During the general election on November 8th, local voters will be asked whether they support 11 amendments to the American Samoa Constitution. As an opportunity for students to gain awareness of these amendments and their potential effects on life in the Territory, the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Political Science Club, with assistance from the Student Government Association (SGA) sponsored a forum on the amendments on Tuesday, October 25th.
Guests at the forum included three representatives from the Office of Constitutional Review, Tapaau Dr. Dan Aga, Director; Pau Dr. Roy Ausage, Researcher and Cultural Adviser; and Ms. Lindsey Laupola, Public Education Research and Development Specialist; along with Mr. Elia Savali of the Governor's Office. The guests, along with Social Sciences faculty Mrs. Lilian Temese and Mrs. Adrian Vasai-Moana, comprised a six-person panel that led the discussion on each amendment and addressed questions from the students, faculty, and members of the public who attended.
The forum followed a format where each proposed amendment was read in both English and Samoan, followed by a set amount of time for discussion and questions. With the full implications of some amendments not being immediately clear to the audience, the discussion often took the form of looking at an amendment from different angles and explaining its pros and cons. For example, Amendment #2 (The Secretary of Interior shall not have the power to change the decisions of the High Court of American Samoa) and Amendment #3 (The Secretary of Interior shall not have the power to change the Legislature’s override of the Governor’s veto) both seek a change to the federal government’s longstanding policies towards American Samoa, which fostered a dialogue among the form panelists on how these proposed changes represent both a step towards self-determination as well as a need for accountability.
Students were able to engage most directly with the discussion when a proposed amendment would have a personal effect on them. The topic of Amendment #7 (Restore five Senators to Manu’a. The total number of Senators would increase from 18 to 20), for example, raised the related issue of lack of development in Manu’a, and how for many who are from there, moving to Tutuila is a matter of necessity rather than preference. Other proposed amendments led to a more lighthearted exchange, such as Amendment #10 (Change “Ma’uputasi” to “Ma’oputasi”) which led one panelist to opine of “Ma’uputasi”, “I think that’s just how some outsider heard it and wrote it down.”
With the proposed amendments having been examined in great detail, the forum reached a novel conclusion when Dr. Aga asked if he could perform a song. With encouragement from both the organizers and the audience, Dr. Aga brought out a guitar and performed an original composition. His lyrics, in Samoan, reflected on social and political changes, while the song followed a musical structure that borrows from jazz and Latin American music. Dr. Aga’s heartfelt performance earned an enthusiastic response from the audience, and brought the event to a pleasant, if unexpected conclusion.
More information on the proposed amendments is available from the Office of Constitutional review, which can be reached at 633-6226.