21 December 2012

Santa Rosa Community gets 25 acres of land...Plans for cultural centre, museum.

Santa Rosa Community gets 25 acres of land...Plans for cultural centre, museum.
By Irene Medina | Trinidad Express Newspapers | Dec 21, 2012 at 9:57 PM ECT

Their 30-year-long wait has ended.

Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez, is thanking the People's Partnership Government for a dream come true in its award of 25 acres of land along the Blanchisseuse Main Road to the indigenous community to construct a heritage village.

"We have been lobbying for this for 30 years now…and it feels very good indeed that we are one step closer to establishing a proper home for the First Peoples' Community," Bharath-Hernandez told the Express yesterday.

Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration Clifton De Coteau made the announcement in Tobago last Thursday at a post-Cabinet meeting on the island.

According to Bharath-Hernandez, this decision by the Government "shows that something is happening and, at long last, the Community will get an opportunity to put something together to preserve and showcase the heritage and culture of the first people."

He said the announcement was not a surprising one since a year ago Cabinet took the first decision to award the land, but it had to go through several processes.

"I am happy to know that it has gotten to the stage where the portion of land will be surveyed, after which we will move towards developing it," the chief added.

He said the major aim is to have an indigenous industry and ideas are already being collated to form a business plan to move the dream of their own cultural and business space forward.

"We want to have a cassava factory where we will process cassava bread and farine, as well as a handicraft centre to showcase the arts and crafts of our community members so that visitors and tourists can buy.

"Our plans also include the construction of a guest house to accommodate our brothers and sisters; an indigenous museum and a meeting place and cultural centre where we can showcase all things indigenous," Bharath-Hernandez explained.

Plans also include an official residence for the Carib Queen, as well as for other indigenous members who will be responsible for manning the heritage centre and will incorporate agriculture and some aspects of wild life farming, the chief explained.

Bharath-Hernandez, a former PNM deputy mayor of the Arima Borough, heads a community of approximately 600 descendants of the first peoples of which some 90 are active members of the community.

He said, while the group has not heard from Minister De Coteau officially on the matter, he is assured that he will be formally notified sometime during or after the festive season.

14 October 2012

Carib Chief complains of neglect. 'Community not getting recognition.'

Carib Chief complains of neglect. 'Community not getting recognition.'
By Louis B Homer
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Oct 14, 2012 at 10:50 PM ECT

Carib Chief Ricardo Hernandez-Bharath yesterday launched a scathing attack on those responsible for ignoring and neglecting the plight of the First Peoples of Trinidad at the launch of Amerindian Heritage Week.

In his address, held at the banks of the Arima River at Roland's Place, Wilson Street on the Blanchisseuse Road, Hernandez-Bharath said, "We are no longer populations like animals for management, but we must now be seen as peoples with rights. We are not child-like. We are not children who must be wards of the State to be administered to by paternalistic policies."

He said despite efforts by missionaries and governments to "commit genocide...we have survived this and we are distinct people, not because we arrived, but survived."

Hernandez-Bharath added, "In many parts of the world, we have distinct identities and we continue to occupy and share ancestral lands."

He said, in the eyes of social scientists and missionaries, "We have moved from being uncivilised savages, beasts of the fields and subhuman species to the status of humans."

In his emotional speech, Hernandez-Bharath said the challenge in Trinidad and Tobago for the development of an indigenous policy based on the recognition of the notion in indigeneity makes the First People distinctive.

"We are not just a racial minority, we are more than just elements or members of a multicultural society and we make a distinct status based on indigeneity."

He referred to the 25 acres of land granted by the Government as an important beginning, but there is still much to be done to the descendants of the First People.

He said if an acceptable level of recognition were not granted to the community he would not be present at next year's Heritage Day festival.

"I will not be around if things do not improve for the community," he said.

Hernandez-Bharath said it was an insult to the First People that on the eve of the launch of the celebration the Government had not yet decided on the allocation for the festival.

The festival was postponed by a week because of late funding.

"Others who came after have been given suitable recognition," he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, Embau Moheni, Minister in the Ministry of National Diversity, said his government is in the process of developing a programme that will give status to the First Peoples.

