This year, we celebrate under the theme: “Appreciating Our Identity: Preserving Our Heritage With Pride”. In the founding of any nation, there are those who make their mark that then become part of our history. They are the freedom fighters, they are builders of businesses and other institutions, the community-spirited men and women who seize every opportunity to serve their neighbours and friends to make life better for them; and leaders in other walks of life who forge a path forward for all of us. We stand upon their shoulders today, even as we, too, know we must do our part.
As a nation, we have decided to honor as national heroes those who make the greatest contributions. Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer is, of course, the first and, thus far, the only one so honored. No one else could have been first, as there is no better example of courage and sacrifice than his.
Lessons from Chatoyer
Notwithstanding that we are a small nation, our history is rich and complex. It contains many acts of courage and sacrifice that hold our foundation together and inspire us to continue to build upon it. Among the many identities of our people are those who have made their indelible mark in the soil and on the soul of our people— on the character of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Though we stand today as a proud and independent nation, we know all too well from our history and indeed, from current international events that national sovereignty is not guaranteed. It is a fragile ideal that is mostly won through struggle and must be defended at every turn. Chatoyer taught us that. In his time, the early struggles and wars fought for freedom were defined by alliances of like-minded people, who knew the value of freedom and cherished it. People who would never surrender or diminish for expedience or short-term gain, a nation’s right to self-determination.
As we celebrate National Heroes Day today and look to the future, it is fitting to remember our history and invoke the indomitable spirit of Chatoyer, for as the philosopher Santayana cautioned so many years ago, “…those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Chatoyer himself called upon us to unite as citizens and as brothers and sisters to build up and protect this land. Today, as we continue the never-ending task of nation-building, we must invoke that same spirit. In short, we must work together to build our country and do so as in the words and example of Chatoyer, as a united people. Today, we express that commitment in the familiar words: “One People, One Nation, One Vincy”.
There is no better time than Heroes Day to call upon our better angels and together pledge to lift our game for the common good. Transcend mediocrity and limited thinking and aim higher to consider how we are now or might become heroes in our own right. Every day offers us opportunity. It is for us to recognize them, embrace them and make them count—i.e. make the best of them.
I believe in the virtue of work, in the power of opportunity and the strength and noble character of our people. But we must all be passionate about fulfilling our potential and working for a better future, one in which we are safe, prosperous, and free. We work together so that everyone can succeed, no matter his or her background or beliefs and where we never surrender our patrimony or birthright. To surrender it would mean that Chatoyer struggled and died in vain, and we know that is not so. That’s why we call him a national hero.
Chatoyer’s proclamation was a call to arms in a time of war. The sovereignty of the Garifuna people was threatened. He rejected colonialism and its merciless march of conquest and subjugation of free, resilient people. His struggle was continued in different ways by our forebears over the centuries since, through the re-attainment of our independence in 1979 and in the years that followed. It was a struggle, we know, for freedom and sovereignty. A yearning of people from time immemorial, all over the world.
The lessons from Chatoyer’s time are crucially important today. Our world is challenged once again with large-scale conflict, this time in Ukraine. The aggression and expansionism this time is coming from Russia. The conflict is an invasion of a sovereign nation by a powerful aggressor in the largest war in Europe since the WWII.
The tragedy unfolds daily, inexorably. Many young soldiers on both sides are killed, and innocent civilians—women, children, the elderly and infirm— die in bombed out Ukrainian cities or while trying to flee! In addition to military installations, hospitals, schools, and residences have been shelled and bombed. Every day, the emerging video images show massive devastation, and the worse, we are told, is yet to come.
Because we are more interconnected than at any time in human history, the tremors of that war are already being felt here in SVG. Our nationals who serve in the armed forces of NATO countries— the USA and UK— will no doubt be called up and positioned in Europe to reassure NATO allies who fear a spreading conflict. The economic fallout also affects us with higher oil and other commodity prices. We must prepare for it to help to cushion the effects on our people, who have already been through so much hardship.
A war of aggression is a grotesque absurdity, especially in this modern era. With every moral fiber in our bodies, both individual and the collective, we must denounce it and oppose it. In doing so we will be upholding our proud legacy and the values we have defended throughout our history. We will, with freedom-loving people the world over, proclaim and defend the inalienable rights of men and women to be free, wherever they may be. Let us pray for peace in Ukraine and in every place where war rages.
(Excerpts from Dr. Friday’s Presentation on Heroes Day)