Keynote Address of the Honorable Anthony M. Babauta Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas U.S. Department of the Interior On the Occasion of the 111th Anniversary Commemorating the Raising of the U.S. Flag on American Samoa
April 16, 2011
Servant of God, Governor Togiola Tulafono and First Lady Maryann, Lt. Gov. Faoa (Fa-o-ah) Sunia and your wife Elisapeta, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House, Senators and Representatives of the Fono, Chief Justice Kruse and members of the Judiciary, Members of the Cabinet, Secretary of Samoan Affairs, High Chief Tufele, District Governors. Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen and the People of Tutuila and Manu’a – Talofa!
One hundred and eleven years ago, in this month of April, the chiefs of Tutuila and Aunu’u (Aunoo-oo) exercised their power and entered the islands into a momentous agreement with the Government of the United States. Four years later the Manu’a Islands joined, by separate agreement, the same union. The stipulations were two fold. On one end, the islands that would comprise American Samoa vowed allegiance to the United States. In return, the United States agreed to establish good and sound government, protect traditional rights and property, and promote the peace and welfare of the people. Today I am honored to be here to celebrate with you this special relationship and the anniversary of the raising of the United States Flag on American Samoa soil.
I bring the greetings of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to this special occasion and I am grateful to Governor Togiola for the invitation to join you and participate in all the activities to commemorate this anniversary and speak to you about some of the more recent accomplishments resulting from our partnership and also initiatives we are moving forward with to empower your community.
Before I go any further, on the behalf of the President I would like to pay special tribute US Army Staff Sergeant Loleni William Gandy who died in Iraq in November 19, 2010 and express my condolences to his spouse and children. I would also like to recognize all the Samoan men and women who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and those who continue to serve in military
Since my appointment by President Barack Obama, I have had the distinct pleasure of traveling throughout our various areas of jurisdiction. My travels take me throughout this vast Pacific Ocean, through Micronesia, to my home on Guam, to the farther Caribbean of the Virgin Islands where I visited just last week, to, now, this beautiful island you call home. And I find, no matter where I am, no matter how far, two intrinsic truths prevail. The first truth is that however different an island’s history may be, there is an indubitable relationship each island proudly shares with the United States. The second truth, and likely the most paramount of the two, is a peoples’ congenital understanding of their island’s history, traditions and inherited way of life.
On my last trip to American Samoa back in November, I made a promise to High Chief Tufele that my office would assist in upholding its part of an agreement that had been forged over a century ago. That promise was a significant one, where success would be measured by the role each and every one of us played in upholding our end of the bargain. It was a mutual commitment to uphold and most fundamentally, protect our primordial and traditional understanding of ourselves and our history as a people.
Today, I am particularly honored and humbled by Governor Togiola and High Chief Tufele’s vision for their people and their commitment to ensuring the preservation and perpetuation of Fa’asamoa. Through the Toefaaa mamow [pause] male ootangna loloto (TOFA MAMAO MA LE UTAGA LOLOTO) of Governor Togiola, High Chief Tufele and the Office of Samoa Affairs, ground will be broken today to begin construction of the Le oopengna wa-toy-tee-mata (LE UPEGA UA TOE TIMATA) project, a traditional Samoan Fale that will serve as a buttress for present and future generations in discerning what makes them uniquely Samoan.
This Fale will be a symbol for all that is sacred to the FA’ASAMOA (the Samoan Way), in particular, the family and matai system which is the heart of the Samoan culture. It will provide a forum to learn the Fa-a-loopenga (Fa’alupega).
Recently Director of OIA Nikolao Pula shared with me a book, “Tusi Fa’alupega O Samoa Ow- wow (Aoao) that was given to him by Prime Minister Tooee-la-epa (Tuilaepa). I looked at it and was amazed by the voluminous honorific salutations accorded to each chief’s title commensurate with each position within the village hierarchy. The total sum of these salutations contained the village “Fa’alupega” – its constitution. I realized that the various aspects of the Samoan culture are too deep and complex for a non-Samoan to explain which is why this Le oopengna wa-toy-tee mata (Le Upega Ua Toe Timata) project is so important because it will impart and instill the cultural teachings of the “Fa’asamoa.”
