19 October 2013

‘Indigenous Guyanese youth facing racism, human trafficking challenges.’

‘Indigenous Guyanese youth facing racism, human trafficking challenges’
By Michelle Loubon
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Oct 19, 2013 at 9:27 PM ECT

Unemployment and human trafficking are two of the major issues confronting indigenous youth in Guyana.

Michelle Williams, a youth leader among Guyana’s First Nation Peoples, made this comment during a 2013 panel discussion on International First Peoples at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) campus, O’Meara Road, Arima, campus earlier this month.

The theme of the conference was “Exploring Heritage, Consolidating Traditions and Creating A Legacy”.

The theme of the panel was “Youth, Gender and Elders of the First Peoples Communities”.

Williams said: “Our youths are finding it hard to get a job. There is human trafficking. Some of them are lured away with promises of good jobs. And they are often faced with a different dilemma when they are far away from home. Some opt to leave their homes and the capital of Georgetown and they are exposed to different threats.”

They face other challenges like racism. They are called ‘bucks’. They do not mean Reebok. The Dutch called them buck because they are fleet footed. They say they move fast as a buck,” she added.

Apart from unemployment and human trafficking, Williams said there was the social problem of incest.

Incest is taboo in Guyana. Cousin to cousin and they are having relationships. The Village Council has a role in ensuring it does not happen. Some youths feel there is no shame in doing it.”

Despite the challenges, Williams said: “It is important to work towards leaving a lasting legacy and creating a fortified regional approach to the treatment of First Nation peoples.”

At the end of her presentation, Williams presented documents on data about Guyana’s First Nation Peoples to Chief Ricardo Bharath, from the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ Community.

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.

15 October 2013

Carib Community want National Holiday.

Carib community want national holiday.
By Camille Clarke
T&T Guardian | Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Amerindians representing different countries during a procession to commemorate
the launch of Amerindian Heritage Week, through the streets of Arima from the Hyarima statue
to the first peoples community centre on Paul Mitchell Street yesterday.
The procession was preceded by a smoke ceremony at the Hyarima statue.

Santa Rosa First People’s Community chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez is calling for a national holiday to commemorate the Caribs, the first people to live in T&T. Hernandez was speaking after the smoke ceremony and street procession in Arima.

"The event today was in recognition of our history and Hyarima’s resistance to the Spanish in October 1637. There is a call for an international holiday on the 14th in recognition of the first people of this land. I know the authorities will have to think for another public holiday long and hard before they consider it,” he said. Hernandez said if the holiday was not possible the authorities could consider a one-day holiday event like the Chinese were granted in 2006, to commemorate 200 years since the arrival of Chinese immigrants.

Speaking about the contingent of Caribs from the Caribbean and South America, he said: “Spiritual leaders from Suriname and the other countries were called in for sanctification and interaction. To guide us in spirituality for this purpose. Some are still practicing the original tradition.” Yesterday, the smoke ceremony began at the statue of Hyarima at Hollis Avenue. Hyarima was said to have been known by the Dutch and Spanish forces who referred to him as “the great Chieftain of the Nepuyo people.

They filled calabash bowls with bay leaves, incense, shells, cassava wine, hibiscus, poui, lilac and other flowers and offered them up to the great spirit. The women and men wore traditional outfits with crocheted tops and feathers in fire-engine red. They beat drums, blew into a large shell and chanted. Hernandez addressed the crowd that gathered to pay homage to the creator.

We invoke ourselves and surrender ourselves to him/her recognising that we as humans are weak. He is strong and we ask forgiveness for our weakness,” he said. During the ceremony, first one, then another of the women had a “manifestation.” This manifestation, another one of the women said, was “an ancestor showing they were still around because the body is dead and the spirit is alive.”

Hernandez prayed for the ancestors, peace, a stoppage to all negativity and for the ancestors to keep coming in dreams before the group headed up Woodford Street to the Santa Rosa First People’s Centre at Paul Mitchell Street.

14 October 2013

First Peoples Conference in Trinidad and Tobago

Two Vincentians are representing this country at the International Conference of First Peoples of the Caribbean and the Americas, which began today, Friday 11th October, and will run until Sunday 13th October, 2013, in Trinidad.

Mr. Edwin Johnson of the Greiggs Black Carib (Garifuna) Community, and Ms. Molena ‘Mel’ Nanton of the Sandy Bay Kalinago community are attending the Conference hosted by the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community of Trinidad, and held under the theme, ‘Exploring Heritage, Consolidating Traditions, Creating a Legacy’.

The Conference is being held in collaboration with The University of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration, Trinidad and Tobago, and carries as its objectives, to: map the cultural continuity of First Peoples communities of the region, including governance systems, gender and the participation of youth; raise awareness of the indigenous spiritual traditions and world views; highlight and propagate the importance of sustainable living practices of First Peoples communities; regenerate the knowledge systems of First Peoples communities in preserving natural resources; revitalize the traditional skills associated with First Peoples culture for the larger usage by different communities; explore governance systems, politics and international affairs.

