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Frmr. Guam Congressman and (ret.) USMC Gen. Ben Blaz, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Papaliitele David Cohen chat with Aumua Amata
Amata Aumua and Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. At the White House Shamrock Ceremony, Ahern presented the Irish shamrock to President Bush to symbolize in a very special way the bonds between the Irish and American people. Following the ceremony the White House held a reception with an elaborate spread of food and drink to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day 2007. Said Amata, "Speaking as a proud Samoan with a wee bit of Irish heritage, it was truly an honor and I thank the President for including me."
Amata's Pacific Notebook: "The Revolving Door"
Reprinted from Samoa News
While they say a picture is worth a thousand words, the Samoa News photo yesterday of our American Samoa Government delegation meeting with Sen. Inouye does not tell the full story and deserves more than just a caption. According to people familiar with their meetings, their mission may have made a difference in the outcome of the minimum wage hike debate underway in Congress. Several people have told meabout the delegation's meetings and I want to share some of their impressions with you.
First, I should say credit goes to Governor Togiola for recognizing the critical nature of the issue and assembling a group of our most senior leaders to travel to Washington in an effort to make maximum impact on the debate by underscoring the seriousness with which we take the issue. Lt. Gov. Ipulasi Sunia, President of the Senate Lolo Moliga, Speaker of the House Savali Talavou Ale, Secretary of Samoan Affairs PC Mauga T. Asuega, Manu'a District Governor Tufele F. Li'a and Eastern District Governor Gaoteote Tapatonu traveled to the Nation's Capital on short notice and, with the help of the Governor's Washington representative, had a whirlwind schedule of meetings with Senators, senior Congressional staffers and Bush administration officials.
This was a very high ranking delegation and kudos to the Governor's representative for making sure they got to see the highest ranking federal officials possible. To undertake this mission, these leaderslso had to miss the funeral of His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II. That was a particularly hard choice and big sacrifice for the paramount chiefs who were part of the delegation.
But the federal minimum wage hike debate was at a critical stage and the bill was moving so they dropped everything and came to Washington to express their concerns. Although they were in town for less than a week, they spoke with one voice and made a compelling argument, backed by facts, that a sharp increase in the minimum wage would have a devastating effect on our local economy.
The delegation did a fabulous job and worked very hard on this trip. They stuck to their task and came through with strong results. Each of the leaders spoke beautifully and eloquently. They were very persuasive and presented their case strongly and were very well received everywhere they went. Although their meeting with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) was interrupted when he had to go to the Senate floor for a vote, when he returned, he found they had not left the building yet and invited them back into his office to spend more time going over the issue. Inouye told them he is with them and would try to work it out with the House.
At their meeting with Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), he stopped his Government Operations hearing, took a 15-minute recess and made himself available to them. In his understated Pcific way, he reminded them that he, too, is Polynesian. Words spoken were so heartfelt d it did help.
They also were well received by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, who spent almost an hour with them. He was said to be moved by their pleas for help and promised to make some calls. The secretary is a former governor and former U.S. senator and still has many friends on Capitol Hill. He also told the group he was looking forward to visiting them in American Samoa next month.
Speaking as a proud Samoan, I want to express my humble gratitude to the delegation for making themselves available to make the case for American Samoa. It was a big help.
There are no guarantees, of course, because the fate of the minimum wage hike is in the hands of a House-Senate conference committee led by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Robert C. Byrd. While Senators Akaka, Inouye and Bingaman are in favor of a compromise, there still is the question of whether the House will insist on a stiffer wage raise for the Northern Marianas (CNMI) and for treating the CNMI and American Samoa alike.
Now that the Democrats have given up the idea of including in the bill a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, insiders expect negotiations on the bill to move fast, with a compromise bill agreed to by the end of this week. Congress has pledged to have a bill on President Bush's desk for signature before they take their Memorial Day recess.
Meanwhile sixteen blocks west of Congress, at the White House, our own Marlena Valasi Lancaster Morgan was personally receiving her commission as an Army officer from President Bush. Marlena's husband 2LT Bradford Ross Morgan and her mother CW3 (Ret.) Fuala'au Tago-Lancaster of Nuuuli were here with her and while I did not have an opportunity to visit with them, we did have a nice chat by telephone.
Washington continues to be a revolving door for Samoans. Our delegation is gone and so are Marlena and her family but next week LTC Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford will be here to receive the Meritorious Service Award at the Federal Asian Pacific American Council's leadership conference. Her husband Dave Langford of Fagatogo and father Vaitautolu T. Liugalua of Faleasao will be here with her. This fine officer will be recognized for her leadership and service in the Asian Pacific American community. FAPAC is a very prestigious group and I had the honor of keynoting their 2003 Banquet.
As always, I'd love to have your comments and for those of you who are friends or family of Evelyn Langford's and want to send her congratulations, just email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be sure she gets it.
