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CURB backs land grabs probe

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

CURB applauds the announcement by the Premier, The Hon. David Burt, on the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the historic losses of citizens’ property in Bermuda.

This is a historic and important announcement and a part of what CURB sees as a national healing, which includes acknowledging the harm, loss and trauma of the past, whilst looking at ways to repair the damage that was done.

Understanding that land is crucial to a people’s economic development, the denial of access to land historically, and then the dispossession of property that occurred following Emancipation up until contemporary times, undergirds the ongoing economic disparity today.

CURB sees the establishment of this Commission as one part of a process that the people of this country need and must go through in order to find a way forward, hopefully together.

The history of white colonial land dispossession is documented worldwide, and Bermuda had its own form of dispossession, which resulted in poverty, homelessness, insecure land tenure, and the destruction of communities and the undermining of personal and collective identities.

Land ownership in Bermuda was skewed by historical practices that favored giving/selling land along racial lines or to the connected few. Legislation targeting people of African Bermudian descent was passed ensuring that land ownership was denied for years. This was followed by resolutions, proclamations, and laws which played a key role in legitimizing land/property dispossession, the Tuckers’ Town land grab in the early 1900s being a prime example and the taking of land from St. David Islanders in the 1940s.

Land grabbing needs to be understood in the context of power and the desire for profit, this overrides existing meanings and uses of land that were rooted in local communities.

This history of land dispossession and segregation were key to the creation of a racially and spatially divided Bermuda. Addressing the trauma and legacies of that past is essential to not only helping repair the harm that was done but is needed to bring about acknowledgement and closure around a shameful part of our history.

We urge that part of the Commission’s mandate is to collect and collate narratives from the people of Bermuda to create a historical record of what occurred and happened. It may be that many of these stories are unable to be validated by documents or the ‘proof’ required by the legal system to correct past injustices. However, part of the healing process must be in the telling and recording of these stories so that it is not forgotten, and future generations understand the injustices of the past and acknowledge the need for racial equity and justice moving forward.

We urge both political parties to ensure that the Commission is not used as a political football, and instead embrace and support the need for this reparative work for our society to heal.

Press release from CURB