The Conference will be held at The University of Trinidad and Tobago, O’Meara Campus, and features seven working Panels, covering the areas of: Youth, gender and elders; Indigenous World Views; Approaches to Spirituality, Rituals and Festivals; Governance and Relationship with the Natural Environment.

In addition, there will be two Performance Panels, showcasing the music, song, dance, handicraft, cuisine and literature of the First Peoples.
St. Vincent’s Nelcia Robinson serves as the Conference Administrator.

October 14, Amerindian Heritage Day: Keeping Up to Date on the Indigenous People of Trinidad & Tobago

Today is Amerindian Heritage Day in Trinidad and Tobago, part of Amerindian Heritage Week celebrations, and in that spirit I am posting just a few glimpses of the many developments and activities taking place with what is now called the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, formerly the Santa Rosa Carib Community.

First, the much-awaited new website of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community. Also see and follow (by "liking") the active Facebook page of the Community.

Second, as some may already now, right now taking place in Trinidad under the auspices of the University of Trinidad and Tobago, is the International Conference of First Peoples of the Caribbean and the Americas. Also see here for more details on the conference.

Third, the new video introduction to the community: A Vision for the Indigenous People of Trinidad and Tobago.

Fourth and last, Amerindian Day of Recognition--Stills from the Amerindians:

That Statue in Siparia.

That Statue in Siparia.
By Marion O'Callaghan
T&T's Newsday | Monday, October 14 2013

What could be more simple a subject for a Trini film documentary than the statue Catholics call La Divina Pastora (The Divine Shepherdess) and Hindus call Siparia Mae (Siparia Mother)? There is the presence of Catholicism and of Hinduism as objects of devotion, in the same statue.

There is the illusive dream of a real Ganges meeting the real Nile of Rudder’s calypso. So it must have seemed to the two university students: a photographer and one of the M Phils in film.

We cannot be certain of how the statue arrived in Siparia. It is already an object of devotion for Amerindians of both Trinidad and Venezuela, and Siparia, a relatively important pilgrimage site in the early nineteenth century.

La Divina Pastora belongs to a number of miraculous statues, visions and miracles in Latin American of the time, the best known being Guadalupe in Mexico and the Crucifix in Ecuador.

These all include some feature that is clearly Amerindian: the peasant cloak at Guadalupe, the black Jesus on the cross, in Siparia a black Madonna.

It must be underlined however, that there is a tradition of black holy statues in medieval Spain and in medieval central France.

That statues in Catholic churches and shrines in Trinidad, with the exception of St Martin de Porres, are white, is explained by the fact that they often represent vision and/or piety of a later age and that they are mass produced in Paris by what has been called St Sulpician art.

The Latin American statues also mark the dislocation of internal colonisation and the integration of Amerindians into the commercial economy of the country, largely through religious fairs.

By the last half of the nineteenth century, the Amerindian population in Trinidad had declined and a Venezuelan vision and statue has emerged. La Divina Pastora becomes the place of pilgrimage of a Catholic population of former slaves, freed men and of a new population: Hindus.

The End of the World

It is the nineteenth century. It is a century of full-blown colonialism, of the emancipation of slaves, the colonisation of India and colonial wars in Africa. Racism is hammered into a biological theory which permeates from religion to popular culture to linguistic categories.

The end of the world was believed to be near. The coming of the Christ was held to depend on the acceptance of Christianity by all people.

As in many periods of religious hysteria there is sometimes the suspicion of the work of Satan where there is refusal to believe or to be baptised. This was one of the reasons for anti-Jewish pogroms in parts of Europe.

It has also been used against African religions. Was this at work with the Kali myth?

The Kali Myth

The name of the documentary: The Madonna Murti, was at best misleading.

It artificially links two traditions: the Madonna of European feudal courtly love, and the Hindu Murti by which the spirits of deities are within their representations. More worrying is the assumption that in Siparia Mae, Hindus at Siparia worship Kali.

This is presented as a fact by both commentaries in the October 6th Catholic News.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Hindus worship Kali in Siparia Mae. The written demands presented at the statue are presented only to Mother. Mother is a term of respect often given to Hindu female deities. Kali is the goddess of both destruction and of protection.

The same qualities are there in Durga, a deity being worshipped at this time in pujas around the country. Why, then, is there no outcry or fear of Durga? There is no concept like the Catholic belief of Mother of God and therefore Mother of the Universe as pertains to deities in Hinduism.

There is absolutely no evidence of satanic worship at Siparia Mae nor of the calling down of evil on enemies of Shiva.

The offering of body parts mentioned in one article is extremely rare in India. Kali worship did include animal sacrifice – usually a fowl – in the past.

This would be very rare today. Rather, fruit, flowers, coconuts are the usual offering, as indeed they are in India.

