American Samoa Students Convene For Political Status, Constitutional Review Forum

More than 100 high schoolers to discuss pressing political issues

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 10, 2017) – More than 100 students from both public and private high schools convene today for a two-day forum, where five main issues, such as political status, constitutional protection of land and cultural and US citizenship will be discussed and debated.

The “Political Status and Constitutional Review Student Forum” under the theme “O Lou Faavae ma Lou Malo (Your constitution and your government)”, is a collaboration between the local Education Department, all high schools and the ASG Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review, and Federal Relations. Pisa Tialavea and John Maiava of DOE Office of Curriculum and Instruction are co-organizers.

Headed by Tapa’au Dr. Dan Aga, the political status office has conducted public awareness presentations at all public high schools on Tutuila following a call by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to ensure that the territory’s youth have a full and better understanding of the Constitution as well as “our political status” when it coms to the territory’s relationship with the United States.

At a House committee hearing last Friday morning, Tapa’au spoke about the role of his office, as dictated by the governor in an executive order issued early last year. After this year’s Flag Day celebration, Tapa’au says he will be at the helm of the office for one year.

Tapa’au said that some of the work done by the office includes ongoing research that involves US based scholars as well as working with the Office of Samoan Affairs, with the goal of public awareness programs and prevention to schools.

While they have completed presentations to all public high schools on Tutuila, they do plan to travel to Manu’a for the same purpose, he said, adding that the two-day student forum which opens today involves some 120 students from all public and private high schools in the territory - including Manu’a.

Tapa’au said the governor’s wish is for the people of American Samoa, especially the youth, to have a full understanding of “our political status”, as well as the territory’s Constitution. Arming residents with the knowledge and understanding will help them make decisions in the future, he said.

According to the draft forum agenda, made available last Friday, today’s session will commence around 8a.m. with opening remarks from Education director Ruth Matagi-Tofiga and ASG officials.

Thereafter is the first panel discussion on ‘Constitutional Rights & Freedoms’. Among the three questions of discussion, “Is the constitutional right separating church and government properly protected and practiced in American Samoa?”

Another question, “Should the American Samoa Constitution be amended to declare American Samoa a Christian nation?” For background information, the draft program agenda, points to a story in January this year by Apia-based Samoa Observer newspaper, which cites a bill before the Samoa Parliament proposing to declare Samoa a “Christian nation”.

The newspaper quotes Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi saying that the phrase; ‘Samoa is founded on God’ under Samoa’s Constitution would be replaced with ‘Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’.

Another panel discussion issue today focuses on ‘Constitutional Protection of Samoan Lands & Culture’, with the main question, “Does the protection of Samoan lands and culture remain relevant and essential to the all the people of American Samoa?’.

A “subsidiary topic” for the panel, looks at the “present manner of electing Senators is essential and necessary for the protection of Samoan lands and culture.” A provision of the Constitution states in part that Senators shall be elected in accordance with Samoan custom by the county councils of the counties they are to represent.

Also suggested as a subsidiary topic for the panel, looks at “Making Samoan an official language alongside English will help to protect the Samoan way of life for generations to come.”

According to the forum’s draft agenda, Secretary of Samoan Affairs Mauga Tasi Asuega will deliver opening remarks at the start of tomorrow’s session, to be followed with a panel discussion “United States Citizenship”, focusing on the topic “American Samoa should request that Congress grant people born in American Samoa birthright citizenship.”

Also tomorrow is the panel discussion on “Political Status Options” — which is another important issue for American Samoa, whose current status is an “unincorporated and unorganized” territory.

The Samoa News
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