However, while it is important to uphold our promise to protect culture and traditions, it is equally important to uphold our promise to establish good governance and to ensure the welfare of the American Samoan peoples.
Over the last decade, before my assuming this position and largely during the tenure and leadership of Governor Togiola, over $230 million dollars have been provided to the American Samoa Government for its operation. Through my office’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) program, additional millions of dollars have been awarded to build health facilities, improve water and waste water lines, seaport and airport improvements, and construct recreational facilities. In addition, we have invested $28 million CIP dollars to build 18 school buildings which has added 126 new classrooms to the school system and recently completed both the Central Office Building and the American Samoa Community College Lecture Hall. The program has also expended over $18 million dollars to renovate the air-conditioned surgical, pediatrics, medical and maternity wards at the hospital. Clearly this is an important program for American Samoa and you have my assurance that it will continue to be used in such a way to respond to the critical needs of this community.
Earlier this month, I joined Samoan son Troy Polamalu and his teammate Hines Ward for an event to fight obesity in our Pacific Island communities. Yesterday, I met with your Hospital CEO Mike Gerstenberger and Board Chairman Moananu and I was impressed with their positive attitude despite the many challenges facing your community which affects the services provided by your hospital. Whether you are Chamorro, Palauan, Marshallese, Pohnpeian, or Samoan, obesity and other lifestyle diseases have found roots amongst us. This is no secret in our community or to our islands’ healthcare providers. It is a reality that we all live and struggle with; and I know how hard it is to change because I don’t want to give up my spam any more than you want to give up your pee-soupo. But this change isn’t simply for the sake of change. It is for the lives of generations coming and for those yet to be born. So, please strive for the change in your lives and in those of your loved ones.
In the meantime we will do what we can to respond to the current situation, which is why I will approve Governor Togiloa’s request to allocate $3 million CIP dollars for the expansion of the renal dialysis facility to double the number of patient units at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center.
In the near future, the CIP program will also fund three major projects: the Tafuna Healing Center to serve the mental health patients, a new building at the Tafuna Correctional Facility to alleviate the overcrowding conditions, and the Port Service Wharf to accommodate smaller cargo and passenger vessels. These three projects combined will cost close to $10 million dollars.
One of things my office has to constantly overcome is the understanding of our role within the Federal government. Your leaders and elders understand the long history of the Department of the Interior and the unique responsibilities we have to improve and empower island communities. In Washington, DC our job is to advocate, educate, and work to change federal policy. We also work closely with your Congressman Eni Faleomavaega and rely on his support to protect and secure resources so that we can make a difference.
Oftentimes, you may not realize how federal dollars work for you and your community. A systems upgrade for geographical information or for financial and management information can be foreign concepts to students working to broaden their horizons or families trying to make ends meet. But by making the investments to these foreign and sometimes bureaucratic concepts your tax office is able to issue refunds your families need and deserve; or kids from Samoana High School can search the internet and google “best row boat technology” so that next year they might be able to overtake Satani in the last half mile of the Fautasi Race.
I know that the greatest modern day challenge to your islands is developing a strong economy. For better or worse, and for decades, the tuna industry was the mainstay for your community. This is no longer the case and it has resulted in a tremendous loss in jobs and revenue. There is no easy solution to creating a brand new economy.
But working with Governor Togiola, and speaking to your business community we are takings steps to better equip your leaders as they re-tool to develop and diversify the private sector. Much of our work involves planning and in this vein my office partnered with the US Department of Commerce to provide a measurement of where you now stand. Our partnership was significant because for the first time in the history of the United States, American Samoa’s economy, and the economies of your sister territories, was added to the same work which the Commerce Department does for every other State in the Union.
As mundane as statistics and economic data sounds, this means that we are once again empowering your leaders, political and business, with information they need to move forward. And the data generated by the Commerce Department is viewed by economists and business leaders around the world as the gold standard for understanding economic trends. So as your leaders seek out new businesses and capital for this island, they can do so armed with information which demonstrates the unique advantages of investing in American Samoa.
As islanders we have known for eons the blessing which have been given to us from above which makes up our natural surroundings. The sun, wind, and ocean are some of the obvious natural and indigenous resources we have in seemingly unlimited supply.
