83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesDelegates Seminar Filled With Impassioned Debate

Delegates Seminar Filled With Impassioned Debate

May 12, 2007 — The question of a special legal status for native Virgin Islanders raised passions and heated debate at a seminar for potential delegates to this year’s upcoming territorial constitutional convention Saturday at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus.
The all-day seminar had a morning and an afternoon panel of lecturers, each panelist tackling a different aspect of the convention with a short, 15-minute talk. (For a history of prior conventions, see "Constitutional Conventions: What’s Gone Before".)
The political status of the Virgin Islands as an unincorporated U.S. territory, the lessons learned from the past four conventions, the pros and cons of various types of legislatures and native rights were among the lecture topics. After each panel finished, they took questions and comments from the audience.
Many of the audience statements dealt with the issue of both who is a native Virgin Islander and what that should mean. Former Sen. Adelbert Bryan was in the audience and spoke several times on the subject. Bryan argued those with historic and cultural roots in the Virgin Islands should be given a protected status and special rights along the same lines as those enjoyed by the First Peoples of Canada, the Inuit in Alaska, Native Americans in the continental U.S. and the native Hawaiian people.
Further, Bryan argued that those from the Virgin Islands are at a disadvantage to those who move here because they cannot pull up and go back home. Also, Bryan said, because of the territory’s ambiguous status as an unincorporated territory, those from the Virgin Islands don’t have full rights as U.S. citizens, while many who come here retain their voting rights back home.
“No one can convince me the U.S. will ever remove the word unincorporated from before the word territory here,” Bryan said. “Our sons go to Iraq, but they can’t vote for president … I can’t leave here if a hurricane comes. This is my home. I have no other home to go to.”
When asked later, Bryan said he did not equate V.I. citizenship with being a native Virgin Islander, so voting, holding political office and other rights of citizenship are not what he is concerned with.
“I want protection of our land and of our right to fish, to use the beaches and coast and to farm like we always have,” Bryan said.
Later in the program, panelist Gerard Emanuel, a teacher and former executive director for Public Education, V.I. Commission on Status and Federal Relations, spoke on native rights and hit many of the same points. After qualifying his remarks by saying he spoke only for himself as one native, Emanuel laid out his case for why natives need a special protected status, a legal rationale for such a status, and lastly argued that only natives should be writing the constitution, which he called a decolonizing activity.
“If this constitution gives this colony greater self-government, isn’t that a decolonizing activity?” Emanuel said. “Should persons who were not involuntarily colonized here or who made a conscious decision to move to this colony be eligible to participate in this decolonizing activity?”
Emanuel laid out a complex and inclusive definition of a native Virgin Islander, warning in advance that he made no claim either that it was logical or that it was written in stone. First, anyone born in the territory, and anyone who is a direct descendent of anyone born in the territory would automatically have status as native. Second, if you resided here or are descended from anyone who resided here between 1917 and 1927 who took on U.S. citizenship during that time, you qualify. This serves to note the uncertain status of local inhabitants after the territory transferred from Denmark to the U.S. During that decade, natives were in a kind of limbo, not having the option of Danish citizenship or any Danish roots, but not yet afforded U.S. citizenship. Lastly, Emanuel would offer those who move here status as natives after 18 years of residence.
“Someone born here has to wait 18 years before they can participate in the process,” Emanuel said. It’s a compromise, and it’s the most controversial part of this idea. I told you it wasn’t logical.”
“The native Virgin Islander is an endangered species,” Emanuel said. “We have protections for animals. We protect the bald eagle, but not people…. After Hurricane Hugo, planes came to take the Americans. But they didn’t mean all Americans; they only meant European Americans.”
Emanuel’s legal argument had two prongs. First, that Virgin Islanders' have a kind of second-class citizenship in the United States; and second, that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld unique rights and special status for Native Americans and others, when the court finds there is a “compelling interest.”
“Virgin Islanders have citizenship by an act of Congress,” said Emanuel. “It’s a law, and a law can be overturned any time. Our citizenship is not guaranteed by the (U.S.) Constitution no matter how you turn it.”
Emanuel argued that, like many areas, as outsiders have come in, land prices have gone up to the point where those here originally can no longer afford to stay. But unlike other areas, he said, Virgin Islanders have no other place to go.
“I am dealing with only one issue: land,” Emanuel said. “Is that going to be our legacy as Virgin Islanders? To be born here and forced to leave?”
Not everyone was happy these matters were being injected into the conversation.
“Oh no, not this stuff again,” Claire Roker said. “It’s this sort of thing that derailed the last constitutional convention.”
Back Talk

Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,757FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons

