The United States of America celebrated its 240th Independence Anniversary at Vailima on Monday night. Acting Prime Minister Sala Fata Pinati was among a host of local dignitaries at the event. U.S. Ambassador to Samoa and New Zealand, Mark Gilbert, spoke on behalf of the U.S. This is what he said:
Today –celebrating 240 years plus a few days since our Independence Day - we are not commemorating the birthday of a leader or a famous battle. We are celebrating an idea - so beautifully expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence - July 4th, 1776.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident - that all men are created equal - that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights - that among these are Life - Liberty - and the Pursuit of Happiness”.
Tonight - and throughout this year - we are celebrating another idea - our National Parks.
American Author Wallace Stegner said “National Parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American; absolutely democratic; they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
Our National Parks are a collection of green - natural spaces - national monuments and historical properties all across the U.S.A.
Our National Park Service is charged with the dual role of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of these places while also making them available and accessible for public use and enjoyment.
And August 25th marks their 100th birthday.
When I am here in Samoa - surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty - I think about how much our National Parks have in common with the many wondrous sites around the islands.
Be it swimming in the modern marvel that is the To Sua Trench - cooling off at the Togitogiga Waterfall - or relishing the view from the top of the Falealupo Walkway - you encourage visitors to enjoy Samoa in a responsible - sustainable manner.
Samoa does a wonderful job preserving your natural and cultural heritage - while at the same time allowing visitors to partake and enjoy the beautiful - glorious sights.
I’m very proud - that through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation - we are able to assist the National University of Samoa with a two-year -$160,000 tala project that will re-discover and record for the first time - a central - electronic database with Samoa’s archaeological and other heritage site associated with oral traditions - the kind of project that will not only enhance the research and teaching capabilities at the University - but will assist in formulating national cultural heritage policy and legislation.
Being in the ‘Great Outdoors’ gives us time to reflect - refresh - and rededicate ourselves to making the world a better place.
That’s exactly what happened near the turn of the last century - when John Muir – Naturalist - Environmental Philosopher - and early advocate of preservation of the wilderness - took President Teddy Roosevelt camping for four days in Yosemite. After that hike - Roosevelt vowed to make Muir’s dream of National Parks a reality.
Just last month - President Obama returned to Yosemite to thank the National Park Service for 100 years of incredible service. And like President Roosevelt - President Obama is making history when it comes to conservation.
The U.S. has protected more than 265 million acres of public lands and waters - and we have protected more wildlife under the Endangered Species Act than ever before.
President Obama understands that the biggest threat to our parks is something which threatens us all: climate change. It is hard to imagine a world with no more glaciers at Glacier National Park.
No more Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park.
The National Parks belong to all of us. This planet belongs to all of us. And we have to act now to make sure that we protect our parks - and our planet - for future generations.
Today - there is hope on the horizon - and reason to believe that we can work together to make the next century one of cooperation and collaboration in protecting our parks.
In the U.S. - our greenhouse gas pollution is down to the lowest levels in twenty years - and we have cut carbon pollution more than any other nation. Since President Obama took office - we have twenty times more solar and three times as much wind power.
And the United States joined with Samoa and 175 countries on Earth Day in April - signing the most ambitious climate change agreement in history.
In his trip to Yosemite - President Obama said that “the beauty of the national park system is it belongs to everybody. It is a true expression of our democracy…there’s this part of us that is part of everybody - something we have in common - something we share -- a place where we connect with each other - and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. What an incredible idea. What a worthy investment. What a precious thing we have to pass on to the next generation.”
On this special 100th anniversary of our park service and 240th birthday of our country - thank you for joining Nancy and me to celebrate two ideas for which we remain eternally grateful: a vision of freedom that gave birth to a new nation -and the idea that our incredible natural and cultural wonders should be protected and accessible to all.