Amata's Pacific Notebook
Mother's Day/Malietoa's Passing/Minimum Wage Hike Debate
Killeen/Ft. Hood, Washington, D.C. (May 14)- Mother's Day was terrific. I was invited to be part of a tribute to Samoan mothers being held at the Fort Hood Samoan LMS Church but because my nephews had a family event planned for my sister Moni Glenister and her mother-in-law Naijo Nomura Belford, I was unable to make it. Naijo came all the way from American Samoa for the college graduation of her grandson, my nephew Marshall Glenister, which was held yesterday in Abilene. Marshall is the son of my youngest sister Limonmon and recently retired Army CSM Roland Glenister of the Afoa and Fanene clans of Utulei and Nuuuli. Marshall also was fortunate to have the presence of Tomio Brown, the son of Naijo's sister Jacinta and Robert Brown of American Samoa. Tomio is an Air Force flight engineer who is on his way to Iraq in the next two weeks. Not being used to Texas, I was surprised that the "short" drive to Abilene, where the graduation was held, was about a four-hour drive away. And, of course, it was another four-hour return!
But yesterday was our day of rest, not travel. We all went to a youth church service in which my nephew and niece, Stewart and Rachael Glenister were part of the program and afterwards, we spent the rest of the day in family activities. My brother-in-law Roland and his children prepared a delicious brunch for us mothers and we all had a wonderful time together.
Today is Monday and I had a chance to visit briefly with some of our people in Texas.
I also chatted with Faavaefou, the sister of the late Gov. Tauese Sunia and the wife of Rev. Sasa who is the pastor of the LMS Church at Ft. Hood. She has invited me to visit them when I am next in Texas and I look forward to it. There are many Samoans in Killeen. If one wants to visit, it is best to contact the different Samoan pastors, such as Rev. and Mrs. Sasa when organizing things because the pastors are plugged in to the Samoan community. They know who in their flock is sick, well, getting ready to be deployed, retiring and so forth. The LMS owns the Samoa i Texas fellowship hall that holds Samoan family nights, youth revivals and various other gatherings. I am told the Samoan churches are working on getting the Katinas to come there for a concert possibly after the Samoa Gospel Rock Revival.
I also spoke with Tanielu Tuiasosopo, whose parents, Senator Pulefa'asisina and Tupu, coincidentally were visiting Tanielu at the same time I was in Texas. They had come to Honolulu to see their son Mariota off to Afghanistan again. Tanielu is an enthusiastic, energetic, sharp young man who is working on his Master's Degree at Tarleton State University. Two other Samoan students are there as well: Christabell Mariner of Tafuna, and Christina Noll of Killeen (Rev. Pati's daughter).
Before departing Texas, I had a chance to sample the dishes at C&H Hawaiian Grill, owned by Henson Timo of Utulei and his lovely wife, Cora Langford of Fagatogo. We lunched there with my brother Richard who had flown in from Hawaii for the graduation, my sister Moni, her son Marshall and mother-in-law Naijo Nomura Belford. The food is a Samoan/Hawaiian mix and it's delicious. No wonder the place is a big hit. The key to Cora and Henson's success is that, not only do Samoans like their food, but many more non-Samoans also dine there regularly on palusami, laulau, green bananas, chicken and long rice, you name it. Their butter mochi is the best I've ever had. I would not be surprised if they eventually open restaurants at other locations, they are that popular. By the way, they do not open on Sundays, just weekdays and Saturdays.
While I was in Killeen, I got the word as did everyone else, that His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II had passed away. There was a great sadness among the Samoan community, whether from Samoa or American Samoa, because this wonderful man was held in such high esteem. I will never forget his humility and courtesy during my father's funeral in 1997 when he came to our home in Niu Valley, Honolulu to personally express his condolences to my mother and her children. We received a call that Malietoa was coming to the house and it caused a bit of excitement, at least on the part of the State Department. I still remember him climbing up the hill to our house surrounded by U.S. Secret Service. He did not have a Samoan entourage with him, which surprised me. With tremendous modesty and simplicity, he himself spoke as he made the traditional Samoan presentation from "Tanu" in memory of his boyhood friend "Pita."
I also learned that ASG was sending to Washington this week a most senior delegation as a last ditch effort to influence the federal minimum wage hike debate. I was really torn on my travel plans and could have made a case for proceeding in any one of three directions. I have been invited to Columbia, South Carolina for the Presidential debate being held Tuesday evening. Events such as these are good opportunities to raise American Samoa's profile and discuss issues with political leaders who also are current office holders in Washington, including Senators McCain and Brownback, and Congressmen Tancredo, Hunter and Paul. Hunter has a large Samoan community in his San Diego district and Paul is from right here in Texas. Because I will be a delegate to next year's national convention, as will other members of the national committee who will be in Jackson, these leaders are interested in spending time with all of us.
As much as I regret missing this opportunity, I ruled it out. My heart is in going to Samoa for Malietoa's funeral and I wrestled with that long and hard. But in the end I know that Malietoa's family will understand that so much is at stake in Washington, I felt I needed to travel back to the Nation's Capital Monday night.
