Amata Blasts Administration’s “Environmental Colonialism”

March 19, 2015
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Wednesday, Congresswoman Aumua Amata participated in a House Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs hearing entitled: “Funding Priorities for and the United States’ Responsibilities concerning Indians, Alaska Natives, and Insular Areas in the President’s FY 2016 Budget Request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, Office of Insular Affairs, and Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.”

Amata Blasts Administration’s “Environmental Colonialism”
Congresswoman Amata Addresses the Panel during the
Insular Areas, Indian & Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee Budget Hearing

Aumua Amata, who serves as the Vice-Chairman of the subcommittee, addressed Esther P. Kia’aina, the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, Department of the Interior on many of the issues facing American Samoa. These include, the lack of an increase in funding for ASG operations, the absence of a Department of Veteran Affairs representative to assist our veterans, the disparity in student funding between the states and American Samoa, and the lack of security for the islands from outside threats to name just a few.

The hearing served as an opening volley for the Congresswoman and her agenda to improve the services and programs that are essential to American Samoa.

“Madame Secretary, When my father, who you knew, retired from public life in 1993 after over 52 years government service in the military, on Capitol Hill, at the Interior Department and nearly 40 unbroken years as a senior government leader in the Pacific Islands, including four terms as governor of American Samoa, I asked him what he saw as his legacy in public service.  Without hesitation he told me “the development of self- government in the islands.”

When I was asked if I wanted to sign on to my predecessor’s position in support of the Obama Administration’s opposition to a lawsuit that would seek to impose U.S. citizenship on the American Samoa people who owe permanent allegiance to the United States, but do so as Nationals, not citizens, I readily agreed, because I reject the lawsuit as a form of colonialism by another name.

By the same token, there is no one in this room who is more of a conservationist than I am.  The people have sent me to Washington to conserve and preserve our heritage, our customs, our traditions and, yes our resources—both human and natural.  In order to do that, we must strike a balance in developing federal policies that will best accomplish those objectives.

Madame Secretary, you have a well-deserved reputation for your devotion to policy development.  You have visited American Samoa and you no doubt are aware that the federal government’s decision to wall off a huge part of the ocean that provides for the livelihood of our people has been very controversial.  For my part, I expect to be supporting legislative proposals that would curtail the federal government’s authority to take such actions in the future without consultation with the people most affected: the people of the islands.

I don’t know how serious an effort it is, but I saw a recent newspaper story that said EPA has awarded a grant to the University of California for a project to limit emissions from backyard barbecues that result in grease drippings.   I can tell you that if EPA were to promulgate regulations applying to American Samoa governing the use of backyard barbecues in private homes without thorough consultation with American Samoa, the federal government will be severely testing the limits of our people’s tolerance.

Therefore,  I can tell you that as in the case of the citizenship lawsuit, I will not tarnish my father’s legacy nor the trust the people have placed in me by standing idly by while the federal government does nothing more than impose environmental colonialism on American Samoa or any other islands under the legislative jurisdiction of this committee. 

With that in mind, I would ask you to enlighten us with the administration’s plans to cope with the environmental challenges we face in the Pacific and whether we will be able to count on you as our ally just as your administration is in the citizenship lawsuit,” stated Amata.

“For over 25 years now, the American Samoa Government operations funding has remained stagnant at $22.75 million per year,” said Amata.  “As you know, these funds are strictly used for basic Dept. of Education, local hospital, high court and American Samoa Community College operations.  All one need do is look at the annual funding per student in American Samoa compared to those here in the states to see the great disparity between the two,” continued Amata.

“We are geographically and economically isolated and our islands don’t have the benefit of being inside an economic zone that would generate revenue on par with the states or even the other territories to support local operations.  It seems that Interior is comfortable with the status quo way of assisting American Samoa and other U.S. territories.  Secretary Kia’aina, do you believe more collaboration from the Department is necessary?” asked Amata.

“I look forward to hearing how you, Madam Assistant Secretary and the administration plan to help our islands.  I am positive that by working together, we can greatly improve the lives of the people of American Samoa,” concluded Amata.

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