"It will be one of the priority projects that my Ministry will undertake," he said.

Rodger Samuel, MP for Arima, was unable to attend the function but his greetings were relayed via telephone.

The launch was preceded by a smoke ceremony held at the feet of the statue of Carib warrior Hyarima outside the Arima Velodrome.

Among those who brought greetings were Amerindians from Guyana, Suriname and Miami.

Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar attended the ceremony along with her contingent of the Santa Rosa Cairb Community.

02 September 2012

Carib Queen to descendants: Get involved.

Carib Queen to descendants: Get involved.
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Sep 2, 2012 at 10:54 PM ECT

Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar is pleading with young people of Amerindian descent to get involved in the work and traditions of the Indigenous Community.

Speaking with the media at the 226th Anniversary of the Carib festival of Santa Rosa De Lima yesterday, Cassar said her main focus at this time is to sensitise young people who are of Amerindian blood to be a part of the community.

"We are pleading for them to come and join with us, because as seniors we will not be here forever and we need to pass on the traditions onto the younger folks."

Cassar said she also wants to see the indigenous people playing a more active role in the government.

"We have the ear of the government but we need to do a little more," she said.

She also called for unity among the three groups that make up descendants of Amerindians which she said have already reached a mutual understanding.

"We have been meeting with the two other groups one off the southwestern peninsula and the other in Arima in the past and have reached a memorandum of understanding and that has not been signed on yet but they are a part of us.

"And they are going to be celebrating with us on a united front at the Amerindian Heritage Festival on October 14," Cassar added.

30 August 2012

Amerindian etching defaced.

Amerindian etching defaced.
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Aug 30, 2012 at 12:53 AM ECT

When Cristo Adonis, the Pyai of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, took a small tour group to the site of the petroglyphs at Caurita, he certainly was not prepared for the sight that awaited them atop the hill. The surface of the stone that bore the Amerindian etchings had been freshly dressed with oil paint.

Adonis had taken a group that included a teacher and an MPhil student of the University of the West Indies into the hills of Caurita to visit the famous site. According to Adonis, from the start of the trek, he noticed that the previously overgrown trail to the site had been cleared. This told him that people were in the area recently.

As they climbed their way up the hill, Adonis shared his intimate knowledge of the area to the group, describing the healing powers of certain plants, the significance of resident flora and fauna to indigenous cultures and climaxing it all with a dispensation on the Caurita Petroglyph.

When the group reached the site, shock registered on all their faces as they saw the desecration wrought on the surface of the stone. Some one or some people had painted the etchings in stark white oil paint.

According to Adonis, the indigenous community regards this petroglyph as having special spiritual significance and it is a large part of ancestral life that we are now beginning to understand.

"I felt my whole spirit gone!"

Usually when people visit the site they find that the etchings are slightly covered by mosses. This is always cleared away easily so that the figures could be discernible. For photographic purposes, chalk is used to highlight the depictions as this quickly and easily disappears soon after. The oil paint however has permanence.

Adonis had just recently deciphered an important part of the etchings that had previously gone unnoticed. Adonis recognised the hawk. The hawk is of spiritual significance to the Amerindian peoples, so too does the deer.

The more prominent depictions such as the deer, fish, portraits with ceremonial head dress, the waterfall and other figures have all been acknowledged by the indigenous community of present day Amerindian descendants. Etchings of the hawk however went unnoticed until the Pyai discovered it.

This discovery of the hawk by Adonis goes one step further in interpreting the petroglyph as a whole.

"This hawk was not oil painted over because whoever did this did not make it out. Thank God for that!"

The petroglyph at Caurita stands as a monument of special significance to descendants of Amerindian ancestry. The community is at present lobbying for this site to be declared a National Heritage Site.

Adonis has promised to make another trip up to the site to try to clean the oil paint off the stone.

