REMARKS BY PREMIER, DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
EMANCIPATION SERVICE – FESTIVAL 2016
SUNDAY, 31ST JULY, 2016
Never sacrifice our identity in our journey to progress
Each year, we come here to this historic site — the Sunday Morning Well — to celebrate, to remember, to reflect on the story of how our forebears went from struggles to triumph.
Reflecting on such a tumultuous time is not always easy, but this is the legacy of who we are. It is a story we must never forget. It is the story that must be told to help others understand, and NOT speculate about the character of a Virgin Islander or the Virgin Islands.
And, it is a story we must share with the younger generations so that they are clear about our cultural identity.
Our local authors, the research from orators about our history, and our very own family stories serve to remind us that Virgin Islanders are resilient.
The graphic photos and artifacts at our museums and our historical sites are reminders that we have long been a resourceful people.
And, more importantly, the history of our churches in the development of this economy is a constant reminder that God is the foundation of our freedom.
Today, my message is simple: Never sacrifice our identity in our journey to progress.
We have always been a determined, people who came together and worked together to build this economy. Our history teaches us that collective responsibility is integral to who we were as a people.
For example, we know from history that even when a home was being built in any BVI community, all of the men in the community came together to cast the floor, build the walls or install the roofs. Then everyone - men and women would enjoy a meal together, which was the symbol of thanks for lending a helping hand.
When a sloop was being built, it took a community together to make it happen, from construction to launch.
As a community, we raised our families together with the understanding that ‘one hand can’t clap’. And so, your son was my son; my daughter was your daughter, and the neighbour’s child, was all of our children. In other words, we understood that it took a community together to raise a child! So the fabric of this community is strengthened when we get back to the basics of looking out for each other.
I’ll go further with this theme of progress.
In the early 1900s when we wanted to make economic progress, many of our men went far afield to find work. However, we experienced great sadness when over 50 of them while returning home aboard the ‘Fancy Me’ to participate in the emancipation celebrations lost their lives at sea in bad weather on July 25, 1926. Centenarians would tell you that in a spirit of unity, the community came together to mourn and to plan a successful way forward.
They understood that the true spirit of the Virgin Islander was based on them banding and bonding together to navigate this difficult time.
Again, they saw progress as a collective responsibility.
In their desire to decide our local affairs, community leaders like Glanville Fonseca and Carlton DeCastro along with over 1500 Virgin Islanders on November 24, 1949 peacefully marched through Road Town to achieve a democratic Virgin Islands. Now, we have our own constitution and legislative council, now House of Assembly.
We have community activists like Noel Lloyd and members of the Positive Action Movement to thank for our ability to own property on Wickhams Cay today and to enjoy our green spaces.
Their commitment is the true spirit of the Virgin Islander, a people who are committed to making progress together, and not separately.
We have more recently created several symbols of this togetherness, our Territorial song, Territorial dress and Territorial Pledge
As we continue to celebrate our progress we must be ever mindful of the importance of knowing where we want to go and how to get there.
Certainly Constitutional advance is pivotal to this direction. In our last constitutional review the matter of political independence was clearly not a priority for this Territory. In fact as the Chairman of that Commission recently reminded us, that subject was treated with in just a couple of sentences! He also reminded us that any decision for independence must be made by a Referendum.
But who knows: today that priority might change! But whatever the decision it will be the will of the people of the BVI and not one or two persons!
Nearly six weeks ago the people of the UK took the historic decision to end their relationship as a member of the European Union, after more than 40 years. Undoubtedly this decision will impact the BVI.
So this may be an opportune time for us to together carefully weigh the merits of self determination. We must make sure that we understand the pros and cons while assessing our degree of readiness for this critical step in our development.
The Brexit vote is also an opportunity to engage in a positive way with the New Administration about how we may support each other for the mutual benefit of our people,
As you know I have already signalled to the New UK administration that the BVI does not want only to be consulted about matters that will impact our future. We want to be an integral part of any decisions taken. So I will simply say 'watch this space'!
In tourism we have the best sailing waters, the best sun, sea and sand; our journey to progress now includes the promotion of an authentic Virgin Islands guest experience in which we must all participate as ONE BVI!
We are all aware that BVI is home to a Financial Services Industry that is of global pre-eminence. Based on high standards of regulation and transparency– all of which are internationally compliant,
Our success and quest to do what is right and honourable for this jurisdiction and destination is driven by our longstanding commitment to the strengths and core of the Virgin Islander which are resilience, commitment, dedication and solidarity.
So as we continue to reflect today on our journey to progress, let us hold fast to the legacy of our forebears where it was understood that every man, woman and child in this Territory depended on each other to move forward, not singularly, but collectively.
Together, we must encourage the younger generation to continue the celebration and the journey of progress.
And, in spite of Instagram, Snap chat, various selfie opportunities and Pokémon Go in this ever evolving world of technology, it is our duty to ensure the youth never lose sight of our legacy and that the mantle of progress is sustained.
I wish to thank Reverend Turnbull and other members of the Virgin Islands Heritage Month Committee for keeping the spiritual aspect of our celebrations at the helm through the GospelFest, Freedom March, Emancipation Service, Sunrise Service and Moments in BVI History.
Thanks to today’s guest speaker, Reverend Dr. Richard D. McCreary, II of the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, Illinois for joining us in our emancipation celebration and contributing to this special worship service. I do trust that you have been enjoying our hospitality and cultural expressions.
As the celebration ensues under the theme: Diversity, Creativity and Culture like never seen, VI Festival 2016 and after 182 years of emancipation from slavery, let us not lose sight of the historical significance of the Festival celebrations.
Let us celebrate our progress as a Territory embracing the spirit of freedom with pride and respect for each other. Let us be conscious of the importance of planning for and securing our future and that of our children in a fast changing environment.
And, let us go out in numbers and continue to support the many events organised by the hardworking Festival and Fairs Committee.
I continue to welcome all persons throughout the Territory celebrating our Emancipation.
I wish you all a Happy and Emancipation Celebration to all for 2016!