Who is President Sylvanie Burton?
Getting to know Dominica's 10th Head of State and first female and first Kalinago President
Her Excellency Slyvanie Burton's story begins in the picturesque village of Crayfish River, where she and Louis Patrick Hill, a family member and a proud resident of the same village, were both born. In their close-knit community, Burton's family was always well-recognised and respected.
Growing up, like many other children in her village, Burton- Dominica's 10th president and the first female and Kalinago head of state- experienced a traditional Caribbean upbringing filled with agricultural endeavours, tending to banana plantations, exploring the lush surroundings of rivers, waterfalls, and bays, and learning the ways of life from fishermen.
Hill highlights that it was a beautiful country life filled with cultural richness and communal bonds.
She comes from a very large family, boasting seven sisters and three brothers. Her family ties extend far and wide, encompassing the Valmonds, the Burtons, the Sanfords, and the Greens, and connecting her to the entirety of the Kalinago people, from Bataca to Sineku as informed, her deep-rooted familial connections have played a crucial role in shaping her identity and her commitment to her community.
A Life of Service
According to Hill, Burton's ascent to the presidency was a natural progression of a lifetime dedicated to service and community development. He attests that Burton's sterling reputation in the Kalinago Territory is not solely due to her presidency.
Throughout her life, he shared that she has been revered for her contributions to the territory's development, struggles, and celebrations. She has been a pivotal figure in every major project, serving as the clerk of the council and offering invaluable advice to every chief during her tenure. Moreover, she leveraged her government position to assist numerous individuals within the community, embodying a spirit of true dedication and support.
A Woman of Faith and Family
Beyond her governance and community service roles, the new head of state is also labelled as a prominent figure within the Catholic Church. Many attest that she can be found in the pews on any Sunday morning. After her religious duties, she dedicates her time to visiting the sick and the elderly, exemplifying her compassionate and caring nature.
In her personal life, she has been happily married to Gilbert Burton for over three decades, and they share two children and, most recently, one grandchild. A Distinguished Career
Burton's journey to the presidency was paved with an illustrious career in public service.
Her journey commenced as a village council clerk, and she steadily progressed through various roles, including District Development Assistant, District Development Officer, and Development Officer.
She has served as Permanent Secretary in various ministries, including Community Development, Foreign Affairs, Trade, Youth and Social Services, and her final position as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Rural Modernization, Kalinago Upliftment, and Constituency Empowerment culminated with her historic elevation to the esteemed status of Dominica's highest office, the presidency.
Her Excellency also brings a wealth of experience as a Justice of the Peace, with over 25 years of service, and has dedicated more than two decades as a Lay Associate in the Roman Catholic Church. Her educational background includes a master's degree in Project Management and a bachelor's degree in Rural Development.
During her inaugural address to the nation, Her Excellency acknowledged the unprecedented dialogue sparked by her election as a Kalinago and a woman. Nevertheless, she reassured the country of her dedication to being "a president for all Dominicans, both here and abroad."
She pledged "not only for the Kalinago, not only for the women, but I will be a president for all–and let me emphasise all–the citizens of our beloved Dominica. I promise to serve you with the empathy nurtured over the hills and valleys of my journey. I will serve you with the courage of my ancestry. And most importantly, I will serve you with dignity and honour."
One of President Burton's significant commitments is to advocate for vulnerable women and children facing violations, abuse, and exploitation. She intended to use her office to foster an enlightened approach to addressing these vulnerable citizens' challenges.
Recognising the era of artificial intelligence and technological advancements, Burton expressed concerns about preparing the youth for a world of "self-driving vehicles, robotics, and cutting-edge technologies." She called upon the nation to guide and harness the energy and creativity of its youth to navigate this new technological landscape.
In the face of challenges such as climate change, global economic instability, the rise of artificial intelligence, and social divides, the President emphasised Dominica's need for visionary thinking, urging the government to continue its efforts to become the world's first climate-resilient nation. The former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Rural Modernization, Kalinago Upliftment and Constituency Empowerment, noted that the effects of climate change are real and that more intense hurricanes, reduced rainfall, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels threaten citizens' survival.
Therefore, she encouraged every citizen to plant as many trees as possible and to stop indiscriminately cutting down our forests.
"Let us all play our part to ensure the island remains pristine and greener for future generations. This is the message I intend to articulate often over the next five years," she said.
Meantime, during her address, she expressed her unexpected journey to the highest office in the land.
In her words, she "did not ask for this great honour. I did not aspire to it…I could have never imagined nor even dream about it." However, she drew inspiration from Proverbs chapter 19, verse 21, which reminds us that "many are the plans in a person's heart. But it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
She went on to acknowledge the historic and monumental nature of her presidency. She recognised the significance of this moment, not just for Dominica but also for her indigenous sisters and brothers worldwide.
(The Sun's attempt to draw a profile of Dominica's new President met several roadblocks. People who should know her background said they did not know, promised interviews vanished, and one person we contacted said she was ordered to say nothing to the press. Hence, the apparent limitations of our profile above).
-By Ronda Luke