02 February 2012

Racial Discrimination: The Caribs, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Nations

In at least two previous articles I discussed the responses and positions taken by successive governments of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago with respect to the nature and extent of recognition of the Indigenous presence in the country, particularly in response to queries from the United Nations and in connection with the failure to admit a Carib or Amerindian or Indigenous category in the national census (see: "Does Trinidad Recognize Its Indigenous People?" and "News about Trinidad's Caribs and the State"). What I want to do now, after a delay of a few years, is to go into greater depth concerning the details of Trinidad's responses to the UN, and the questions that have been posed to successive Trinidadian governments by UN committees about just how in fact Trinidad "recognized" Indigenous persons in the country. Unfortunately, even with a delay of years, this topic is still timely.

First, let's begin with a key document: that by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), "Compilación de observaciones finales del Comité para la Eliminación de la Discriminación Racial sobre países de América Latina y el Caribe (1970-2006)" provided below (and the original on CERD's site). The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was first adopted in 1965, and entered into force in 1969. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) "is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its State parties".

The report in question covers a period of 36 years and consists of summaries that in the case of Trinidad and Tobago repeatedly focused on the Caribs on Arima--not even the Caribs of Arima themselves knew about the existence of these documents and government statements.

In 1980, (Report of the thirty-fifth session Supplement No. 18 [A/35/18], starting on page 547) CERD indicated from early on that it had a special interest in the fate of the Caribs, even if we are not clear as to how CERD even learned about a Carib presence since this time pre-dates the formal act of recognition that occurred in 1990:
"131. ...Moreover, additional information was requested on measures to encourage multiracial organizations and movements and on programmes aimed at enabling the Carib Indian population to participate in the country's development" (p. 548).
In 1981, (Report of the thirty-sixth session Supplement No. 18 [A/36/18], starting on page 544) CERD asks about the following:
"436. ...Further information was also requested on their economic status, on Government plans to aid backward regions or economically disadvantaged groups, on specific development programmes for the Carib and Arawak people, on steps taken to enable them to preserve their identity, on the reaction of ethnic groups to the introduction of the Hindi language in schools and on the effectiveness of measures taken by Trinidad and Tobago in 1980 to combat racism and racial discrimination. Reference was made, in particular, to the question as to how laws could continue to be valid while offending against the provisions of the Constitution, and it was asked whether an unjust law which came into being during the colonial period would still have to be applied in the country and whether an unjust law which had been enacted by Parliament after independence could be declared unconstitutional by the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Privy Council" (p. 545).
CERD clearly indicates here that it values cultural survival, and believes that the state should work to support that. What is also interesting is what comes in the last few sentences of the above paragraph, which places a large question mark on the nature of Trinidadian state "independence". It seems that a number of colonial laws have been maintained, even though they violated the Constitution of the Republic.

What is interesting to note is how the Trinidadian government replied about the number of Caribs in Trinidad--especially since they have not been counted on any census since Independence:
"442. ...The Carib-Indian population was extremely small, numbering less than 300, and had almost disappeared as a separate group" (p. 545).
This is orthodoxy in action. There is no evidence to support such an assertion, and therefore the assertion comes from somewhere other than actual documentation. In fact, it is a repetition of well worn narratives written by colonial elites almost 150 years beforehand. See this for example on the number of surviving Indigenous People:
At present there cannot be above 200 or 300 Indians in the colony, so that the aborigines may be said to be almost extinct….finally sunk under the ascendancy of a more intelligent race….but I also coincide in opinion with some judicious observers, who trace the approximate extinction of those tribes to the marked presence manifested by the Indian women towards the negroes and the whites, by whome they were kindly treated, whilst they were regarded by their husbands, of kindred race, more as slaves and beasts of burden, than as equals or companions. As a consequence of those connections, there exists at present, in the colony, a certain number of individuals of Indian descent, but of mixed blood” (De Verteuil, 1858, p. 172). 
“All but” disappeared:
“as in most other similar cases, persecution or civilization, perhaps both, have driven before them these wild children of the plains, until they have become, so far as Trinidad is concerned, all but extinct” (Collens, 1886, p. 7).
It is remarkable to see the exact same claims made nearly 150 years later, including the demographic size of the Carib community, which would imply some extremely strict enforcement that couples must produce no more than two children, ever. In other words, failing the credibility test, the Trinidadian state has no explanation for the outlandish demographic stasis that it seems to present as fact.

