By Miranda La Rose
T&T Newsday | Wednesday, September 18 2013
MAKING HER POINT: Deborah Koylass of Penal, makes a point
at a meeting of the First People in Arima on Monday night...
A United Nations advisor to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is advising that the State turns over the remains of bones found recently under the Red House to the local indigenous people for a proper burial.
The advisor, St Lucian-born Albert Deterville is also advising that the remains should not be placed in a museum.
Addressing members of the Partners for First People’s Development on Monday evening at the Photo House building in Arima, Deterville said,
“Normally what happens, when the remains of indigenous peoples are found, the State turns over the remains to the descendants of the remains, or to indigenous peoples. I would hope that the State in its wisdom would do so.”
Stating he does know what the State will do, he said, “I hope that a proper burial would be executed for the remains that were found, and that they are not be placed in a museum.”
He has always questioned, he said “why anthropologists and archeologists are so interested in the history and past of the indigenous peoples, and like to keep their bones, but they do not take the bones of other ethnic groups.”
The bones of the dead, he said “are sacred and it is disrespect for the bones to be kept by somebody who has no relationship with it.”
Noting he will support the decisions of the indigenous community on what should be done about the historical remains, he said he intended to hold discussions yesterday with officials of the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism on the implications of the find, as well as, to raise a number of issues with respect to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
On March 26, 2013 during initial excavation work undertaken as part of the restoration of the Red House — the country’s seat of governance — a number of skeletal remains, cultural and historical artifacts were found on the site. Subsequently, a composite of material comprising human bones, fragments of animal bones, shells, pottery and other artifacts were discovered and extracted from the soil in other areas at the Red House.
Another indigenous group, the Santa Rosa First People’s Indigenous Community on July 14 performed a spiritual ritual to “appease the spirits” of bones disturbed during works at the site. They were given approval by officials of the House Cultural Heritage Team, a Cabinet-appointed committee to manage aspects of the historical find.
The issue of land and land titles to indigenous communities, Deterville said was another “vexing problem” faced by indigenous communities, not only in TT, but in other parts of the region, and the world. He was surprised, he said, when last year, the UN representative in Geneva boasted that TT had granted 25 acres of land to the indigenous community in Trinidad.
The statement made by the representative in Geneva, he said, was made against the background that the Government of TT was protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples of TT, and as such gave them 25 acres of land. His statement evoked some laughter from the audience.
Noting that he was concerned about the dignity and respect for indigenous peoples, he said he questioned if the lands were titled and vested with the indigenous community and the response was in the negative.
“How many hundreds of thousands of acres of land are in Trinidad and Tobago for the Government to be handing over only 25 acres to the rightful owners of the country?” he asked.