Monday, June 17, 2019

Widening the Frame - Samoan Citizenship

The "Americanish" episode of "Radiolab" was very well researched, and covered many of the basic issues concerning the current state of citizenship for Samoans, as you might expect of Radiolab. And yet. While I highly recommend the episode, the crux is this. Folks born in Samoa are in the unique position of being considered born on US soil, and yet are not US citizens, they are considered US nationals, but not citizens.  There is a case making it's way through the courts to change this.  And people in Samoa are conflicted.  After talking to a lot of people about why, including those who pointed to Hawaii as an example of places where the land is now in many cases not owned by Hawaiians anymore, and how being under the aegis of the US Constitution would mean that they would likely be unable to restrict land being sold or inherited by folks not of Samoan descent, the reporter still seemed really confused as to why people would be concerned. They ended the piece with the lawyer representing the person suing for citizenship, who said well it really comes down to do you trust your government.  And I finished the episode thinking well, yes, that's exactly it.  
Because of course when it comes to the people who were already here, the people indigenous to this land, be they members of the hundreds on nations in the continental US, be it Alaskan native, Hawaiian, Puerto Ricans, the folks in what is now Texas, the record of the United States is not just a little flawed.  Time and time again, the United States violated treaties, overthrew governments, made and broke deals, and overall has proven itself incredibly untrustworthy.  The reporter also kept saying things like, but what if the land could be preserved, and look, I am not a lawyer or a real estate expert, but the only thing I could think of that would allow Samoans to maintain a land can only be owned based on heritage rule is if something like what we did with reservations was set up.  And off the top of my head, we have taken back reservations when they turned out to be located in places that were advantageous to us, despite tribe members having the Supreme Court on their side, we have made particular efforts to steal their children and raise them outside of community traditions, we have decided that because tribes don't get US mail, then tribal citizens may not be able to vote, oh right, and apparently one store chain tried to argue that it wasn't illegal for white people to sexually abuse people on tribal land.  You may think those examples are from hundreds of years ago, but they aren't.  
I obviously don't have the answer for what choice Samoa should make.  As someone who lives in another special exception in the US, I have been fighting for enfranchisement, but in the case of DC, our pro/con list is a little different.  Our citizens are already subject to the US Constitution, we just can't vote for the people who can change the Constitution, and Congress continually tries to interfere in our local governance. So in the end I wasn't surprised to find some Samoans don't think full citizenship will provide as much as it will take away.