ST. JOHN—The Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Myron D. Jackson, held a meeting Monday evening at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on St. John, to encourage entities of the executive branch to market Cruz Bay as a cultural heritage destination.
Bill No. 31-0449, sponsored by the Committee Chair, is an act commemorating the 250th anniversary of the establishment of the town of Cruz Bay and encouraging government entities to work with local artisans to develop cultural products.
The measure was “prompted out of many years of the desire to create a historic district in the town of Cruz bay and the discussions that have been had under the office of historic preservation,” said Sen. Jackson. “The language was encouraged through the nomination process of an application for the national register nomination for the town of Cruz Bay.”
Charlotte Amalie, Frederiksted and Christiansted are nationally registered towns, he said. But there is no such designation on St. John.
“The intent of the legislation is purely recognizing the founding of this town, the contributions that have been made by St. Johnians and others, and likewise that we may use it in our cultural tourism heritage product, especially in light of the approaching 2017 centennial and that it be woven through the fabric of various other cultural activities,” he said.
Officials from the executive branch spoke in favor of the measure’s intent, however they largely spoke in opposition to the responsibility falling under their respective jurisdictions because of insufficient staffing, funding, and clarity in the language of the measure.
Pamela Richards, Chair of the 2017 Virgin Islands Transfer Centennial Committee, spoke to that sentiment. “This milestone in Virgin Islands history is worthy of recognition,” she said. “However”, she added, “we are not in a position to—nor is it our mandate to—as is suggested in Section 5, to assist various government entities coordinate plans and activities to market Cruz Bay as a cultural heritage destination.”
Richards suggested that a group be formed, one that is separate from the Commission. “We will thereafter partner with this group in any of the activities that are developed,” she said.
Beverly Nicholson Doty, Commissioner for the Department of Tourism, concurred.
While the department “supports the integration of historic events and authentic experiences into the overall visitor offerings” and recognizes “integration as a key component of building pride in who we are as a people,” Doty said that “the Department of Tourism does not have culture and historic preservation under its direct scope of responsibility.”
“Although we believe it is integral of the industry,” she added. “It is impossible to effectively lead many mandates and to do so well without funding and human capacity.”
Sen. Jackson said that the language of the measure was “not intended to create any hardship” for government entities.
“But the fact is that [if] this milestone goes unrecognized” he said, “[it] would be a travesty.”
Sen. Tregenza A. Roach offered an alternate opinion.
“I think it is commendable that we should observe the 250th anniversary of the founding of Cruz Bay,” he said. “But I think when you look at the state of our historic towns, if you drive through backstreet Charlotte Amalie, if you are in Fredericksted, if you go through certain parts of Christiansted,” designating them as historical does ensure access to resources and constant maintenance, he said.
Sean Krigger, Acting Director of the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, agreed. “If we don’t do so, these towns will not be around for the next generation,” he said.
Sen. Roach further explained his thoughts on why there may be opposition to celebrate the centennial within the community.
“There may be those persons in the community who feel that this is not a celebration,” he said. “But I think a greater number of people question the nature of the collaboration, the nature of the observation that we will be making. Because when you have such a complex and complicated history that includes the enslavement of people for hundreds of years, there are those people who don’t want to have anything to do with a celebration of either Denmark or of the United States, [a country which] has not examined the colonial history of this territory and revisited our citizenship in 100 years, that we as United States citizens cannot fully participate in the affairs of this country,” he said.
“And I think when we talk about people and their passion and their questioning and their frustration about what exactly this centennial is about, we should be mindful that some of them have very deep seated concerns and questions about where this territory is going, how we have interpreted and dealt with a very complex history and perhaps the struggles of the native people and the extermination of the native people who were found here and their past,” he added. “Particularly as we’re looking at this political unfolding of the United States of America and this insipid racism that we see, repeated, over and over and the diminishing of black lives in this country.”
Sen. Marvin A. Blyden who agreed also spoke to the importance of teaching the historical significance of the Virgin Islands and key influencers to students.
“When you do not know who you are, you are lost,” he said.
Ultimately, no action was taken on the measure.
Committee Chair Sen. Myron D. Jackson, as well as committee members Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Positive T. A. Nelson, and Tregenza A. Roach, were present.