Samoa News readers will know that the House has passed a new emergency supplemental for Iraq to replace the one President Bush vetoed last week and, to the disappointment of many, it contains the same provision to increase American Samoa's minimum wage. The bill now goes to the Senate and that is what has prompted ASG to send its delegation to Washington.
Because so much is at stake for our economic future, I feel I must be in Washington to be available to the delegation. Because I have strong ties to the Republican side from having been on congressional staff for a decade and with my position as a senior member of the RNC, I want to be able to help our delegation meet with any Republicans they want to see. I am sure it is not lost on our leaders that it is important to work with Republicans, too, even if the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats right now.
After all, we are in this crisis right now because it was the Republicans who questioned why American Samoa should be treated differently than the Northern Marianas. Had Republicans known more about our circumstances, this situation might not have occurred. Moreover, even though Democrats have a majority in the Senate, they only have 50 votes. Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to pass controversial legislation. Republicans have the power to block bills.
Finally, the executive branch is under Republican control, so President Bush has the power to veto legislation he does not like and Democrats do not have enough votes to override his vetoes. So, Republicans are hardly irrelevant right now in the Washington power structure.
There is no certainty that our delegation will contact me for assistance but I feel duty bound to be in Washington to be available to them. When the new Congress convened in January, a minimum wage hike was not even an issue but it has become so and the debate has taken many strange turns since then. Since there is no guarantee how it will come out and since the decision could be made any day, since it is part of an emergency supplemental, our leaders have taken the wise course of sending to Washington its most senior leaders to demonstrate our serious concern.
There is no question that our culture dictates that Governor Togiola must attend Malietoa's funeral but I am sure if the issue is still not settled, he will be on the first plane to Washington to lead the effort. But just as our people expect Togiola to represent all of us at the funeral, they also expect any of us who have the ability to help protect our economy, to be in Washington as our minimum wage is under debate.
As I mentioned last week, this is also the key week in Washington for Asia Pacific American Heritage Month. Given the new circumstances, I hope I can find time to take in some of the activities being planned.
Write me with your comments and I would be particularly interested in anything you have to say about the federal minimum wage hike debate.
Amata visits with friends and family in Ft. Hood Texas area
Reprinted from Samoa News
(Mother's Day 2007) - Well the trip got off to a bad start Friday morning. Despite my best intentions, the week was so crowded withevents that I had no time to pack in advance and was up half the night doing so after the President's gala. After a short nap and final preparations, I woke my husband about 5 a.m. for the short, three-mile trip to National Airport.
One thing I learned from growing up in American Samoa and taking long journeys is how to sleep on a plane. So, I was really looking forward to settling back after our 6:10 a.m. takeoff and catching up what I missed during the night. Only, we didn't leave at 6:10 a.m. The plane had mechanical problems and by 7 a.m. they decided to cancel it altogether. Fortunately, they rebooked me on a 9 a.m. flight and with my husband so close by, I was able to leave the airport to go back through e-mail and start work on this story.
The 9 a.m. flight left on schedule and little was lost because I slept all the way to Dallas. Besides, I originally was scheduled for a three-hour layover before my flight to Killeen so this delay cut that layover dramatically and I was able to reconnect with my original schedule.
When I got to Killeen, family members were waiting to drive me to Abilene for my nephew Marshall Glenister's graduation. Abilene is athree-hour drive from Killeen. As I arrived his baccalaureate service was ending, but he was happy I had made it. That evening we gathered for dinner and went over the schedule for the next day's commencement ceremony.
Texas is a big, sprawling state and Texans think nothing of jumping in the car and driving long distances. On Saturday, following the graduation ceremony, we made the three hour return trip back to the Killeen/Ft. Hood area.
Today was Mother's Day. I was pleased to be able to attend a youth church service and was surprised to find that there are actually four Samoan churches in the Killeen area: 1. The LMS church on Ft. Hood pastored by Rev. Sasa; 2. the Second Samoan Assembly of God under the guidance of Rev. Ti'i; 3. the other Samoan Assembly of God church which was under the guidance of Rev. Hisatake before he passed away a couple of years ago. The fourth church is located in Copperas Cove, which is next door to Killeen. Because of time constraints I was unable to make it to all of the churches but I hope to visit with Samoan families in the Armed Forces tomorrow.
One of the favorite restaurants in the area is owned by Cora Langford of Fagatogo who runs it with her family. I am told they have the most amazing Samoan/Hawaiian mix of food and of course, it's a big hit inKilleen. Samoans eat there every day.
I am scheduled to return to Washington tomorrow night. This next week is another one packed with activities because it is the key week of activities as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. There are workshops, a gala on Tuesday evening, congressional briefings and a White House briefing. And, as I mentioned last week, also an ROTC commissioning ceremony with the President on Thursday at which American Samoa will be represented by Valasi Marlena Lancaster Morgan. I will be reporting to you on all these activities.
As always, I would love to hear from you at email@example.com. Please write.
(c) Osini Faleatasi Inc. dba Samoa News reserves all righ
Rice calls Pacific Leaders meeting a key event in "Year of the Pacific"
(The following is the opening address given by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on May 7, 2007 at the Eighth Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders in Washington, D.C.)
