STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
at the Ninth Sitting of the Second Session of the
Fourth House of Assembly
Thursday, 11th June, 2020
CULTURAL PRESERVATION AND CULTURAL EDUCATION
Mister Speaker, during the Fifth Sitting of the Second Session of the Fourth House of Assembly, I spoke about an exhibition that the Department of Culture was producing. At that time, the Department was planning to display this exhibition in the Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Building, accompanied by satellite exhibitions at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College and on our sister islands.
During our COVID19 lockdowns, Mister Speaker, the Department of Culture was able to make a shift to working virtually. The Department launched its Facebook page with the user name “Virgin Islands Department of Culture” and created a number of videos featuring our arts and, in particular, our heritage. One of my favourites was the video featuring the agricultural and medicinal plant heritage in the Territory through a close look at the heritage garden which is attached to Jenesis Studios in Great Mountain– one of the territory’s most beautiful museums.
The Department was able to convert the exhibition I spoke about in that session into a two-part series of a virtual exhibition entitled “From Perreen Georges to Noel Lloyd: Heroes and Freedom Fighters.” We are going to become very familiar with these stories in their entirety. I commend the Department of Culture for these productions.
Mister Speaker, it is so good to be able to be able to place our journey and struggle in the worldwide context. Look at the nature of our struggle toward social justice here in this Territory. We had the trial of a planter - likely the only case on record in the Caribbean. We have recorded rebellions, revolutionary conspiracies, a burning of the town, an uprising, a grand march, and a positive action movement!
How do we struggle for justice today? How do we move toward greater self- determination? We have heard the Premier announce the urgency of advancing the constitutional review process.
Mister Speaker, I have spoken about my experiences with racial profiling and police brutality both in the United States and the United Kingdom. Whether it is our students who study in the United States and United Kingdom who may unfortunately have such experiences or whether it is being intimately acquainted with our own particular heritage of struggle against social injustice, it is very important to be aware and knowledgeable!
Mister Speaker, during my remarks on International Museum Day last month, I made the point that we have a very good opportunity here to integrate our museums into our community, creating true community institutions. It is also very significant that, just by doing this, we also strengthen our tourism product. We learn and tell or own story, and then we share that story authentically with our visitors, with the world.
So it is with great pleasure that I announce that the Department of Culture has begun a collaboration with the BVI Tourist Board to open the Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum and tell that particular story, and the wider related story in the Virgin Islands - in a very powerful way.
Mister Speaker, in light of the progress being made in the area of cultural preservation, I am also aware of the need for a review of how we teach history, heritage and culture in our education system.
Mister Speaker, I am aware that we have lessons where we refer to our ancestors as “slaves”. Mister Speaker, our ancestors were not slaves; our ancestors were “enslaved,” because slavery is not who they were, but what they went through. We also must refer to that unfortunate period in our history as either the “plantation era” or the “period of enslavement.” This period does not define us; it was a phase. This phase has impacted our development, but was still a phase. This is why the terminology is important. The use of the title “slave” is an error that we will correct.
Mister Speaker, under the leadership of your government, we will learn more about our heroes and sheroes. In our virtual exhibition “From Perreen Georges to Arthur Hodge: Heroes and Freedom Fighters,” we learned about the heroism of Perreen Georges, a free woman of mixed heritage, who gave testimony which led to the hanging of Arthur Hodge - a sadistic planter who had murdered approximately 100 of the enslaved. This is likely the only case on legal record in the Caribbean of such an event. Our children must learn this history!
In the next few weeks, the Department of Culture will be working with my Ministry and with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College to administer a series of questionnaires, surveys and interviews designed to investigate and gain a true picture as to the extent to which the heritage and culture of the Virgin Islands is taught throughout our entire education system, including content and methodology.
I think we are all aware that there are shortcomings, but it is always good to be scientific in our methods and assess the nature of a problem before implementing solutions. But I will say here that our children must be thoroughly immersed in or heritage and culture, or that is yet another injustice.
Mister Speaker, recently, I had the privilege of attending a fruitful UNESCO virtual consultative meeting with over 130 Ministers from around the world with responsibility for Culture in attendance. This was arranged by the BVI National Commission for UNESCO. The meeting looked at how the health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic may profoundly affect the cultural sector at regional and local levels over the long term. The mobility restrictions or containment measures taken by many countries to stem the pandemic, Mister Speaker, drastically curb access to culture and weaken the cultural ecosystem as a whole. It was noted that closure of heritage sites and related cultural infrastructure, the cancellation or postponement of events, and the interruption of cultural production will have significant economic and social repercussions for the cultural and creative industries. However, it was also noted that the new, emphasized online platform was a benefit, one which should continue to be used.
We have seen how various cultural events are now being held virtually. For example, this coming weekend, Mr. Speaker, the OECS will be hosting a Virtual Concert, under the theme, “Building hope through the power of OECS Music.” One of our own musicians, Mr. Martino Mark, will be among the participants, and we celebrate him for his ambassadorship on behalf of the BVI. Mr. Speaker, in spite of the challenges caused by COVID-19, we now have an opportunity to showcase our culture through creative means.
Mr. Speaker, while I am on the subject of UNESCO, March 21 has been designated by UNESCO as World Poetry Day. While some of the plans for this year’s observance were curtailed due to the closure of schools as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, I was pleased that the BVI National Commission for UNESCO was able to launch a poetry competition to pay tribute to people who bring the prominent art of poetry to life. This evening at 6 p.m., the BVI National Commission for UNESCO has organized a Virtual Ceremony for the 2020 World Poetry Competition. I have read the poems from the winning poets, and they are of a very high quality. I congratulate all participants and invite everyone to view this ceremony on the Government of the Virgin Islands’ Facebook page.
Mister Speaker, I also take this opportunity to congratulate Dr. Richard Georges, Acting President of HLSCC, for winning the BOCAS prize for Caribbean literature for his poetry collection, Epiphaneia. This is the most prestigious literary award won by a BVIslander in history, and I congratulate him heartily.
Mister Speaker, I will conclude by asking the public to stay informed regarding the Territory Day celebrations this year, in the time of COVID19. You will be hearing more very soon about this significant celebration.