In 1984, CERD (Report of the thirty-ninth session Supplement No. 18 [A/39/18], starting on page 542) indicates the following need for information:
"198. With reference to article 2 of the Convention, information was requested on the state of relations between the different racial and ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago. The Committee was of the view that it would be useful to receive statistics on the country's demographic composition and to know on what basis individuals were classified as belonging to a given ethnic group. Moreover, members wished to know which ethnic groups were disadvantaged and what measures were being taken to enable them to catch up with the rest of the population, whether there were any refugees in Trinidad and Tobago and, if not, whether the Government was prepared to admit any into the country, whether comparative data could be made available on the educational level, literacy rate and income of the different ethnic groups, particularly of the Carib people, and whether any positive measures had been taken to protect and encourage the economic and social progress of the Carib people" (p. 542).
From early on then, CERD was clearly, and later repeatedly, keen to get data on the Caribs, which the Trinidadian state was simply not collecting, which also puts into very bold relief the question of what is the nature of Trinidad's recognition of its Indigenous People?

In 1987 (Report of the forty-second session Supplement No. 18 [A/42/18], starting on page 539) we read that CERD was requesting specific statistical details about the number of Caribs, among other groups:
"452. ...Members requested further information regarding the ethnic composition of the population, in particular, the ratio of Africans to East Indians, who together accounted for 81.5 per cent of the total population, and the percentage of Caribs in the population. It was pointed out, however, that in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the various ethnic groups were intermingled and that identification with a particular group was only possible in a very limited number of cases" (p. 540).
Here we see an instance of where the government of Trinidad and Tobago is unsure of how to respond to questions of racial identification that presume sort of clear dividing lines, in light of a long history of unions that cross ethnic lines. Indeed, it is not uncommon on older censuses to find a huge minority of Trinidadians declaring themselves to be "Other". CERD does not seem to clarify its statements.

In 1998, CERD (Report of the fiftieth session, Supplement No. 18 [A/50/18], starting on page 536) asked the government of Trinidad and Tobago to explain what is in fact a doctrinal orthodoxy in narratives of Trinidadian history produced by the colonial elites since the early 1800s, and that is the idea that "the Caribs had all but disappeared":
"34. Members of the Committee asked why the Caribs had all but disappeared, exactly how many were left, why they were not treated as a separate racial group and whether measures were being taken to help them, particularly in the economic and educational fields, so as to compensate them for the injustices they had suffered" (p. 536).
This is both positive and problematic, and it is not as if CERD is above criticism itself. CERD astutely targets a suspicious statement by the Trinidadian government (we don't have the statement itself, but we can infer it from CERD's response) about the Caribs having "all but" disappeared, and yet not providing any numbers because they are not counted on the census and therefore the assertion is made without evidence. On the other hand, CERD assumes that the Caribs must be racially distinct to be recognized as a "separate" group, which is an almost alarming statement that would seem to reinforce racial conceptions rather than eliminate them. For the Trinidadian government, and those within it who had some knowledge of the Caribs, the idea that they could cast the Caribs as "racially separate" must have seemed both odious and ridiculous, when by the admissions of most members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community in Arima, they are "mixed". However, that too is inadequate, because it equates culture and ethnicity with genes. If CERD really seeks to eliminate racial discrimination, it needs to clean up its own language, which seems to ask governments to discriminate among citizens (in the sense of discerning who is what) in racial terms, while ignoring cultural differences.

What is also questionable is whether the Trinidadian state should be compensating the Caribs for past injustices, committed by the British colonial regime, and whether the Trinidadian state is thus liable for British actions, as if this formed part of its inherited obligations. As noted in 1981, the Trinidadian state was still maintaining and enforcing colonial laws that pre-dated independence, and in this case, is the Trinidadian state not a continuation of colonialism by other means? Then the question becomes, why just compensate the Caribs and not others, such as Africans who were enslaved? This is a very complicated question, which is why it is surprising to see CERD making these statements in such an unproblematized fashion.