Reprinted from Samoa News
"Good morning. Thank you for traveling so far. I'm very pleased to be here to welcome you and we're really honored to have so many heads of state and senior officials from the Pacific present with us today. I would like to first thank President Note, who is, after all, the chairman of the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders, and thank you for all of the work in putting this together and working with us. I'd also like to acknowledge our hosts and Dr. Charles Morrison from the East-West Center. Thanks for bringing this great event to our nation's capital.
"Finally, let me welcome a few of America's Pacific Island leaders. Governor Linda Lingle is here. Linda, thank you so much for being here. I can remember visiting you in your great state. It's great to have you with us today. Governor Camacho from Guam, Lieutenant Governor Sunia from American Samoa, and Representative Tenorio representing the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. So thank you all.
"The presence of all of these leaders from American from one American state and three U.S. territories illustrates the fact that the United States has a special kinship with our Pacific neighbors. We also have long-term ties with our friends in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.
"There's another connection and one of great pride for us. A great many citizens from the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau volunteer and serve in the United States Armed Forces and many have given their lives in the defense of freedom. In this sacrifice, they join their fellow volunteers from Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas, Hawaii, and other states in protecting our shared freedoms. The United States is grateful for their service.
"Our ties with the other independent countries of the South Pacific go back centuries to days when Nantucket whaling boats sought safe harbor in Fiji and Tonga and continuing through the island campaigns of World War II. As the countries of the Pacific became independent over the past four decades, we were proud to establish formal diplomatic relations and to join the world in welcoming each of your countries into the United Nations.
"This meeting is a key event in what we are calling the "Year of the Pacific." You will hear this phrase many times this week, but it encapsulates our efforts to expand our engagement with your countries and to reaffirm America's historic role in the Pacific. Maintaining security and stability in the Pacific region is crucial to the interest of every country and every territory represented in this room, including the United States. Many of your countries face growing political, environmental, and economic challenges and these are often compounded by other more long-term transnational threats. They pose profound threats to the Pacific Islands.
"In response to these challenges, we are working together to chart a comprehensive approach, promoting opportunity and prosperity, good governance and the rule of law, greater peace and security. You will hear more about our plans throughout the day. We also plan to highlight the potential economic benefits to the region that will result from the relocation of U.S. forces from Okinawa to Guam.
"I stress this comprehensive approach for an important reason, because we all know and share the conviction that democracy plays a key role in fostering political and economic development. Like many of you, the United States is deeply concerned about the unlawful overthrow of the freely-elected government in Fiji. We are very pleased that Pacific countries have spoken with one voice through the Pacific Islands Forum in calling for the speedy return of democracy to Fiji. The Pacific cannot devolve into an area where strong men unilaterally decide the fates of their country and destabilize democratic foundations of their neighbors.
"Let me close by thanking each of you for traveling to this important meeting. I hope that today's events will give us an opportunity to broaden and deepen our friendships as we work together to build a brighter, more democratic, and more prosperous future for all of our citizens.
"Thank you very much for joining us."
(c) Osini Faleatasi Inc. dba Samoa News reserves all rights.
Amata's Pacific Notebook
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 10, 2007) Although I have been to the White House many times in many capacities over the years, everytime I am invited I feel honored and privileged and a thrill goes up my spine when I enter the gates. This year is no exception.
Today (Thursday) is the day President Bush signed a proclamation making May Asian Pacific American Heritage month. What made this ceremony particularly memorable was that it coincided with the visit to Washington of Pacific Island leaders for PICL, the conference I have been chronicling over the past five days.
The President kindly acknowledged certain community leaders in attendance, paying particular attention to World War II veterans of the 100th 442nd. He also awarded medals to several volunteers who had done outstanding community work in different parts of the Nation. At the end of the ceremony, we all received beautiful signed copies of the proclamation.
In chatting with one of the World War II veterans who is in his late 80s, I learned that my Dad was one of the founders (if not THE founder) of the then Hawaii Territorial Society of Washington, D.C. during his time as a Capitol Hill policeman, and later a Congressional staffer all the while attending Georgetown University Law School. I was intrigued to learn that a Samoan (let alone my own father) was responsible for putting together a Hawaiian social society, as I had never heard this story before.
Speaking of White House awards ceremonies, next week the President will present officer commissions to one ROTC member selected from each state and territory, including Marlena Lancaster Morgan, the daughter of Rosie Fualaau Tago Lancaster and David Lancaster. I am supposed to be out of Washington on May 17 but if I can at all arrange it, I hope to be back here for this ceremony, as well.
Prior to the White House ceremony, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne hosted lunch for the American-affiliated island leaders in the Interior building's courtyard. He also announced to the audience that he would make his first trip to the Pacific Islands in June. He will be traveling to American Samoa as well as points throughout Micronesia.
