STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND CULTURE
HONOURABLE MYRON V. WALWYN
“2016 TERRITORY DAY CELEBRATIONS”
Friday, 30th June
Though the appropriate recognitions have already been made, on this day as we celebrate who we are as Virgin Islanders, permit me to once again acknowledge the presence of:
Premier of the Virgin Islands, Hon Dr D. Orlando Smith,
Ministers of Government,
Leader of the Opposition and Third District Representative, Hon Julian Fraser, RA
Members of the House of Assembly
Ladies and gentlemen, a warm and pleasant Virgin Islands good morning to all of you and Happy Territory Day! Based on the programme that we have had this morning, I hope that all of us, have a renewed sense of pride and belonging to this great Territory of ours.
I know that pride cannot just be lip-service, but it must be a more tangible and long-lasting service to this country and the sacrifices of our ancestors must be preserved at all cost. Our history shows that we have always been a strong, determined and independent people; and it is so inspiring to be reminded of that independent spirit of the Virgin Islander on a day like today. This day back in history is in fact an indication of who the Virgin Islander is.
There are moments in the history of a people that ultimately define who they are and who they will be. In the Virgin Islands we have had a number of those moments that have spurred our development and afforded us opportunities to advance this country and in doing so, advance our own lives.
These events include our 1960 Colonial Status, followed by our departure from the Leeward Island Federation in 1967, moving from an agricultural based economy to a service based economy in the 70s and 80s, and then the development of our landmark Business Companies Act which ushered in unprecedented economic growth for these here Virgin Islands. At the helm of all of these changes, we find the names and faces of Virgin Islanders, being innovative, seeking out opportunities and bequeathing to us, a prosperous Territory that we must protect with every fibre of our being.
The responsibility now rests on those of us in authority, those of us who are in influential positions in the Territory, and those of us who love this country to pass this country on to the next generation in a better state than it was handed to us. This will call for us to be a watchful, vigilant, determined, audacious people, because what we have here in the Virgin Islands is indeed special. It will call for a reawakening of the independent spirit of the Virgin Islander with no apologies.
The ownership of land by our people runs deep and is part and parcel of our stake and economic control of the economy of the Virgin Islands. Renowned legal expert, the late Dr. J. S. Archibald QC, said it best when he said:
“The BVI is a country that values land, because land ownership in the Virgin Islands is a matter of culture. It is a matter of basic culture. And culture is always a huge decider in vital issues of the life of an individual or country. The first thing that BVIslanders have on their minds is the ownership of land. And throughout history - this is my personal view, and it’s in the Bible too, in Genesis - land is the basis of freedom, not law. Law and Constitutions cannot give individual freedom. They may be able to help to preserve and enhance such freedom as already exists. But ownership of land is the basis of freedom. The BVI is one country where the cultural ownership of land is deeply rooted in people’s bones and blood. And allied with that culture is the development of a person’s own self-respect and his respect for other people.”
I am calling on our people to be watchful and manful to ensure that the ownership of land doesn’t slip away from us. While we fight each other at times, while we are busy envying each other at times, while we are buying cars, and buying clothes, there are groups right here in the Virgin Islands, buying nothing but land. They are better connected, better organized, and have greater access to cash than we have. There needs to be a reawakening of that independent spirit to ensure that the ownership of land and property remains firmly within the hands of Virgin Islanders.
The views of the ownership of land also extends to the ownership of business opportunities for Virgin Islanders. He who owns the businesses and the economic engine of a society will also have the power to determine the makeup of a society and ultimately who controls the politics and the direction of a society. Remember I mentioned that our re-awaken will require us to be unapologetic in some areas, here is one of those areas. If there is any business that we have the financial resources and the human resources to operate in this Territory it should be done by us; whether it is a supermarket business, construction business, once the competency and the financial resources are available, it should be done by our people. I say it is time for a reawakening of that independent spirit of the Virgin Islander.
Last week Thursday evening I stayed up all night watching the present legacy of the United Kingdom unravel as the majority of the population voted to leave the European Union. It was a moment in history that I honestly didn’t believe would happen in my lifetime. And now today those persons who voted to exit the European Union and now saying that they made a mistake, they voted on emotion, fear of migration and other issues. As recent as this morning there has been a call for a new referendum with over 4 million citizens
There is no doubt that the relationship between Britain and by extension the overseas territories have been beneficial to the Virgin Islands, but here we have a decision being made, thousands of miles away, based on emotion and cynicism that has such a profound effect on our little Territory and the Caribbean archipelago. Do you think that while they were going to vote in that referendum they thought about us? Do you think they thought about how it would affect us in the Virgin Islands? Do you think they thought about how being in the EU benefited our economies? I say again, it is time for the reawakening of the independent spirt of the Virgin Islander.
