Kudos to the government for drafting the five-year Virgin Islands Culture and Heritage Policy and Strategy, which promises to preserve, revitalise and study a cultural heritage that has been neglected for hundreds of years.

Now that public consultations are complete, the document should be finalised and adopted as soon as possible. But that’s just a first step. Though the 99-page policy itself is impressive, the hardest part will be following it.

That will require money, time and sustained commitment from leaders who have long paid lip service to VI culture without adequately supporting its protection and development.

The draft provides a laudable roadmap for the way forward. Particularly impressive are its dozens of specific goals, which the public would be able to use to gauge success and hold leaders accountable.

They include wide-ranging measures such as raising money for museums; creating new heritage legislation; documenting local folklore; developing a national heroes programme; designating and mapping historical sites; committing a portion of the tourism budget each year to cultural development; implementing a National Museum Act; and many more.

Such measures are badly needed here. Much of the VI’s heritage is rooted in African traditions and beliefs that were deliberately supressed by a racist colonial system that enslaved Africans and prioritised European values. The damage has been incalculable.

But the oppression didn’t succeed in obliterating cultural traditions entirely. To understand that much, one need only hear the language spoken on the territory’s streets; attend the August Emancipation Festival; watch a fungi concert; eat a local meal; or listen to elders recount traditional tales of the spider Anansi or the legendary cow-foot woman.

But many such traditions are fading, and they are often poorly understood because of an egregious lack of scholarship.

Though good work in this area has been done in recent decades, it usually has come in the form of isolated projects carried out by a few committed individuals who have not received the level of institutional support they really need. One notable — but also under-supported — exception is the Virgin Islands Studies Programme at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. We are glad to see that the draft policy recommends expanding it.

Overall, then, the document is an important step in the right direction. But given successive governments’ history of passing well-conceived strategies and then ignoring them, the policy alone will certainly not be good enough.

Questions of culture are inextricably linked to questions about the past and future of this territory’s people. It’s high time that the VI accelerated the difficult work required to find answers for the way forward.

And whatever is decided, the territory’s rich culture should have pride of place at every level of society.