In reference to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s veto of Bill No. 33-0364:
As president of Opi’a Taino and now kasike (chief) of the Guainia Taino Tribe of the Virgin Islands, I find it unfortunate that eight years of hard work has seemingly gone down the drain. But after seeing and reading exactly why the governor vetoed the bill I can understand why.
I also understand that it seems like he has never heard any of my testimonies concerning my reasons for seeking the recognition of the Taino people.
A few years ago, I requested that the original bill be amended to remove all the things that had nothing to do with the sole recognition of the indigenous Taino. My work and my purpose were solely for the recognition of the indigenous Taino people, who were taught to be extinct.
I have never been afforded the opportunity to speak face-to-face with Gov. Bryan. He has not heard or seen all the documentation I have given to former Sen. Myron Jackson. I do not take this personally. This bill started out for the recognition of the four waves of indigenous people of the Virgin Islands – the Ciboney, the Igneri (Arawaks), the Taino and the Caribs. I believe you have to walk before you can run.
The statement about the ID cards was too vague. I have explained that there is a process, even though it is not important to me as kasike (chief), the amount of your percentage of bloodline it is however important that you do your DNA to prove the bloodline. I have come to understand that some grandchildren will not carry their grandmother’s DNA.
Once those children have their grandmother’s oral stories and written stories they are accepted into the tribe. Our stories have ceased because we no longer value ourselves. It is my goal to continue the history, culture and traditions of a people that is taught to be extinct. My maternal great-grandmother was Taino, my paternal grandmother was a full-blooded Taino. There are 81 families from the line of my great-grandmother. Many of them through Tortola, BVI, because there is where the pirate took her.
Members of the Guainia Taino tribe of the Virgin Islands are given our tribal IDs, a certificate that shows their children, a number that links them to the United Confederation of Taino People. My request for a government-issued ID was so that we could use it for official business locally and elsewhere. That being said, with the recognition of the Taino people I believe that alone would give our IDs validity, therefore the government would not be needed.
I plan to submit to Gov. Bryan all the documents that he has not seen, which includes our governing documents, Tribal Council duties and tribal application and renewal application. I will also request a face-to-face meeting with him. I will pursue Gov. Bryan so that at least he would understand my journey.
No person individually is a tribe. Tribes are made up of a group of people who uphold a culture and safeguard its traditions. What I am trying to do is for future generations.
I understand there are perceived rights beyond identification and that, unfortunately, many people have abused this right by claiming to be a sovereign nation.
I understand Gov. Bryan is being cautious and by right he should be. I realize the innocence of this bill that I started back in 2012 was tainted when I heard many of the testifiers and their vision. Opi’a Taino and the Guainia Taino tribe of the Virgin Islands got caught up in something that we had nothing to do with. I was not invited to meetings that were pertinent to my cause, so therefore how could my words be heard how could my purpose be conveyed. This is why when I got a text telling me unfortunately the governor vetoed the bill I did not get angry I wanted to know simply what was his reason. To me, his reason was simply “too vague” because my paperwork explaining the process of membership into the Guainia Taino Tribe of the Virgin Islands was never conveyed to him. I also realize that this plight was no longer just me, Maekiaphan Phillips, fighting for the recognition of the Taino people that were primarily thought to be extinct.
This is not a loss for me. I just have to make sure that I present everything to the governor so he would have the whole picture concerning the Guainia Taino Tribe of the Virgin Islands and the purpose of our recognition is to validate the existence of a people taught to be extinct.
Oma Bahari, (with respect)
Kasike of the Guainia Taino Tribe of the Virgin Islands and president of Opi’a Taino International, Inc.