The second annual Heroes and Foreparents Day passed on Monday with little fanfare, but leaders shared messages of appreciation and hope on social media. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

For the second annual Heroes and Foreparents Day on Oct. 17, the government’s official observance consisted of a speech by the premier and a digital poster that quickly drew criticism because it depicted only men.

No ceremony or other activities were held.

The holiday — which was renamed from Heroes and Forefathers Day after the first year of celebration in 2021 — honours the movers and shakers in the territory’s history who helped shape the Virgin Islands into what it is today. It replaced St. Ursula’s Day.

“This holiday was conceived as a means of recognising outstanding Virgin Islanders for their contributions to our society,” Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said in a statement on Oct. 17. “As we reflect on the findings of the Commission of Inquiry and seek to improve areas of governance where we have identified weaknesses, it is important to remember that we have also made tremendous progress.”

He recounted the history of the “triumphant spirit of the Virgin Islander” through the cruelties of slavery, the collapse of the plantation economy, and industrious development of livelihoods by foreparents. He also recognised their work in activism, political development and other nation-building efforts.

“We did it,” he stated. “We planted; we grew; we reaped; we shifted livestock; we built sloops; we stocked our vessels; we traversed the ocean; we traded with neighbours; we went through the window; we cut cane. We overcame. Our foreparents are heroes, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for laying the foundation for our success.”

Dr. Wheatley added that Cabinet has established a committee to compile a list of national heroes that will be the basis for teaching students about their history.

Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles joined in the celebration on social media.

“As young as it may be, our territory has seen exponential progress in its economic and social development over the course of its brief history,” she wrote on Oct. 17. “We owe our advancement and success over the years to our foreparents, the legendary men and women of decades gone, who championed the cause of national development, unity and identity.”

Female representation

Besides Dr. Wheatley’s statement, the one official recognition of the holiday came in the form of a celebratory poster the government published on social media, thanking the men and women who built the VI for their outstanding contributions.

“We thank them for their role in the 1949 demonstrations and the restoration of the Legislative Council,” it stated. “We also pause to honour and recognise other pioneers and outstanding community servants in agriculture, health, business, politics, public administration, the arts and religion, as we promote our culture, heritage and history.”

However, despite the move to rename the holiday this year by changing “forefathers” to “foreparents,” community members noted that the poster neglected to include any women in the nine leaders pictured.

Author Dr. Patricia Turnbull wished everyone a happy holiday in a Facebook post but added, “That picture/representation though — BVI women and nonpoliticians are heroes too, and our images ought to reflect that.”

Former Deputy Financial Secretary Wendell Gaskin made a similar point on Facebook.

“What happened to the ladies: Honourable Eileene Parsons, Delores Christopher, Ethlyn Smith, Millicent Mercer?” he asked.

Past celebration

Last year in observance of the holiday, the VI Studies Institute and the Department of Culture hosted a virtual panel, which discussed various ways to celebrate the holiday each year.

The panellists also examined some key points in history, including the plantation era, the territory’s most famous insurrections and the years after emancipation.

One panellist, Culture Director Dr. Katherine Smith, encouraged the community to continue making progress by reading “through records in the past and [constructing] our own narrative … from our perspective and our own lived experience and our own sources.”