American Samoa Flag

American Samoa Travel Guide

Seal of American Samoa

Government

While Samoa received independence from New Zealand in 1962, American Samoa remains an "unincorporated" territory of the United States, meaning the U.S. Constitution and certain other laws don't apply.

The Samoans have no desire to be brought under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Constitution, as this would mean an end to their system of chiefs and family-held lands, and would open the territory to uncontrolled migration and business competition from the U.S. mainland.

Neither are they interested in independence so long as Washington is holding the purse strings and a majority of their people reside in the United States itself. The territory does have observer status at the United Nations.

The territory is also defined as "unorganized," because it doesn't have a constitution sanctioned by the U.S. Congress. In 1966, federal officials authorized a Samoan constitution that included a bill of rights and gave legislative authority to the Fono, a body composed of 20 representatives (two-year term) elected by the public at large and 18 senators (four-year term) chosen by the customary Samoan matai (chiefs).

American Samoa's own colony, Swains Island, has a nonvoting representative. None of this has yet been made U.S. law by Congress.

The powers of the Fono increased during the 1970s; it now exercises considerable control over budget appropriations and executive appointments, though the Secretary of the Interior in Washington retains the right to cancel any law passed by the Fono, remove elected officials, and even cancel self-government itself without reference to the Samoans. The Secretary of the Interior appoints the Chief Justice of the High Court.

Every four years since 1977, American Samoans have elected their own governor and lieutenant governor. The governor can veto legislation passed by the Fono. Local political parties don't exist, although candidates often identify themselves with the U.S. Democratic or Republican parties. Since 1981 the territory has been represented in Washington by a nonvoting congressman elected every two years, and representative Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, a Democrat, has won every election since 1988.

Local government is conducted by three district governors, 15 county chiefs, and 55 pulenu'u (village mayors), all under the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, a leading matai himself.