For awhile back in the 1980s, we did not have secretarial visits but every Interior Secretary at least since Manuel Lujan under President George H.W. Bush has made a trip to visit the American Pacific territories and freely associated states. In his luncheon remarks, Kempthorne told the leaders that he's very much looking forward to visiting them out on the region.
I was grateful that for the first time in three days, we did not have morning meetings. The day started with the lunch and continued at the White House, then I raced back across the river to Virginia to change into evening clothes, for I had the privilege of being with the President a second time today: at a formal gala in his honor hosted by his party.
Most of the cabinet and Republican Senators and Congressmen were there. These functions always are great opportunities to get updated on critical issues with top level officials on an informal basis, without the need for going through bureaucracies to set up appointments. Among the leaders from the Legislative Branch, Senator Pete Domenici was there with his wife and we talked a little more about American Samoa. I also took the opportunity with various Members of Congress to put in a word for taking care with our economic situation when considering minimum wage legislation.
The President spoke of our continued difficulties in Iraq and his optimism that the current surge will help to hasten peace in that troubled part of the Middle East. He expressed appreciation for the unwavering support he has continued to receive from the people at the gala. Shortly after the President departed, my husband and I slipped out as well, missing a chance to dance in the process. It was necessary because tomorrow I get up at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight to Texas where I am spending the weekend to attend the college graduation of my sister's oldest child.
My sister Moni and her husband, Roland Glenister, a retired Command Sergeant major, live in Killeen, which is close to Ft. Hood. I am looking forward to visiting with the soldiers on the post and, with the continued indulgence of Samoa News, will report on Monday about the Mother's Day weekend happenings. Hopefully, I will have lots of news for our families at home about their loved ones stationed at Fort Hood.
Until I see you next week, have a great Mother's Day weekend and let me wish all you great mothers out there a Happy Mother's Day. This is the second Mother's Day since my mom passed away, and I still think about her every day and miss her very much.
Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
Amata goes behind the scenes at historic meeting of Pacific leaders
WASHINGTON, DC (May 9, 2007) - As the unusually cool spring weather of recent days gave way to heat and humidity more typical of summer in the U.S. capital, delegations from 20 countries and territories gathered once more in the Grand Hyatt Hotel to consider what they had heard and seen over the course of the past three days, issue instructions to the PICL secretariat to carry on until the next PICL three years from now and issue a public communiqu� detailing the decisions they had made and the direction in which they want the organization to head.
As disappointed as I was that my Dad's old pal Sir Michael Somare did not come, it is election year in Papua New Guinea after all, and I can appreciate his need to stay home. In the case of the Federated States of Micronesia, presidential elections are this week and round two of French presidential elections (in which territories participate) over the weekend kept leaders of the three French territories away. That Wallis & Futuna was absent altogether most likely was attributable to the death this week of the King of Wallis at age 88 and transportation challenges no doubt account for Tokelau's empty chair. I am certain compelling domestic problems account for other delegations being led by someone other than the top leader.
President Bush has met with the island leaders once before in Honolulu, as did his father, so he is not unaware of the region's problems. Moreover, the fact that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice declared this to be no less than the "Year of the Pacific" is admirable evidence that our voices are being heard and the list of senior state department officials, led by Dr. Rice, who addressed the group was impressive.
The leaders praised Dr. Rice today in their final communiqu� and rightly praised American Samoa Delegate Faleomavaega for the arrangements he made for a successful series of discussions with key Members of Congress.
At the Monday evening Congressional reception, East-West Center President Charles Morrison said the reason it took so long for PICL to come to Washington was that until now they did not have someone like Faleomavaega in such a key position. As most people know, with the return of Democrats to power in January, Faleomavaega was chosen to chair the Asia-Pacific and global environment panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Many speakers at today's session expressed how they are pinning their hopes on Faleomavaega to re-engage the U.S. in the Pacific from his perch as chairman of the subcommittee. If leaders understand anything intuitively, it is power and Washington is the world's most important power center. Power includes the power of persuasion and Faleomavaega now occupies a position from which he can persuade. Leaders from countries outside the U.S. system saw first hand how the American system works, with a co-equal legislative and executive branch. As a chairman, Faleomavaega now can move bills through his committee onto the floor and to enactment to re-engage the U.S. in the region.
Speaking of power, it is ironic that the latest issue of Pacific Magazine, devoted to naming the most powerful people in the region, hit Washington mailboxes this week while the leaders were here. After the 10 most powerful profiled, the 25 people Pacific Magazine believes should be watched this year includes Vanuatu Prime Minister Ham Lini. So I took the opportunity of a break in the conference to ask the Prime Minister to autograph my copy of the magazine, which he cheerfully did.
If I might digress, I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the two people from American Samoa who also made Pacific Magazine's 2007 list. Although no one from our islands made the top 10 list we had two on the list of 25: Homeland Security Department Director Tuala Mike Sala and Chamber of Commerce President David Robinson. My sincere congratulations go to both men.