Host Adisha Penn recaps the biggest headlines of the week while Source reporter Knema Willett joins USVI Division of Festivals Director Ian Turnbull in the studio for some behind-the-scenes info on the 2022 St. John Celebration. ... See MoreSee Less

Comment on Facebook

My only critique that nobody asked for, record videos horizontally 🖤

Load more
May 12, 2007 -- The question of a special legal status for native Virgin Islanders raised passions and heated debate at a seminar for potential delegates to this year’s upcoming territorial constitutional convention Saturday at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus.
The all-day seminar had a morning and an afternoon panel of lecturers, each panelist tackling a different aspect of the convention with a short, 15-minute talk. (For a history of prior conventions, see "Constitutional Conventions: What’s Gone Before".)
The political status of the Virgin Islands as an unincorporated U.S. territory, the lessons learned from the past four conventions, the pros and cons of various types of legislatures and native rights were among the lecture topics. After each panel finished, they took questions and comments from the audience.
Many of the audience statements dealt with the issue of both who is a native Virgin Islander and what that should mean. Former Sen. Adelbert Bryan was in the audience and spoke several times on the subject. Bryan argued those with historic and cultural roots in the Virgin Islands should be given a protected status and special rights along the same lines as those enjoyed by the First Peoples of Canada, the Inuit in Alaska, Native Americans in the continental U.S. and the native Hawaiian people.
Further, Bryan argued that those from the Virgin Islands are at a disadvantage to those who move here because they cannot pull up and go back home. Also, Bryan said, because of the territory’s ambiguous status as an unincorporated territory, those from the Virgin Islands don’t have full rights as U.S. citizens, while many who come here retain their voting rights back home.
“No one can convince me the U.S. will ever remove the word unincorporated from before the word territory here,” Bryan said. “Our sons go to Iraq, but they can’t vote for president … I can’t leave here if a hurricane comes. This is my home. I have no other home to go to.”
When asked later, Bryan said he did not equate V.I. citizenship with being a native Virgin Islander, so voting, holding political office and other rights of citizenship are not what he is concerned with.
“I want protection of our land and of our right to fish, to use the beaches and coast and to farm like we always have,” Bryan said.
Later in the program, panelist Gerard Emanuel, a teacher and former executive director for Public Education, V.I. Commission on Status and Federal Relations, spoke on native rights and hit many of the same points. After qualifying his remarks by saying he spoke only for himself as one native, Emanuel laid out his case for why natives need a special protected status, a legal rationale for such a status, and lastly argued that only natives should be writing the constitution, which he called a decolonizing activity.
“If this constitution gives this colony greater self-government, isn’t that a decolonizing activity?” Emanuel said. “Should persons who were not involuntarily colonized here or who made a conscious decision to move to this colony be eligible to participate in this decolonizing activity?”
Emanuel laid out a complex and inclusive definition of a native Virgin Islander, warning in advance that he made no claim either that it was logical or that it was written in stone. First, anyone born in the territory, and anyone who is a direct descendent of anyone born in the territory would automatically have status as native. Second, if you resided here or are descended from anyone who resided here between 1917 and 1927 who took on U.S. citizenship during that time, you qualify. This serves to note the uncertain status of local inhabitants after the territory transferred from Denmark to the U.S. During that decade, natives were in a kind of limbo, not having the option of Danish citizenship or any Danish roots, but not yet afforded U.S. citizenship. Lastly, Emanuel would offer those who move here status as natives after 18 years of residence.
“Someone born here has to wait 18 years before they can participate in the process,” Emanuel said. It’s a compromise, and it’s the most controversial part of this idea. I told you it wasn’t logical.”
“The native Virgin Islander is an endangered species,” Emanuel said. “We have protections for animals. We protect the bald eagle, but not people…. After Hurricane Hugo, planes came to take the Americans. But they didn’t mean all Americans; they only meant European Americans.”
Emanuel’s legal argument had two prongs. First, that Virgin Islanders' have a kind of second-class citizenship in the United States; and second, that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld unique rights and special status for Native Americans and others, when the court finds there is a “compelling interest.”
“Virgin Islanders have citizenship by an act of Congress,” said Emanuel. “It’s a law, and a law can be overturned any time. Our citizenship is not guaranteed by the (U.S.) Constitution no matter how you turn it.”
Emanuel argued that, like many areas, as outsiders have come in, land prices have gone up to the point where those here originally can no longer afford to stay. But unlike other areas, he said, Virgin Islanders have no other place to go.
“I am dealing with only one issue: land,” Emanuel said. “Is that going to be our legacy as Virgin Islanders? To be born here and forced to leave?”
Not everyone was happy these matters were being injected into the conversation.
“Oh no, not this stuff again,” Claire Roker said. “It’s this sort of thing that derailed the last constitutional convention.”
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.