Many in the UK fell into the trap that appears to be a growing trend by politicians around the world of pandering to the fears of the society they wish to lead. Those politicians blame immigrants, trade relations, and they blame someone else’s economy and business practices as we’ve seen with our financial services. At the end of the day they seek votes while completely destroying what binds their societies and their economies together. I encourage all of us to be mindful that regardless of who is in office, let us encourage leadership that has love for this country over love of one’s own self-interest. We can function correctly in our democracy without attacking who we are as Virgin Islanders.
As we reawaken the independent spirit of the Virgin Islander, we must also do some introspection and look critically at the way we do things and how we perceive our institutions in the Virgin Islands. Citizenship bears great pride and respect, but it also bears great responsibility.
That responsibility also means supporting each other more in the things that are right and just. When we see our fellow citizens involved in things that are contrary to our peaceful way of life, we cannot allow one or two individuals to disrespect all that our ancestors built and the peaceful existence that we have always known. Respect and pride in being a Virgin Islander means obeying our laws, and not just some of them, but all of them. It means finding ways to serve this country and not simply waiting to take from it. It means respecting our traditions and institutions - free of political interference and manipulation so that citizens can feel a sense of security and fairness.
All of what we have done over these past years is to help us celebrate our heritage and our identity with greater pride. I want that warm feeling and sense of promise and opportunity that overcomes me each and every time I sing our Territorial Song, to be a continuous emotion, inspiring all of us to do our best to make this Territory the greatest place to live, work and call home. We are formally instituting elements that are synonymous with being a Virgin Islander because it is important for us to be reminded and instill in the next generation a great sense of pride and dignity. To this end we have our inspiring Territorial Song, Oh Beautiful Virgin Islands, our Territorial Wear, our Territorial Signs and Symbols. I will be calling on us to have the courage to change Territory Day to Virgin Islands Day, because this day is indeed about the Virgin Islands.
When we took on the necessary step to develop a pledge for this Territory, we wanted to ensure that persons within our community had the opportunity to contribute to such a momentous step in our development. As we did with our Territorial Song and Dress, we sent out a call so that our National Pledge can be written by Virgin Islanders seeking to participate and demonstrate their national pride by making such a contribution.
From this effort, I am pleased that we were able to bring together a cross section of individuals and the pledge that we have today was a fusion of two generations of Virgin Islanders - a notable educator and poet in our community, Dr. Quincy Lettsome, and a bright and patriotic young lady - Kamyce Penn. Together their sentiments and their words will call for us to cherish respect and love these Virgin Islands. Dr. Lettsome and Ms. Penn, please stand and be recognised.
Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to stand, with right hands over your hearts and join me as we as Virgin Islanders and residents of the great Territory, for the first time, recite our national pledge.
I pledge to my country, the Territory of the Virgin Islands, to encourage national pride and dignity, render patriotic service, promote justice for all, be true to God and remain dedicated to these Virgin Islands.
We recognize that just like our Territorial Song and Dress, we want to ensure the right protocol is set and our pledge is held up high and respected by all. The pledge is to be recited at national occasions such as Territory Day, H.L. Stoutt Day, when hosting USVI/BVI Friendship Day as well as within our schools at assemblies, graduations and other official functions. The pledge is to be recited after the singing of the Territorial Song, with right hands over hearts and standing at attention.
Permit me to also offer thanks and appreciation for the Committee that spearheaded the development of our Territorial Pledge. The Committee was chaired by Hon Delores Christopher and comprised of cultural stalwart Mrs. Eileene L. Parsons, Mrs. Brenda Lettsome-Tye and Mr. Theodore James.
Virgin Islanders and friends, as we leave this ceremony today and as we move on with our respective lives, I ask that all of us, collectively, look at opportunities in which we can make positive and constructive contributions to the growth of this country. All of us must do our part to ensure that as the Virgin Islands has given to us so much, that we give back so that the next generation of Virgin Islanders also have the same opportunities we have had. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless the Virgin Islands.