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The National Heroes debate



Another National Heroes Day/ Heritage Month is with us. Tomorrow, March 14th, having been officially designated National Heroes Day, is quite naturally the highlight of the many activities planned, and the hub around which they revolve. This year, it will not only be Paramount Chief Chatoyer, our only recognized National Hero who will be in the spotlight, but various activities will also focus on the lives and achievements of other prominent nation-builders.{{more}}

The official recognition of National Heroes Day is one of the best manifestations of the implementation of the popular will. For years, it was the organizations of the people who led the struggle to erase the bogus and shameful Discovery Day off our calendar. It was their constant advocacy and agitation which resulted in, first the NDP government as a half-way measure and then the ULP administration, giving Chatoyer and our heroes their rightful place in our history.

Yet seven years on, we have to find the means to deepen the process and to make national Heroes Day truly meaningful to all our people. Public education and popular sensitization are critical to this end. For while quantitatively there is undoubted greater awareness of the roles of Chatoyer, Mc Intosh, Mulzac and their successors on our development as a nation, it is difficult to say that there has been significant qualitative change, in terms of our understanding and appreciation of these historical forces.

For one, we have never quite been able to settle on criteria for the award of National Hero. In fact, save for Captain Hugh Mulzac, we are still largely tied to the concept of physical and political battle. Are these the only bases on which we must award the National Hero designation? Are those who made sterling and sometimes heroic contribution in the social field not worthy of such an honour? We need to discuss and debate these issues in far greater depth than we have done so far.

Failing this, we keep narrowing the debate, not just to personalities, but on a partisan basis at that. Those who support the ULP tend, to some degree (for there is not unity in the ULP camp on this), to advance the case for Robert Milton Cato our first Premier and first Prime Minister. Some of these regrettably reject the claims for Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, the tribune of the people of the fifties and sixties. On the other hand, the NDP camp not only holds aloft the Joshua banner, but some even attempt to pin the flag of NDP founder, Sir James Mitchell, on to this banner, while vehemently rejecting the claims of the Catoites.

Neither approach is worthy of conveying a National Hero status. We have a long, long way to go in this regard. It emphasizes the critical need for a more open ventilation of ideas on this subject and a concerted approach to public education on these matters.