On Thursday, November 30, 2023, American Samoa’s legislature, the Fono, celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding. The commemoration event, held at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium, witnessed a display of unity as leaders from diverse branches of government, including the executive, legislature, and judiciary, gathered to acknowledge and celebrate the significant milestone of 75 years of legislative service to the people of American Samoa. The commemoration event was held under the “75 Years of Wisdom and Seeking Truth for American Samoa” theme.
Founded on October 26, 1948, the Fono represents the will and aspirations of the citizens of US territory.
In 1948, under Governor Vernon Huber’s encouragement, the Fono convened for the first time. Initially established as a bicameral legislature, it still served only in an advisory capacity. The upper house, named the House of Ali‘i, was composed of 12 members, being the seven high chiefs of Tutuila and the five high chiefs of Manu‘a. The lower house, the House of Representatives, was composed of 54 members: 52 (one from each village) were elected in open meetings according to Samoan custom, and two were elected by secret ballot by residents not living under the matai system.
Reformed in 1952, 1960. and 1967, the Fono is now composed of a Senate of 18 members, and a House of Representatives with 21 members, including a nonvoting delegate from Swain’s Island. These days, Senators are elected from those who hold a matai title, who are US nationals, are at least 30 years of age, and have resided in American Samoa for at least five years, including one year immediately preceding the election. Representatives, or faipule, and the Swain’s delegate must be at least 25 years of age and do not need to hold a matai title. Members of the Senate are still elected according to Samoan custom by the county councils for four-year terms, while Representatives are elected by secret ballot, and the delegate from Swains Island is elected in an open meeting, all for two-year terms. Elections are nonpartisan in American Samoa.
“The success of our territory is intricately tied to the collaborative efforts between the executive and legislative branches of government,” stated Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga (D) in his address to event participants. He continued, “The Legislature has consistently demonstrated its commitment to working in partnership with the executive branch to address the pressing needs of our citizens, foster economic development, and ensure the well-being of all our people, showing resilience and adaptability in the face of evolving challenges.”
Governor Lemanu continued to express his deepest gratitude to the members of the Fono for their tireless service and wished that the next 75 years be marked by even greater achievements and a continued commitment to the well-being of American Samoa.