A pacific islander himself, President Obama has provided a vision for all of us to seek out new ways to energize our homes, schools, and businesses. Our reliance on fossil fuels is a detriment to our national security and, more importantly, is an even higher cost in pacific islands than the US mainland.
This is why a little over a year ago, the Departments of the Interior and Energy formalized the terms of a partnership to support Governor Togiola leadership and vision that would seek to reduce American Samoa’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The opportunities for deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency in American Samoa is tremendous, but I have learned that the technological, economic, political and cultural challenges to deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency are equally abundant. We can all agree that there are indigenous sources which need to be tapped, but it needs to be done in a safe and reliable way, and at an affordable price in American Samoa.
This renewable energy effort we have embarked on is important for the future of American Samoa and I want to acknowledge the leaders in your community who have been working hard, with little recognition, early-on in this process. I would like to mention and personally thank the two co-Chairpersons who have helped in moving this project forward: Ms. Andra Samoa, CEO of American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) and Mr. Mauigoa Reupena Tagaloa, the Director of the Territorial Energy Office (TEO).
I want to underscore again, that the quiet work they are doing goes largely unnoticed early on, but by being a strong foundation for this renewable energy initiative their work will pay off for every person who call American Samoa home.
For any leader, especially those of us in public service, recognizing that the children are our future is a mantra which guides many of our decisions. Every investment we make in children will yield a higher return. This is a fundamental belief which was instilled in me by my parents, priests, and lay teachers. And the challenge lies before us in every son, daughter, niece, and nephew.
This is why we have begun a new initiative which will move all islands in a new direction for the future.
The Insular A,B,Cs which is an Assessment of Buildings and Classrooms will furnish functional and safe schools; creating the best possible learning environment for our children. The Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin this assessment working alongside your departments of education and public works. I am thankful to Governor Togiola and the Corps for their partnership with my office.
At the Department, we are coming to terms that the budget sentiment in Washington DC is to do more with less. Insular A,B,C’s recognizes that resources will be scarce at the federal level as it has been at the local level. To be able to identify which schools needs the most help will assist your leaders make smart decisions in the future when it comes to maintaining safe classrooms and learning environments for our children.
I want to personally thank Governor Togiola for his support and enthusiasm for this initiative. I have come to know him personally over the course of the past few years and I have gained a great appreciation for his leadership and vision for American Samoa.
There is no pacific island leader who is not fraught with the calculus of figuring out how to provide a better life his or her people. Governor Togiola knows this all too well and in my position, as the first native Pacific Islander to hold the rank of Assistant Secretary in the history of our country I am finding it a daunting task too. But I am rejuvenated when I think of the history of my home island of Guam, with its own historical injustices of enemy occupation and colonization and the effort of the people of Guam to seek justice. I am not disillusioned that my fellow Chamorro look to me to make a difference, but my success, and the success of all Pacific Islanders wanting to make a difference will be found in the strength and willingness of our community to continue to find a way forward in the midst of all which seems to be mounted against us.
I realize that I am carrying on a tradition of leadership not only anchored with my island mentors of former Guam Governor Ricky Bordallo, former Congressman Robert Underwood or Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo – but there is also a legacy spanning the Administrations of Coleman, Lutali, and Sunia.. As islanders we are neighbors by the ocean, family through our cultures, and more importantly warriors; battling for all that will make us better.
In the past forty-eight hours, I have had the pleasure of seeing American Samoa from the vantage point of Le Falepule. From that view, not only am I reminded of the beauty of these islands but I have listened to the sounds of the waves crashing on the reef. And in the whitewash of water hitting the reef, I am not only reminded of the brave and dangerous journey your ancestors and mine took to find the islands we now call home, but there is a realization that the power of the ocean is constant – much like the strength and resiliency of our people. We have lived on these islands for thousands of years perfecting our cultures and our lives. And we see the fruits of our labor when we speak our language, show respect to our elders, or look at our children. Along that same path we have forged relationships which has helped to broaden our understanding and influence around the world. We celebrate one such relationship today which marks the 1111th Anniversary of Flag Day yet we still commit once again to carrying on our lives in a way which preserves our culture through prayer and song and in our people through Alofa and Fa’a alo alo.
God Bless all of you. God Bless the people of American Samoa. And God Bless the United States of America