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More National Heroes? Shouldn’t we be digesting our first bite?

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In keeping with its self-imposed commitment, the ULP administration has launched a process by which the exalted status of National Hero is to be conferred on persons in addition to our lone hero thus far, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer. This process is expected to be concluded by National Heroes Day 2013.{{more}}

On National Heroes Day this year, PM Gonsalves announced that a nine-person Committee is to be established, charged with the responsibilities of (a) receiving and considering nominations for persons to be put on the National Heroes’ pedestal; and (b) carrying out investigations to determine persons on whom the honour may be conferred. Consistent with the policy of involvement of civil society in governance, non-governmental organisations are to be given the opportunity to name three of the nine members of the Committee.

Several names of candidates for the nation’s highest honour have been suggested, amongst them six persons mentioned by the PM. These are: the first Chief Minister Of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ebenezer Theodore Joshua; our first Prime Minister Robert Milton Cato; trade unionists George McIntosh and Elma Francois. Captain Hugh Mulzac who broke the colour barrier in the US merchant navy; and educator John Parmenas Eustace.

From the moment that the decision was taken to name National Heroes, there was no doubt who would have been the first choice, not for chronological reasons, but because the credentials of Chief Chatoyer are impeccable in defending national sovereignty. That has been a unanimous choice with those who may, unfortunately still blinded by colonial prejudice, be afraid to voice their biases. So it has remained thus far.

We are now about to embark on the route at the end of which Chatoyer will have to share his precious stage with others, presumably from among those aforementioned. It will be a momentous act of tremendous historical and social significance. For that reason alone, we have to ensure that the process is as thorough and as flawless as it can be. Thankfully, the Order of the National Heroes Act, Section 10 has provided guidelines which stipulate qualifications for the honour.

From the outset, it seems fairly certain that it would be difficult to arrive at unanimity in the choice. That is the first risk we must take. Secondly, in a country where there is no “official” historical record, not even agreed-upon local history books to teach our children our history, one needs to do a comprehensive public education campaign if we are to get our people to recognize the tremendous nation-building contribution of outstanding patriots, as a prelude to any acceptance of them as National Heroes. Even in the case of Chatoyer, there is still a lot to be done in this regard.

Due to this fact we are not sufficiently cognisant of the importance of National Heroes day. For too many people, it is a holiday, like others, as can be gauged by the many fetes organized to celebrate the day. The official wreath-laying ceremony lacks mobilisation appropriate for such an occasion. Just consider the level of mobilisation by political parties for their big rallies or Conventions. Can’t they engage in similar exercises for this supreme occasion?

For a whole month leading up to March 17, the state-owned radio station organized a media blitz to promote its “Love Boogie” fete. That is all well and good, especially in view of the purpose of the proceeds, to assist persons in need of medical assistance. But couldn’t at least half of a similar effort been expended on promoting National Heroes Day?

I say this because I am convinced that we are yet to make the honouring of Chatoyer the national occasion that it deserves. For me, we must get this right before embarking on any other appointments. There is no hurry; all the persons to be considered are already dead, so it is not as though we are in a haste to honour someone before he/she dies. If you swallow your food without chewing and mastication, you are bound to get indigestion. That is where we are heading with this one-year timetable.

We must ensure that the pedestal on which Paramount Chief Chatoyer is placed is worthy of his unparalleled contribution before we place others to share the space. Let us put Chatoyer and National Heroes Day on a sound footing while we continue the public education, debate and discussion about others. History will judge us kindly for getting it right.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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