The leaders also discovered the power of the press here in Washington. Needless to say, PICL was crowded off page one by the visit of the Queen but maybe that was not a bad thing. One of the major goals of the East-West Center leadership was to raise the profile of the islands in Washington. But if the headlines I saw about PICL this morning in the region's press are typical of the coverage the meeting has been receiving, then perhaps lack of press coverage here was a blessing.
Although PICL has concluded, the leaders of American-affiliated islands Thursday are being hosted for lunch by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. After lunch I have been invited to attend the White House ceremony at which President Bush will sign a document proclaiming May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Thursday evening, I will attend a formal gala honoring President Bush. If all goes well, I should be able to report on all these activities for Friday's Samoa News.
I hope you have found my coverage of island week in Washington to be of interest and I would love to hear your own comments. Please write me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you and sharing with you more observations tomorrow.
(c) Osini Faleatasi Inc. dba Samoa News reserves all rights.
Amata's Pacific Notebook
Reprinted from Samoa News
WASHINGTON, DC (May 8, 2007). Today was a breather for most PICL attendees because the conference is in recess so leaders could spend the day at Congress. While the leaders were up visiting the Legislative Branch, this also provided me an opportunity to pause a moment to express appreciation--which I am sure is shared by all the delegates--for all hard work performed by officials at the U.S. Department of State and the East-West Center, the sponsors of the Conference.
Today was the perfect day for the leaders to travel to Capitol Hill. They were able to meet with a number of senior members of Congress, including House Mays and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), chairman of the House Asia-Pacific American Caucus.
What made the day particularly memorable, however, was that Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D) was able to get the House at long last to pass a bill authorizing the payment of damages to individuals on Guam who suffered during the Japanese occupation during World War II. The issue has been discussed for almost a quarter century with Congresswoman Bordallo achieving a victory that eluded her three predecessors. Nonetheless, she was quick to give them praise for laying the foundation and was gracious to invite former Guam Del. Ben Blaz (R) to witness the floor debate yesterday.
Bordallo's bill, passed today by a lopsided margin on a recorded vote, is a testament to her effectiveness in the short time she has been in Washington and demonstrates why the prestigious non-partisan website www.power.org ranked her the 177th most powerful member of the House out of 440 Members in their latest "power rankings." That is the highest ranking of any of the island delegates and a measure of her popularity with her colleagues and the respect they have for her.
The day ended with the traditional Pacific Night, where mild weather once again allowed the evening's events to be held out of doors in the beautiful courtyard of the National Geographic Building. President Bush was invited but understandably accepted Queen Elizabeth's invitation to dinner reciprocating for last night's white tie dinner at the White House.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke during the program, as did Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka. There were many others but our late arrival from another engagement prevented us from getting into the packed auditorium to listen to the speakers. I am sure Delegate Faleomavaega will report on the evening elsewhere in these pages. But it was not the speeches that drew everyone to Pacific Night, which over the years has grown into one of the most colorful events on the diplomatic circuit and is such a hot ticket security guards are engaged to keep out those without invitations.
What sets Pacific Night apart from other events is not only the island attire and island entertainment but also island food prepared by expatriate groups in Washington representing an array of Pacific cultures. In the past, I have prepared fai'ai pilikaki and palusami for the occasion but in a restructuring of the organizing committee, only government representatives have been serving as members. Regrettably, our Samoan cuisine was not represented at the food tables this year. Island groups also are invited to have display tables and, among the U.S. territories and freely associated states, I was disappointed only American Samoa was unrepresented in this way either.
Pacific Night grew out of an event my husband and I organized for the late Nauru President Hammer deRoburt in conjunction with the opening and dedication of Pacific House in 1988. The building, which has offices and residences, over the years hosted Washington offices for Guam, the Cook Islands, American Samoa and Nauru, plus the embassy of Papua New Guinea. In order to accommodate the President's wishes to be all inclusive for the opening, due to space limitations in the building we had to hold two events: a formal diplomatic opening dinner for official Washington on a Friday evening and an island style Pacific Night on Saturday evening. Island clubs in Washington supplied food, Nauru sponsored the beverages and entertainment and we had a party that rocked half the night.
It was such a success that within a few years, island embassies and offices resurrected the concept and turned it into an annual event that has become the highlight of the Pacific calendar in Washington every year.
Although I am sure President Bush enjoyed dining with the Queen again this evening just a few blocks from where we were, he would have had more fun with us.
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Amata's Pacific Notebook
Reprinted from Samoa News
WASHINGTON, DC (May 7, 2007) - By the time the day was over, it seemed more like a death march than a conference, with island delegations dragging their weary bodies off to bed to prepare for a day on Capitol Hill. When my Dad was governor, he often was criticized for traveling off-island but there just are some times when it is necessary and, believe me, it is no picnic.
Conference organizers do the best they can to balance the schedule to allow traveling delegates to adjust to vast time differences while packing as many events as possible into as short a time as possible to hold down hotel costs and minimizing demands on leaders time away from home.
The morning began with a breakfast at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 7 a.m. and delegations then were transported over to the State Department for a full day of meetings in the Department's formal conference room. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice opened the meeting by welcoming us to Washington and began with a special acknowledgment of the American Pacific leaders present: our own Lt. Governor Ipulasi Sunia, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, Guam Governor Felix Camacho and Northern Marianas Washington Rep. Pedro A. Tenorio.
