17 October 2013

First Peoples hold the key: Protection of our natural environment.

First Peoples hold the key. Protection of our natural environment.
By Heather Dawn-Herrera
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Oct 17, 2013 at 12:58 AM ECT

As the events of Amerindian Heritage Week unfold we continue to be privy to smoke ceremonies, water rituals, and ceremonies to ancestral spirits of Anaparima or San Fernando Hill and much more. From the just concluded conference we learned much about the relationship between man and nature, how God manifests in all things natural.

The life of First Peoples the world over revolves around nature. In Central and South America, even as far as Australia, First Peoples are heavily dependent on nature. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, First Peoples have adapted to some extent to ways of life set upon us by our colonial past. Yet that is just on the face of things. Our First Peoples still practise their traditional ways of life as is evident in their contribution to our cuisine, spirituality, health and wellness of our natural environment, and much more.

My question is, is our natural environment being taken for granted in this modern day world even by our First Peoples?

As Dr Brinsley Samaroo observed at the conference, Nature was abundant before the coming of Europeans into the Caribbean. There was never a problem with lack of natural resources. There was generation and regeneration in the circle of life that our First Peoples lived.

Ricardo Bharath Hernandez Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community spoke of the intimate connection that First Peoples have with nature.

First Peoples culture and spirituality is nature-based. God manifests through nature. We cannot exist without fire and water because we have these elements in us. Without them we cannot survive.”

My question is are we taking these basic gifts for granted in today’s world?

Because we live on two small islands Trinidad and Tobago, our lands are limited. We look around and see the extensive quarrying of our watersheds in important places such as Guanapo, Tapana and Blanchisseuse, some of our last remaining pristine areas.

Blanchisseuse is the very area where a minimal amount of land has been returned to our First Peoples. Our watersheds are not as inexhaustible as we may think especially in this period of the onset of climate change and the continuing abuse of man on our natural resources. We need water to survive. Water is life and it gives life.

We look around and see heavy deforestation across our landscape. We need our forested hills and valleys for food, shelter and medicines and much more. The threat of denudation of our natural landscape is very real. The air we breathe, the very survival of life forms that form the chain of life in our support system are threatened. This is far more serious than we think.

Cristo Adonis, Pyai of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community gave some insights into protection of the natural environment as practised by our First Peoples, some of which are no longer present in today’s existence.

We share the earth with other entities; fish, animals plants. We were taught to respond to all these things. Harmony in diversity. We ask permission of the plant when we approach it for medicinal uses. When we hunt, we hunt only for survival. All parts of the animal caught must be used and shared. Nothing is wasted because everything is sacred. This preservation of all things natural was destroyed by the invaders and now they are making more laws and setting boundaries.”

What needs to be done now is for a national call to be made for the protection of what remains of our natural environment. To this column’s mind, this is the most important decision that must be made before anything else. Preservation of what remains of our watersheds, our aquifers, and our rain forested hills and valleys must be enforced by declaring sanctuaries of them all.

The minimal amount of lands returned to the First Peoples does not have that vital presence of life support water, that precious element that is so basic for the activities that have been listed as part of the recreation of the life of the First Peoples Village.

Given the history of sustainable use of our natural environment, respect for nature and co existence with all forms of life, lands returned to our First Peoples must be increased to include a number of sanctuaries that only our First Peoples have the knowledge and practice to preserve.

As citizens struggling for equal importance in Trinidad and Tobago, our First Peoples must be given the chance to contribute to the health, wellness and productivity of our land. Our land must return to one of abundance as we see from the examples set by our First Peoples, examples that must be studied and emulated by all.

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