A bill allowing for the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office to establish criteria recognizing the U.S. Virgin Islands indigenous tribes as official Indian tribes of the territory was approved in committee Monday.
The Senate Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, and Aging Committee forwarded the measure during Monday’s hearing. If signed into law, the bill also calls for a Virgin Islands Indigenous Tribe Identification Card to be issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, garnered support from both testifiers and legislators.
Kasike Roberto Múkaro Agüeibaná Borrero, the president of the United Confederation of Taíno People, said the bill would be akin to the state-level recognition in the United States mainland.
“Official territorial recognition of the indigenous peoples of the Virgin Islands would also support the implementation of both the United Nations and the Organization of American States Declarations, which welcome the fact that indigenous peoples are organizing themselves for political, economic, social, and cultural enhancement in order to bring to an end all forms of discrimination and oppression wherever they occur,” Borrero said.
Official recognition could help provide educational opportunities for tribal members and potential pathways for economic opportunities “that would increase the potential to assist not only tribal members, but other citizens of the territory as well.”
Sen. Alicia Barnes said the importance of the indigenous people cannot be minimized and their influences have been ingrained in Virgin Islands culture.
Though the measure has wide support, Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Barbara Macintosh said there were some logistics to be thought about.
While the Bureau of Motor Vehicles is capable of producing the proposed identification cards, it would come at a cost.
“The BMV software will have to be edited to allow for another template to be used in addition to our current templates. I am assuming that there will be logo and other details that will be specific to the tribe. The initial cost to the BMV will be at least $15,000,” Macintosh said.
By Macintosh’s estimate, she said the $15,000 should suffice for the production of the template, the software vendor’s man-hours, testing, and training.
“The proposed fee of $55 will be adequate to cover the ongoing supplies and maintenance cost, but there must be some consideration for the stated upfront vendor payment, supplies, and other incidentals,” Macintosh said.
Jackson said his own lineage is indigenous to the region, and for that reason he urged his fellow lawmakers to approve the measure.
“Please help me. I want to be recognized as the indigenous people. A member of people I belong to, original people of this territory,” Jackson said.
He added that the same discussions surrounding indigenous people and even reparations are taking place around the world, “from Hawaii to Australia, Greenland, Africa to Asia. We have to empower ourselves.”
Sens. Jackson, Barnes, Dwayne DeGraff, Javan James, Oakland Benta, Steven Payne Sr., and Athneil Thomas were present for the hearing.