The Secretary referred to 2007 as the Year of the Pacific, noting that leaders would be hearing this phrase many times during the week. Saying that it's important to maintain security in the Pacific, she added that many of the countries in the region face grave economic and political challenges.
"Nevertheless," she said, "we're working together to promote a comprehensive approach."
Rice indicated that the relocation from Okinawa to Guam that U.S. forces face is significant and that democracy plays a key role in fostering political and economic development. She also made a delicate point of expressing the United States hope for a speedy return to democracy to Fiji. The absence of Fiji at the head of government or ministerial level has caused some controversy, with Faleomavaega having criticized the Bush administration for declining to approve a visa for Fiji coup leader and now Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to enter the U.S. in order to attend the meeting.
Even though the White House is only seven blocks from the State Department Building, I was amazed to learn later that, after her remarks, somehow Secretary Rice managed to be over at the White House in time to be at President Bush's side to formally welcome Queen Elizabeth II to the United States.
After Rice departed, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns led the U.S. delegation. As she did last night at the opening reception, Governor Lingle again spoke of the difficulty of Pacific island countries getting noticed. She asked Burns for his best advice to those of us "who can't take regular trips to Washington? What's the best use of their time? What sort of relations should be established?"
"The U.S. ambassador in any of your countries has been chosen personally by the President of the United States," responded Burns. "When the relationship is working right, a good ambassador tells Washington what to do. We listen. Nine times out of ten, we take the ambassador's advice."
With jet lag setting in, the leaders were grateful for a break for lunch. While the Queen was having lunch with the President, delegations dined at the Department and then returned back to the conference room for a full afternoon of discussions on a full range of issues.
The final event of the day was a Congressional Reception sponsored by the East-West Center and co-hosted by the six members of Congress from the Pacific Islands: Senators Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka of Hawaii, U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo and our own Faleomavaega.
In his remarks to the crowd, which included a good representation from the local Washington area Samoan community, Faleomavaega apologized that none of the Hawaii delegation could be present because Congress was still in session and voting while the reception was underway.
I was particularly pleased to spend some time with Niue Premier Young Vivian because he was SPC secretary general in 1981 when I first met him at the South Pacific Conference in Port Vila. He shared some fond memories of Dad and said how lucky he felt to be at SPC at a time when many of the region's founding fathers were still around and active in the organization.
Del. Bordallo was at the reception only briefly because she had to hurry away to the House Floor to buttonhole colleagues to muster support for her bill to provide compensation to Guamanians who suffered under the occupation of Japan during World War II. Bordallo managed the floor debate on the issue today but the vote was being held over until tomorrow, so she wanted to take the opportunity to recruit some more last minute allies to ensure there were enough votes for passage tomorrow.
Faleomavaega also presented to Conference Chairman Kessai Note and East West Center President Charles Morrison copies of a resolution adopted by the House earlier in the day welcoming the Pacific Island leaders to Washington for their conference. In addition to Note, Morrison and Faleomavaega, others who spoke at the reception were U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (IN), Kiribati President Anote Tong and Palau President Tommy Remengesau.
It was a tiring but rewarding day and leaders will be returning to Capitol Hill tomorrow for a morning program with Congress, including a roundtable discussion on public policy issues, followed by lunch and a special tour of the Capitol.
Tomorrow evening, the leaders will be treated to Pacific Night, the annual joint diplomatic social event co-hosted by all the Pacific Island embassies and Washington offices. This reception, which is island style and features island food, has grown in popularity over the years and is greatly anticipated. Weather permitting, it will be held outdoors in the courtyard of the National Geographic Building in downtown Washington.
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Amata goes behind the scenes at historic Pacific Island Conference of Leaders meeting held in U.S. capital
Exclusive for Samoa News
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 6, 2007). Most readers will be aware that this week many Pacific Island leaders traveled to Washington, DC for an historic meeting of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (PICL) that opens tomorrow. Although PICL has met in the U.S. in the past in Hawaii, this is the first time ever that the triennial gathering has been held in our nation's capital and it promises to be an exciting week. I am going to attend most of the meetings and events and will file a daily report for Samoa News.
Island territories and countries belong to many regional organizations but because the meetings are attended by heads of government, the ones that stand out are those that hold meetings at the head of government level: the Pacific Islands Forum (formerly the South Pacific Forum), the Conference of the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Conference) and the PICL. The Forum includes Australia, New Zealand and the region's independent and freely associated island states. CPC includes all the Forum countries plus all the Pacific territories and their mother countries. PICL consists of leaders of island countries and territories and the state of Hawaii, but none of the metropolitan countries.
American Samoa participates in CPC and PICL, and I am proud to say long has taken a strong leadership role in both organizations. Our own Senator Pulefa'asisina once served as secretary general of the secretariat that administers CPC and my father, our late Governor Peter Tali Coleman, was a driving force at the Saipan conference in 1983 at which for the first time territories were given equal status with independent countries. Dad also was one of the founders of PICL and served on its standing committee for many years.
