Constitutional Review Commissioner Noni Georges said the topic of defining an “Indigenous Virgin Islander” has been raised by residents who have attended the public fora being held across the territory. But she said some people were recently cautioned that the word “indigenous” may not be appropriate.
“As Dr [Charles] Wheatley pointed out at one of our meetings, the term “indigenous” may not be textually correct,” Georges said as she addressed the controversial topic on the Talking Points radio show on December 5.
She didn’t give an explanation for what makes “indigenous” texually incorrect but some Caribbean historians believe the word “indigenous” should only be used to refer to the peoples who were living in the Caribbean before Europeans arrived in 1492.
Despite what historians say, some residents believe the next version of the constitution should further distinguish those who are “indigenous Virgin Islanders” — meaning people they agree have the closest ancestral ties to certain families of African descent who are regarded as founding families who built modern-day Virgin Islands.
In addressing the long-standing controversy relating to status in the BVI, Georges said much of the tension has been created by the British Nationality Act which doesn’t ascribe citizenship based on birth. She also pointed out that there isn’t much the BVI can do to change that law since British laws supersede those that are made locally.
“The British are the ones that have this ‘descent rule.’ They don’t subscribe to ‘you’re born here therefore you’re from here’. That comes through the British Nationality Act and this is where a lot of the tension comes in because those are rules that we (the BVI) cannot affect in the sense that our legislature cannot pass a law that will supersede the British Nationality Act,” Georges explained.
She added: “What we (the BVI) can affect is what we do with Belonger status and the policies and procedures and how polite or courteous we are when dealing with people in relation to that.”
At the same time, Georges said she believes it is time for the BVI to have mature conversations about what it means to be a Virgin Islander by heritage and a Virgin Islander as a nationality.
“We have to find a way to have these conversations and to distinguish between Virgin Islanders as a nationality status and Virgin Islander in terms of describing your heritage, your past, and things like that.” Georges explained.