I’ve heard that the traditional leaders of American Samoa have always been against U.S. citizenship. Is that correct?


No.  On April 17, 1900, when the American flag was raised over Pago Pago harbor, American Samoa’s traditional leaders believed they had become American citizens.  And throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, American Samoa’s traditional leaders repeatedly petitioned Congress for full U.S. citizenship.  Indeed, had it not been for opposition from the U.S. Navy at the time, it is likely that the issue of citizenship would have been resolved long ago.  During the 1930s, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously on two separate occasions to recognize American Samoans as citizens while continuing to preserve American Samoa’s land and title systems, only to see the legislation fail in the House due to racially motivated opposition from the U.S. Navy. Local support for recognition of citizenship in American Samoa continued at least through 1960.


For more historical context, see this amicus brief filed by the Samoan Federation of America, along with this appendix with nearly 500 pages of historical materials.


The following testimony was provided by American Samoan leaders during a 1930 Hearing in American Samoa:


  •  “I will vindicate the rights of my own people if I can do anything . . . I appeal to the commission to give those people what they want.  Give them American citizenship.  Give them the privilege of other people of the United States.” -- Napolean Tuiteleleapaga, author of music for “Amerika Samoa”
  • “[E]very person in American Samoa . . . earnestly requests to the honorable commission to make necessary recommendations to Congress to have the people of Samoa to be a true American Citizen.” -- Tui Manu’a Chris T. Young
  • “I desire . . . that the people of American Samoa should be true American citizens; receive American citizenship, to be equal with the true American.” -- Chief Nua
  • “My full desire that I wish to present before the commission [is] that the people of Samoa should obtain true American citizenship.” -- Chief Matoa
  • “[M]any years we have been under the American flag. . . . But we have not received the word ‘true American.’  We are not taken yet as citizens of America; but this morning I pray the commissioners that they will do what they can that we may be made citizens of the United States to serve the United States.  We are only a few people that is true, but we wish to become loyal and peaceful citizens of the United States.” --  Chief Fanene
  • “[T]he soil of Tutuila and Manua has been made a part of America but the people of Tutuila and Manua are not American Citizens, that as Tutuila and Manua has been accepted as part of America, I therefore pray that the people of Tutuila and Manua may also become citizens of America.”  -- Samuel Tulele Galeai

Additional excerpts of historical materials relating to citizenship in American Samoa (1900-1948) are available here.  Primary resources are available here.  American Samoan Attorney Charles Ala'ilima has written more extensively about this history here.

The Samoan Federation of America explains more about the history of support for citizenship in American Samoa here, with an extensive appendix of primary resources available here.


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