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Fono declines to support costly Samoan Heritage Week

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Aug. 22, 2011) – American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono didn't mince any words and his tone was stern when he responded to what he calls criticism by senators who wanted the governor to inform them about the Samoan Heritage Week in Hawai'i.

[PIR editor’s note: Samoa Heritage Week opened on Monday, August 8, 2011. Governor Togiola Tulafono and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann were key speakers that day as the pair was instrumental in putting together the first event in 2009.]

On his weekend radio program, Togiola said some senators have complained he has not spoken to them about Heritage Week - he didn't identify the senators by name that complained about the third annual event held early this month at Keehi Lagoon Park, just outside of the Honolulu International Airport.

"I didn't talk to anyone because the Fono [Legislature] didn't provide any money to fund the Heritage Week," he said, adding there is no reason why he should talk to the Fono and there is no reason why he should report to any of them. "If they don't want to support the program, that's fine but don't complain or criticize."

Togiola pointed out that his administration didn't seek out a funding allocation for the festival from the Fono.

He said the festival was funded by efforts of the organizing committee in Honolulu, along with some financial support through programs administered by the governor's office and other funds already in place for matters dealing with this type of event.

Last year, about US$50,000 was utilized from a Department of Commerce account to pay for certain Heritage Week expenditures for last year's event. Samoa News understands this was the case again this year - although no dollar amount has been mentioned.

According to the governor the Heritage Week event continues to be the subject of criticism by some who have made this a habit, although it has been a success in the last three years and a good event to showcase our Samoan culture. He said everyone who attends Heritage Week enjoys the festivities.

Togiola said that if criticism is your culture, that's fine, continue to do so; however that would not stop him from carrying out important programs and events long planned, and enjoyed by not only Samoans but non-Samoans as well.

He said he hopes that this event will bear fruit in the future, with many non-Samoans coming to the territory because of this festival, which helps to develop our tourism industry.

Commenting on the heritage program put together by the Samoan community in Hawai'i, Togiola said it was excellent and what he enjoyed the most was the fact that many young Samoans - born and raised in Hawai'i - participated in many activities, including Samoan songs and dances.

The governor said he even participated in one of the activities, as a member of a cricket team.

Since last Tuesday night KVZK-TV has been airing activities and cultural entertainment from the festival including a broadcast Saturday evening on the actual closing ceremony where Brig. Gen. Joe Kim, Deputy Adjutant General of the Hawai'i state Defense Department, was the keynote speaker.

"These events are to preserve your culture," Kim told the gathering, which included Sen. Paogofie Fiaigoa, Treasurer Magalei Logovi'i, Parks and Recreation director Samana Semo Ve'ave'a and Commerce Department director Faleseu Eliu Paopao. "So for our elders I want to thank you for preserving your culture, for continuing to teach our youth."

Kim also said that Samoan officers that he works with in the military "are fierce, loyal and brave and the best warriors in the world" - prompting applause from the crowd.

"I wanted to tell our youth, that in spite of the inconvenience, in spite of our high tech world today, it is important - it's paramount importance - you keep this heritage close to your heart," Kim said. "For it defines who you are, and who you will become."

He called on young Samoans to keep their Samoan heritage "close to your heart" because it "gives you strength when you most need it." Following his brief remarks, Kim presented Togiola with the State of Hawai'i proclamation for the Samoan Heritage Week.

Togiola read the entire proclamation, signed by Hawai'i Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Hawai'i Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, followed by his address, where he spoke about the importance of the event, especially for the young generation of Samoans who were born outside of the Samoan islands.

The governor informed traditional and church leaders of the Samoan community that the "future of our heritage and the preservation of our culture and customs, and practices outside of Samoa is dependent on you."

He also said that when the economy went down in American Samoa, "it was the remittances from you, it was the remittances from our families in the states that helped us sustain our economy in order to survive."

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