Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visits American Samoa
It was a festive event as the American Samoa Government and residents of the Territory welcomed United States Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his distinguished delegation to American Samoa. Their plane arrived at Pago Pago International Airport early at around 7 a.m. for a 5-hour stopover.
The group traveling with Secretary Zinke included Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Douglas Domenech, DOI’s Office of Insular and International Affairs director Nikolao Pula, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Lieutenant General Bryan Fenton, and representatives of other federal agencies including the White House.
Awaiting the Secretary’s delegation at the Airport were Honorable Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga and First Lady Cynthia Moliga, representatives of all three branches of the American Samoa Government, Congresswoman Aumua Amata and traditional leaders, many of who were garbed in traditional attire. The Tafuna High School Swing Choir performed next to the entrance ramp to the VIP Lounge to the delight of Secretary Zinke and his entourage as they arrived.
Inside the VIP Lounge, Governor Lolo welcomed Secretary Zinke and his delegation to the territory and introduced local leaders who were present for the occasion.
From the Pago Pago International Airport, the local and federal officials traveled in a motorcade headed east on streets lined with students, ASG employees and residents enthusiastically waving to welcome the important visitors. The motorcade made a quick visit to the LBJ Medical Center and then a stop at StarKist Samoa where the Secretary met with company officials and employees of the company.
From Star-Kist, the motorcade returned to Su’igaula o le Atuvasa at Utulei Beach where a traditional 'ava ceremony was held, preceded by the official bestowment of the chiefly title “Fofoga O Samoa” in a ceremony conducted by Paramount Chief Mauga Asuega and Paramount Chief Misaalefua Hudson. After the ceremony, Secretary Zinke went out into the crowd to shake hands with the public, especially the local firefighters of the National Park of American Samoa who recently returned from fighting forest fires in California.
Honorable Governor Lolo Moliga addressed the gathering saying, “America Samoa is very privileged and honored” to host Secretary Zinke, Lieutenant General Fenton and the federal delegation, who are on island representing the United States President and the federal government, “bringing Washington close to our homes.” Governor Lolo called on local leaders to continue to give the Department of the Interior, specifically Secretary Zinke, Assistant Secretary Domenech, and OIA Director Pula the “support that they need so they can help us improve the lives of our people and our community.”
Governor Lolo said there will be a time in the near future that a local delegation will travel to Washington D.C. “to address issues we feel are important to the lives of our people.”
Governor Lolo thanked local leaders as well as all that participated in welcoming Secretary Zinke and his delegation, and acknowledged the presence of local military veterans and senior citizens in the audience. The Governor then asked Secretary Zinke to say a few words to the gathering.
In his remarks, Secretary Zinke relayed greetings from President Donald Trump saying that the President has expressed the importance American Samoa.
“You’ve often heard that America is the beacon on the hill, but American Samoa really is the lighthouse in the sea,” said Zinke to appreciative applause from the crowd.
Secretary Zinke then said that as a military veteran, he honored the veterans from American Samoa for their sacrifice and service. He next acknowledged the presence of local National Park firefighters who had only recently returned saying they had made American Samoa proud and he asked them to stand to be recognized which drew more applause from the audience.
He stated that he is “deeply honored” for being bestowed the title of “Fofoga O Samoa” during the ava ceremony — “to be your champion and your warrior. And I don’t take it lightly.”
“As a former Navy SEAL commander, I understand what a warrior spirit is. I tell you, it makes my heart feel joy, when I see the culture is strong, the people are warm, and the spirit of a warrior lives,” he told the large audience gathered at Suigaula Park.
He referenced Governor Lolo’s remarks concerning issues faced by American Samoa.
“It is a trip to understand and let you know, that while we have great military force in the Indo-Pacific Command with over 400,000 troops in this theater, all of that doesn’t matter unless we have an economy that’s prosperous,” he said. “An economy of prosperity begins here,” said Zinke, who stated that the US territories fall under his responsibilities. “And we all share this, we want a prosperous, a strong American Samoa where we can show the world that our values matter.” “Our values of freedom — which is not free — open seas, choices, good education — and yes — we’re going to deal with your hospital,” he said to cheers and applause from the crowd.
Speaking next was OIA Director Nikolao Pula who offered his appreciation and thanks on behalf of Secretary Zinke to local leaders for bestowing him with the title “Fofoga o Samoa”. He stated that he assumed the role of Talking Chief for Fofoga O Samoa, and that Secretary Zinke was aware that DOI and the Office of Insular Affairs provided financial assistance to build the large traditional Samoan fale at Suigaula o le Atuvasa. “As a tribute to the culture and the traditions of the American Samoan people”, he continued, “Secretary Zinke has committed $50,000 to the Government of American Samoa, to the Office of the Governor and to the Office of Samoan Affairs, to begin a book of salutations – “se tusi fa’alupega mo Tutuila ma Manu’a”.”
There were traditional sua presentations and gifts from the American Samoa Government to the distinguished visitors and then gift from Secretary Zinke to Governor Lolo in return.
As lunch was served, entertainment was provided by the Malaeloa Methodist Youth Group culminating in the “taualuga” during which Secretary Zinke, Director Pula, and Lieutenant General Fenton joined in much to the pleasure of the audience.
Following activities at Suigaula Park, the motorcade led by the Department of Public Safety reassembled and made its way back to Pago Pago International Airport. In a brief meeting in the VIP lounge, Governor Lolo Moliga expressed his appreciation to the delegation before Secretary Zinke and his entourage boarded their plane to continue on their return to Washington D.C.