This conference will bring back a lot of memories for me. When I was a little girl growing up in Pago Pago, I remember how excited dad was when he came home from the 1959 SPC in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and told us that American Samoa made history when the SPC accepted his invitation to host the Fifth SPC in Utulei in 1962 (conferences were held once every three years at that time). It was the first time SPC was to be held in an American territory and the first of three SPCs we have hosted over the years.
Dad always took pride at being described as a regionalist for he passionately believed that regional cooperation, without regard to political boundaries, was the key to the future of the Pacific Islands. I am sure he is smiling down from heaven at this Washington gathering. Were he still with us, I am sure he would have worked very hard to help make this meeting happen. I, too, share his passion for regional solutions to common problems and am honored to have been involved in previous regional gatherings including SPCs in Port Vila (1981), American Samoa (1982) and Saipan (1983), and PICLs in Rarotonga (1985) and on the Big Island of Hawaii (1990).
I also was thrilled and honored to take part in the historic first ever summit between island leaders and a President of the United States, which was convened at the East-West Center in Hawaii with George H.W. Bush also in 1990. Although that summit was limited to Forum Island Countries, President Bush invited dad to represent the American Pacific Islands as president of the Pacific Basin Development Council.
So, this week will feel like old home week to me, even though, except for PNG's Sir Michael Somare, the pioneering generation is now gone. I know their spirits will be present when everyone takes his seat for the opening session of the meeting at the U.S. State Department. When I look at the country name plates when Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice opens the conference tomorrow, I will be thinking of great leaders of the past like Sir Robert Rex, Sir Tom Davis, Ratu Mara, Hammer de Roburt, Amata Kabua, Tosiwo Nakayama, Fr. Walter Lini and all others I have had the honor to know personally over the years and who made such great contributions to the advancement of Pacific peoples.
After a briefing of leaders by ambassadors and Washington representatives and a meeting of the Standing Committee this afternoon, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and East-West Center Dr. Charles Morrison co-hosted an opening reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the headquarters of the conference. Governor Lingle welcomed the leaders and, knowing how far away from Washington Hawaii is, expressed sympathy for the distances other island leaders have to travel to get here. But she stressed how important it was for them to be here to raise the profile of their countries and territories and now that she has won re-election to a new term of office, pledged to work more closely with her island colleagues to increase their access to the federal government.
The Governor's remarks were well received and appreciated. There is no question that these opportunities are so rare that it would be a mistake to pass them up for any but the most pressing business back home. It was good to see our own Lt. Governor Ipulasi at the reception accompanied by his executive assistant Kuini Hisatake, Congressional Delegate Faleomavaega and his staff member Tavita Richmond.
Others at the opening were Conference Chairman Kessai Note, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Pacific Islands Development Program Director Dr. Sitiveni Halapua. New Hawaii Congresswoman Maizie Hirono also came by.
Heads of Government who were in attendance included Guam Governor Felix Camacho, Vanuatu Prime Minister Ham Lini, Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. who is now a member of my own extended family with the marriage of his brother Casmir to my niece Marie Coleman. Kiribati President Anote Tong was there, as was Haunani Apoliona, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Other island leaders are still en route to the capital and some no doubt decided to sleep in so they can be ready for the long day tomorrow, which opens with a breakfast at 7 a.m.Monday evening is a Congressional reception and Tuesday evening is Pacific Night, the annual social event hosted by the Pacific Islands diplomatic and representative community resident in Washington. On Thursday, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is hosting a luncheon for delegations from the American Pacific Islands and the U.S.-affiliated Freely Associated States.
And, oh, by the way, the Queen of England is in town, too.
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Amata grieves with Robert and Leata Sevaaetasi as they lay their son, SGT Raymond Sasa Seva'aetasi to rest
May 5, 2007
Aumua Amata today expressed her sincerest condolences on the untimely passing of Army SGT. Raymond Sasa Sevaaetasi who will be laid to rest next week. This brave, young soldier lost his life last month in the war in Iraq serving his Nation. She said, "My heart goes out to Robert and Leata, Raymond's beloved parents, his wife Maugaosa'a Angel and his two beautiful children and the rest of their family and friends on the tragic death of their son, husband and father. Let us pray for this wonderful family in their time of sorrow and grief. The Bible says, 'Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4).' No words exist right now that could possibly soothe his family's pain because grief only comes in one size: Extra Large."
Amata concluded by saying, "The Bible also tells us that a man hath no greater love than to lay down his life for his fellow man. SGT Sevaaetasi was part of that new generation of American and American Samoan heroes all around us today who are busy protecting us all over the world. Raymond was dedicated to freedom - his sacrifice will never be forgotten because his service personified the ideals of leadership and love of our country. Heroes keep us from harm and they never give up when we need them. Raymond gave his life for these ideals and that is the greatest act of a hero. We will never forget. May SGT Sevaaetasi's soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen."