Every nation has its heroes. These are people who have furthered their Country’s standing through their struggle, herculean efforts, sacrifice and productive outputs.
The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis is no exception and it is fitting that on National Heroes Day our citizens and residents commemorate those who have left a lasting impression on our homeland of St. Kitts and Nevis. All five (5) national heroes were part of the independence struggle and had a role in fashioning its final outcome. We solemnly and respectfully remember our National Heroes and we thank them and their families for their work on our behalf. Our National Heroes represent our values, our collective history and through them we are reminded of who we are and our potential to be superior beings.
National Heroes Day
National Heroes Day is a public holiday. It was first observed in 1998. It is celebrated on the 16th of September, which is of course three days before St. Kitts and Nevis’ Independence Day.
This holiday is intrinsically linked to the National Honours Act, which established a trio of merit-based awards: the Order of the National Hero, the Companion of Star of Merit, and the Medal of Honour.
The Right Excellent Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw was posthumously made the first member of the newly created order, and this annual day of remembrance was earmarked for his birthday.
Since that first celebration, St. Kitts and Nevis has bestowed the Order of the National Hero on four other individuals: The Right Excellent Sir C. A. Paul Southwell and The Right Excellent Sir Joseph Nathaniel France in 2004; Dr. The Right Excellent Sir Simeon Daniel in 2013; and Dr. the Right Honourable and The Right Excellent Sir Kennedy Simmonds in 2015. Much has been said and written about all of our National Heroes and our Exhibition Centre provides information about each of our heroes.
The Right Excellent Sir Kennedy Simmonds is the first Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and is the only living person to receive this greatest honour. Perhaps it is Team Unity’s fresh start to a virtuous way of doing things that we have honoured Sir Kennedy while he is alive and well.
All our heroes displayed immense dedication and service to our country. Their passion and work on behalf of our people serve as the benchmark for all who seek office in St. Kitts and Nevis and light the way to delivering freedom, justice and welfare to the wonderful people of our islands.
Today we come to National Heroes Park to pay homage to all our national heroes and unify our country at this beautiful site, which we have transformed into a national landmark. The barren land, which some saw, has been transformed into something beautiful of which all persons – visitors, citizens and residents alike – can be proud. It is the hallmark way in which our Team Unity Government has been transforming our Country for the better and enriching our lives in all areas of human endeavour – housing, public infrastructure, sports and culture, healthcare, religion and so on in keeping with the values and work of our national heroes. National Heroes are exactly that. They are our heroes, the people’s heroes and our country’s great assets. Attempts to keep them in the pigeonhole of party politics and ownership not only diminish our national heroes but impoverish the very country that they tried to enrich. It is sad that some misguided leaders still wish to continue on the part of hubris and division rather than building national unity, national consensus and an ennobling ethos of all for one and one for all in nation building.
Here at National Heroes Park all our heroes cohabit a single beautiful space of distinction and reverence for their work individually and collectively. The work and contribution of all are honoured and respected. This is the right and proper thing to do, and I am very happy that Team Unity has provided strong enlightened leadership on the honouring of our National Heroes, thereby giving honour to whom it is due.
We will together also make determinations regarding how we can immortalize the contribution of several other persons who have inspired our nation. Among these are Kim Collins our sports legend, Kenrick Georges the author and composer of our national anthem and legendary musician, Elston “Ellie Matt” Nero musician and calypsonian extraordinaire, Keith “Kayamba” Gumbs and Atiba Harris in sports, and Zack Nisbett in culture and heritage for outstanding contribution to nation building.
Heroes are important, for the task of anchoring and building a nation. This is so whether they are political or religious leaders, entertainers, or athletes. They serve a purpose in our society and they help to give our people hope and provide examples for success. Through the story of their successes (and indeed their failures too) other people can understand their talents and their will to succeed. Others are inspired by their heroism and moral leadership.
Perhaps nothing is more powerful than the power to inspire.
In our daily lives, what we ourselves do, as captains of industry and commerce or members of the medical or any other fraternity, can evoke a spirit of heroism, which in turn creates a climate of hope, which can help facilitate change for the better.
We are a developing nation and we work diligently to advance our Federation. Our National Heroes have left us their example showing us how to serve our people and how to deliver progress, enlightenment and hope. In their stories, we can all take pride and learn. To be sure, none of them found themselves conflicted between their loyalty for St. Kitts and Nevis and their loyalty to another Country. Such was their patriotism and love for St. Kitts and Nevis.
Today we celebrate our national heroes and all other unsung heroes for their contribution to nation building. Our Governor General has approved the following recipients of National Honours Awards. I ask that we give each of them a round of applause for their service to our country.
