we are still using the old process, and I believe that qualifications need to change if they are not willing to amend.“And for that being said, I strongly agree that it’s about time to change our Constitution so that people of American Samoa will vote to elect our senators in the future,” Lotulelei concluded.

The Samoa News
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