A grant awarded by the U.S. Interior Department will allow forums on self-determination to be rolled into the end of this year’s Centennial activities, will wrap up on all three islands at the end of December.
According to Centennial Commission members gathered on St. Thomas for a meeting Thursday, the grant was awarded to the University of the Virgin Islands in an attempt to push the territory to consider its status, which has been the focus of several past referendums and Constitutional Conventions. Commission chair Pamela Richards said during the meeting that UVI’s activities were meant to run parallel to the official Centennial events, and that the Commission’s members were responsible for reaching out to UVI and establishing a relationship so the forums could move forward.
“It wasn’t a direct mandate, but this is what the Interior Department intended when it awarded the money,” Commission member Shawn-Michael Malone explained after Thursday’s meeting. “They wanted us to take advantage of the opportunity we’ve created over the past year of Centennial events to set the stage and discuss our vision for the next 1,000 years. So, as we approach the end of our events, this is the next step.”
Malone said involving young people in the process is important, since they will eventually have to take the reins and “lead the territory into the future.” While the majority of Virgin Islanders may not be in favor of statehood, a determination on status – particularly when it comes to what rights should be afforded to V.I. citizens – has to be made, he added.
When ownership of the territory was transferred from Denmark to the United States, the decision to do so was made “unilaterally,” without the input of local citizens, Malone said.
“And it can happen again because we have never done anything about the Organic Act of 1954 that gives the federal government the authority to say, if we can’t afford these territories, we can sell them. Will they do it, maybe not, but they can. That’s the point. We are citizens by statute, not by constitution.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Malone said Commission members were looking to include essay contests or workshops with students that ask them to look at the territory’s relationship with the United States and its benefits. Closing activities would be themed “the Dawn of New Day,” and Malone said the proposed partnership with UVI could help “amplify” the discussions.
Centennial activities will wrap up on Dec. 26 on St. Croix, Dec. 29 on St. John and Dec. 31 on St. Thomas. Each program will include an hour-long ceremony with territory, U.S. and Danish representatives, and will be followed by the dedication of a capsule that celebrates the history of this year’s Centennial events. A night parade will take place on St. Croix, followed by a later public event, and Commission members said they are still finalizing the logistics of ceremonies on St. John and St. Thomas.