History of the FONO
Up to 1900: Legislative functions were “fa’a-Samoa” (the Samoan way or in the traditional manner) by the village, county and district councils.
1900: On April 17, Chiefs of Tutuila and Aunu’u ceded their islands (Manuan’s ceded theirs four years later) to the United States. The Department of the Navy was assigned to administer the islands, and the Commandant of the Naval Station, Fagatogo, was authorized as the sole executive, legislative, and judiciary authority. The commandant was advised on matters pertaining to local government by the Secretary of Samoan Affairs as well as the district governors who submitted to the commandant recommendations for legislative action and/or improvement of government operations from their respective district councils. The district governors kept the district councils informed of decisions and activities of government.
1905: The Commandant was officially designated as Governor of American Samoa. Full legislative powers remained with him. Annual “fono” were established and attended by district representatives selected by their respective districts. During each “fono”, district participants submitted to the governor for his consideration and approval, resolutions from their respective districts for improvement of government or for legislative action. The annual “fonos” were held in November of each year, presided over by the governor, and also attended by members of the governor’s cabinet as well as district governors and other local government officials.
1945: Samoan leaders met at “Gagamoe”, the traditional meeting “malae”(village green) in Pago Pago, and decided to ask the United States President, through the governor, to establish a local “congress style” legislature. It was this year that the “Samoa Act of 1945 – was drafted by representatives of this meeting for the establishment of a legislature.
1948: After three years of indecisiveness at Government House and persistence on the part of the Samoan leaders, Governor Vernon Huber approved the establishment of an “advisory” bicameral legislature. Although the local leaders wanted a legislature with full powers to legislate, they agreed to the “advisory” role as a stepping stone towards a full fledged legislature at a latter date.
The upper House was called the House of Ali(Chiefs), members who were holders of the seven paramount chief titles of Tutuila; Faumuina, Leв’iato, Mauga, Letuli, Fuimaono, Satele, and Tuitele, including the ranking high chiefs of Manu’a; Lefiti, Misa, Sotoa, Tufele and Tuiolosega. In the lower House – the House of Representatives, there were 54 representatives, one each from the 54 villages in the territory and two elected members representing those citizens who did not live under the jurisdiction of “matais” (title holders).
The village representatives were selected by their respective village councils and the other two representatives were elected by their constituents.
The Samoan leaders believed the new legislative set-up to be a ten year experiment in American democracy; that if successful, the granting to the Fono of full legislative power would eventuate.
1952: The Department of the Interior approved the recommendation by the local leaders to terminate the House of “Ali’i” in favor of a Senate. Members of the House of “Ali’i” were moved to the Executive Branch as advisors to the governor. This change opened up membership of the newly-organized, 15-member, Senate to deserving holders of other ranking “matai” titles.
Seats in the House of Representatives were substantially reduced from 54 to 18 and approval was given for election to be held the following year, by universal suffrage, for the seats in the House of Representatives.
1960: The American Samoa Constitution was born. Effective in October, it granted the “Fono” power, with certain limitations, to pass legislation with respect to subjects of local application. It also granted the Legislature authority to seek override of the governor’s veto through re-pass and submission to the Secretary of the Interior.
1967: The revised constitution, effective in July, granted the “Fono” additional authority – to pass appropriation bills and to make recommendations to the governor’s preliminary budget prior to its submission to the Department of Interior. Senate seats were increased from 15 to 18 and House seats from 18 to 20 plus Swains Island’s non-voting delegate.
1971: The “Fono” became a full time Legislature. An amendment was approved to prohibit the concurrent holding of a “Fono” seat and a regular government job. Both Houses lost members who chose to keep their regular jobs.
1973: The “Fono” found a new and permanent home in the present “Maota Fono”.