It is also worth noting that the government of Trinidad and Tobago had not responded to CERD for a total of 11 years (the report says eight years, but provides no entry for Trinidad in 1990), for reasons which are not indicated.

In 2001 CERD (Report of the fifty-sixth session, Supplement No. 18 [A/56/18], starting on page 532) rejected the Trinidadian government's position that there was no racial discrimination in Trinidad and Tobago: "348. The assertion by the State party as to the absence of racial discrimination on its territory was not accepted by the Committee and it was recommended by the Committee that the State party reconsider this stand" (p. 533).

With specific reference to the Caribs, in 2001 CERD stated:
"351. The Committee expresses its concern at the absence in this report of specific information on the indigenous population as well as other relatively small ethnic groups of the State party in the report, and particularly the absence of a specific categorization of the indigenous population as a separate ethnic group in official statistics on the population. The Committee encourages the Government to include the indigenous population in any statistical data as a separate ethnic group, and actively to seek consultations with them as to how they prefer to be identified, as well as on policies and programmes affecting them" (p. 534).
Now we move on to a different set of UN documents, beginning with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) "Country Programme Strategy for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago" published in 2005. There is not the same sense of interrogation and reply that we with the CERD reports above, but clearly the following involves information supplied by the Trinidadian state, which mirrors (sometimes word for word) statements found on some websites including those produced by myself, using wording that I used for brochures made for the Santa Rosa Carib Community. This is what the UNDP states about the Caribs under "2.5 Indigenous Peoples and Vulnerable Groups" on page 7:
"Indigenous Peoples in Trinidad and Tobago are represented by Amerindian peoples who have existed in Trinidad for as long as 7,000 years before the arrival of Columbus, and numbered at least 40,000 at the time of Spanish settlement in 1592. All of Trinidad was populated by several tribes, Trinidad being a transit point in the Caribbean network of Amerindian trade and exchange. Amerindian tribes were referred to by various names: Yaio, Nepuyo, Chaima, Warao, Carinepogoto, Aruaca, Shebaio, Saluaio, etc. In 1996 the Santa Rosa Carib Community Organisation was formally incorporated as a limited liability company under the Companies Act".
Actually, the year of incorporation was 1976. Needless to say, what continues to be missing from these official documents is any mention of any attempt to ask Trinidadians if they identify as Indigenous, Carib, or any other cognate term. What we do see is minimal effort invested in the act of reporting, and a continued reliance on "authoritative knowledge".

On September 22, 2011, Rodney Charles, Trinidad and Tobago's Ambassador to the United Nations, delivered a statement at the "High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to Commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of the Adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action". The section dealing with the Caribs was especially brief, and instructive for being not just so minimal but also for its focus:
"Other festivals are also observed such as the Santa Rosa Carib Festival which pays tribute to our indigenous population, as well as Double Ten Day, in honour of our local Chinese population" (p. 4).
In other words, they do not even get a whole sentence to themselves, and are mentioned in passing under "other festivals". Festivals: this mention represents the Trinidadian state's continued effort to "showcase" its Indigenous Peoples, which albeit a form of recognition is one that reduces Indigenous identity and community to a mere adjunct of the state's efforts to display diversity, rather than deal with it seriously.

26 January 2012

Contesting Trinidad's Past: The Indigenous Peoples

A much appreciated revisiting of the dominant, almost doctrinal assertions made about the history of Trinidad and Tobago--with some attention paid to the ways historiographers diminished and extinguished the Indigenous presence (see from page 178 to 180, "The Politics of Indigeneity", from which the extract below was copied):

The Politics of Indigeneity 

In virtually all accounts of Trinidad & Tobago’s history, it is taken for granted that the nation has no indigenous population, that the aborigines – whether they were “Caribs” or “Arawaks,” both or neither – had disappeared by the nineteenth century and played no role in the islands’ modern development. The literature of the nineteenth and the twentieth century pronounced the absence of the indigenes. Using the powerful tropes of extinction and amalgamation, writers of all persuasions saw the full-blooded Amerindian as entirely lacking in the nation’s pluralist society and aboriginal culture as lost forever. As the anthropologist Maximilian Forte neatly puts it, the view was that “the only real Carib is a pure Carib, and the only pure Carib is a dead Carib” (Forte 2005: 2 , see also -32). The nation was seen as one of those states which were colonial creations, lacking any pre-European past, “modern” from the beginning of their colonial experience, and therefore lacking a primordial past on which to draw for images and symbols of nationalism. In this Trinidad & Tobago was different from Guyana and Suriname on the continental mainland, which both have significant Amerindian populations which have retained much of their cultures and languages (Eriksen 992: 42-44). 