Companion of the Star of Merit Recipients
- Dr. Calvin Hazel – for Spiritual Development and Advancement of our People
- Bishop Joseph Henville – for Religion and Community Development
- Mr. Erstein Edwards – for Public Service and Diplomacy
- Mr. Augustine Merchant – for Agricultural Development in Service to the Nation
- Mr. Bruce Skerritt – for Music locally, regionally and internationally
Medal of Honour Recipients
- Mrs. Marilyn Guishard Bertie – for Education and Religion
- Mr. Lester Blackett – for Sports
- Mrs. Yvette Slack – for Pre-School Education and Community Activism
- Mr. Antonio Liburd – for Culture
- Mr. Evered (Webbo) Herbert – for Broadcasting
- Mrs. Arabella Nisbett – for Farming
- Mrs. Earlene Maynard – for Education
- Mr. Anthony Evelyn – for Ongoing Efforts to Enhance the Cause of Building Contractors
- Ms. Julietta Martin – for Performing Arts (Dance)
- Mrs. Alice Swanston – for Education and Community Outreach
- Mr. Oswald Elliott – for Education
- Mr. Michael (Mic Heyliger) Stokes – for Musical Production and Artistry
Let us applaud again all of the awardees and wish them well.
We should not forget our past
As we consider our future and plan the way ahead, we should never forget our past. The sacrifices which were made by our forebears in the struggle against slavery, colonialism and racial discrimination are important in understanding who we are today. It is right that we remember and recognise the significance of their struggle as the foundation of our sovereign State. They were our drum-majors for freedom and human rights, and a voice for workers at the workplace. As a Nation, we have had our trials and tribulations but importantly we have triumphed and emerged independent and free.
There has been significant progress in the socio-economic development and the personal advancement of our people. Our national heroes would be pleased at how we have consolidated our economic freedom, enlarged it and created a better standard of living for thousands of people in the short period of less than five years.
The historic launch of Team Unity in September 2013 clearly demonstrated that when individuals put aside their personal differences, opinions and desires out of a genuine love of Country they are actually able to vividly realize how very similar we all are, especially when charting a shared vision for the betterment of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. This shared vision has brought the pay out of over EC $16 million to over 2,000 sugar workers. Sir Robert Bradshaw smiled at our generosity to former sugar workers. This group of workers benefited immensely from his struggles for a better St. Kitts and Nevis. It has brought housing support to over 3,000 families – the best ever performance in history. It has brought the largest ever investment in our people’s education. Over 300 beneficiaries of state supported tertiary education for the period September 2018 and now. This year we have embarked upon the largest public sector infrastructure investment in our history. Our people’s lives are being transformed for the better. The perennial problem of poverty was struck a blow when we provided our households on low income with a stipend of $500 monthly.
The working of our Team Unity government shows the power of ordinary men and women coming together to create opportunities for all and, in so doing, ensuring that our children will not only have a secure future but a proud and prosperous legacy which will one day be theirs to govern, love and cherish. Team Unity was not and is not about privileges for a few. It is about opportunities for all because we are better together! It is not about one island. It is about our two islands, one Federation reaching its potential for greatness.
It is important we recognise that we must build a better future for all our people. We all need to accept and acknowledge that the values of justice, fairness, tolerance, non-discrimination and respect of all persons without regard to race, class, gender, religion, political affiliation etc. are the bedrock of our democracy and good governance. Tomorrow we will debate two (2) bills in our Parliament. The No Confidence Bill and the Constitutional Amendment Bill on the Tenure of the Prime Minister will advance our democracy for the benefit of our people and build upon the legacy of our national heroes.
I am reminded of the reflections of Sir Kennedy on March 16, 1983 when he served notice of our imminent independence on 19th September. He said then “It is not the Constitution which will make the people of this country. It is the people of this country who must make our constitution meaningful. Let us take what is good, what is progressive, what is meaningful and use it for the development of the country.” These two (2) bills on good governance are two (2) excellent examples of what is good, progressive and in sync with the development agenda of our beloved country.
As people who truly love this land of ours, I encourage all of us to work together to place our country on a firmer footing in order to take our rightful place as a leader on the regional and international stage. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis is leading the sub-region on the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2019 and we are a global example on several indicators. We have the highest per capita GDP in the OECS and the second highest in CARICOM. We aim to lead the world in the implementation of our prosperity and good governance agenda.
Today, we honour our heroes and will use their legacy to inspire us to make the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis the best managed small island state.
May God Bless Us All.