American Samoa Governor seeks support from Capitol Hill, Hawaii

Inside Honolulu's Airport Center is American Samoa's only government office outside the territory.
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 5:01 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Governor of American Samoa is in Hawaii, capping off a month long visit across the United States.

Inside Honolulu’s Airport Center, the building with the whale murals on Ualena Street, is American Samoa’s only government office outside the U.S. territory.

It’s a space where some 60,000 American Samoans living in Hawaii can get help with accessing healthcare and other benefits they’re entitled to.

“We are born U.S. national. To my understanding not different from US citizens,” said Governor Lemanu Mauga. “We’re not citizen, but we can become citizen. We can live in the 50 states for three months and then go through the process.”

“We need to make sure that the the Hill up in DC understand and make sure we just gotta remind them and remind them that this was our political status from the beginning,” said Governor Lemanu.

It was a reminder the Governor gave U-S Department of Defense officials who denied an exemption for American Samoa youth in the Hawaii National Guard’s Youth Challenge Academy.

With help from Hawaii leaders, 25 students were allowed to remain in the program despite a policy that only U-S citizens are eligible.

Governor Lemanu says it’s just one of many concerns he’s heard while traveling in the D.C. area and North Carolina.

“A lot of Samoans out of American Samoa can’t come back home because healthcare system is not like Hawaii or mainland where people are comfortable with,” Governor Lemanu said. “They’re paying taxes somewhere in the U.S. But they’re not voting for anything. They don’t know where they belong to. To me, that’s a very serious matter.”

And while celebrities like Dwayne Johnson, Jason Mamoa and Tua Tagovailoa have elevated Samoan culture to America’s consciousness, Governor Lemanu says it hasn’t translated into funding and resources for the territory.

“We’re looking at the trade amongst ourselves from American Samoa, Hawaii, they could come here and learn skills here, in fact we were at Marisco. The harbor over in Kalaeloa with ships, boats that are there they’re fixing. We’re asking if there’s a way we can bring students from American Samoa to learn and to work here,” he said.

Governor Lemanu says he met with Hawaii Governor Josh Green and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and hopes student work exchanges and strategic partnerships can benefit both American Samoa and Hawaii.