Since the early 1 990s, mainly through the efforts of an organization based in Arima (an old town in northeastern Trinidad where surviving indigenes were concentrated in the late 1700s), the Santa Rosa Carib Community (SRCC), Trinidad & Tobago society has come to recognize the Amerindian/Carib as a valid symbol in nation-building and national identity politics. The result has been, in Forte’s words (2005: 33), “increased recognition of the Carib in narratives of national history.” To acknowledge the Amerindian presence helped to create “a sense of local primordiality and of territorial continuity with antiquity.” The wider society has rediscovered its Carib heritage, and has accepted the “First People” (an internationally used term increasingly deployed by the SRCC) as the nation’s territorial precursors and symbolic ancestors, even if not the biological ancestors of most modern Trinidadians. This is a development which, by restoring the indigenes to the national history, has given antiquity and chronological depth to the concept of the nation, symbolized by the now popular trope of the First People/Trinidadians. The Carib can also be seen as the first to struggle against colonialism. The shadowy figure of “Hyarima,” perhaps a Carib chief who fought the Spaniards in the mid-seventeenth century, can be enshrined as a hero of resistance; a statue of him has been erected in Arima which bears a plaque calling him the first national hero of Trinidad. The tragic episode in 1699, when a group of Amerindians in the Spanish Capuchin Mission at Arena (now San Rafael) murdered the priests and then the governor and his suite, only to be hunted down and killed, or captured, tortured, and executed, can be reinterpreted as an epic of resistance to colonial rule and forced conversion, rather than the horrific murder of noble Catholic martyrs. A recent editorial in one of the nation’s leading newspapers describes the site of this event as “the forest in Arena where 300 years ago, the First People of Trinidad made their last great stand against domination and injustice.” The commemoration of 1992 (the quincentenary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas) and 1998 (he sighted Trinidad and Tobago in 1498) also helped to fix the Amerindian/Carib as a central figure in the foundation of the national society.

The SRCC has pursued the “invention of tradition” with considerable success since about 1990. “Traditional” festivals and practices connected to them, shamanistic ceremonies developed from several different sources – what Forte calls “global neo-shamanic transfers” – crafts, building techniques, healing practices, and food culture have all been revived, invented, and marketed as authentic Amerindian/Carib folkways. Moreover, the SRCC leaders have successfully forged international linkages with indigenous peoples in the Caribbean and South America (especially Guyana), in Canada and the United States, and globally, to strengthen the legitimacy of their identity as recognized aboriginal people. The use of “First Peoples/Nations” is a hallmark of this globalizing process, similar in many respects to the globalization of various “Diasporas” in recent years. The SRCC has also shrewdly developed strong links with the political elite, enjoying an especially close affiliation with the PNM, which is in power at the time of writing, but also with the two other parties which governed between 1986- 1999 and 1 995-2000 . Partly for this reason, partly because the individuals who self-identify as Amerindian/Carib are very few numerically, partly precisely because of their status as indigenes, the people who were always here, the SRCC’s activities and claims have not been seen as a threat either to the nationalist narrative, or to the ethnic projects whether Afrocentric or Indocentric. Certainly, however, they have succeeded in rewriting the Amerindian peoples into the national narrative of Trinidad (Tobago is only marginally part of their discourse). This success is reflected in a local newspaper editorial which recently declared “it’s never too late to pay tribute to the First Peoples of the nation. They were the ones who had to bear the brunt of the initial bruising encounter with an invading culture and the peoples decimated in the largest number and perhaps most brutal manner by the ‘discoverers’” (Forte 2005: 8 -97, 99-2 3, 224).