That some Hindus share with some Catholics the belief that this is some form of “evil” worship is not strange. Siparia Mae escapes the Hindu Trini orthodoxy established largely by the Maha Sabha but shared by say, Raviji.

This is a conservative strand of North of India Brahmanic Hinduism. Within this Siparia Mae is likely to be seen as a deota or lesser deity that is not linked to the major Hindu deities.

Or perhaps some Hindus now share the Trini dislike and suspicion of Black religious representations. This has a long history here and is illustrated by action in 1970. It is there I would start research.

Call for Honour for First Carib Chief Hyarima.

Call for honour for first Carib chief Hyarima.
By Michelle Loubon
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Oct 13, 2013

Dr Satnarine Balkaransingh, chairman for the International First Peoples Conference 2013, has said the first Carib chief who was named Hyarima should be given a posthumous award and the major aspects of the Parliament should be shifted from the Red House at St Vincent Street, Port of Spain.

He made these comments during his presentation “The Wounded Nation of the First Peoples of Kairi - Miscegenation, Race, Politics and Marginalisation”. This was day three of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community of Arima Heritage Week which runs until October 19 at UTT Campus, Arima.

He was among the panellists who spoke on the theme Governance and Politics: Contemporary Perspectives. These included Julie Guyadeen, Dominica’s Chief Garnette, Tommy Isaac, past principal of St Augustine Senior Secondary School, and Andrew Klauty.

On the issue of Parliament’s relocation, Balkaransingh said: “Give consideration to have the National Parliament shifted. We can’t move the bones because you are moving a whole cemetery. But you can move Parliament or the major aspects and leave other aspects and convert it to a natural museum and a national art gallery of international standards. Keep the register of births and deaths. These are alternatives. We are continuing to make decisions in the national interest sitting on a cemetery.”

Amerindian artefacts and bones were discovered recently at the Red House during renovations.
Parliament is currently located at Tower D of the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain due to ongoing renovations at the Red House which traditionally has been the seat of Parliament.

Moving to Chief Hyarima, Balkaransingh added: “ Recognise Hyarima as T&T first national hero for his courage and action in fighting foreign aggression and provide the highest award (Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) posthumously.

Hyarima was the first person in 1637 with his warriors and with the help of the Dutch who sacked St Joseph and burned it to the ground actually chasing the Spaniards out of Trinidad. Nobody thinks about the people fighting and therefore Hyarima must be considered the first national hero.” Chief Hyarima’s statue is at Arima.

Asked for an update on the Conference, Ricardo Bharath, Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, said: “President Anthony Carmona is expected to attend celebrations today. Nine people will be awarded and I will be making the call for three major things. The first is a call for a public holiday on October 14. I will speak about the other two today.”

The conference continues today. Below is the schedule
Today is First Peoples Heritage Day:
Dedicated to the Great Spirit Tamushi
6:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.
Smoke ceremony
Procession from Smoke Ceremony to the Carib Centre
Venue: Streets of Arima
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

10 October 2013

First Peoples-Heritage Week begins Tomorrow.

First Peoples-Heritage Week begins Tomorrow.
By Newsday Reporter
T&T's Newsday | Thursday, October 10 2013

The First Peoples indigenous community in Trinidad and Tobago will be hosting their 13th annual Amerindian Heritage Week, which runs from tomorrow (October 11) to October 19. Heritage Week will feature special events, including a conference themed “Exploring Heritage, Consolidating Traditions and Creating A Legacy”.

Tomorrow, Amerindian Heritage Week will be launched with an opening ceremony at the UTT O’Meara Campus from 6 pm - 9 pm. The opening ceremony will include a speech by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, greetings from a Nation Representative of the Caribbean Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, musical performance by the First Peoples of Suriname, as well as a cocktail reception with live entertainment by Los Alumnos de San Juan.

The week of activities will then continue with its inaugural International First People’s Conference on October 12 and 13, also at the O’Meara Campus. The two day conference will feature seven academic and performative panels and is being hosted by the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community of Arima (formerly known as the Carib Community) in conjunction with the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration. Arima is home to the largest number of descendants of the Caribs, who were among Trinidad and Tobago’s first inhabitants, therefore home to the First Peoples.

According to Aurora Herrera, event coordinator of the Amerindian Heritage Week, the conference will feature a wide array of activities and honoured presenters.

We have chiefs and other Indigenous representatives coming from all over the world for the conference,” she said.

According to the detailed conference calendar, conference attendees will be privy to presentations from countries such as Belize with Garifuna Songs, St Vincent’s basketry, Guyana’s presentations on youth and gender issues faced by the First Peoples and more from Dominica, USA and of course Trinidad and Tobago.

The International First People’s Conference’s press release states that the conference will deal with “the burning issues confronting First Peoples in an environment that remains ambivalent and hostile.” Such issues include the discovery of human remains beneath the Red House in Port-of-Spain, which, according to the First Peoples, indicates that it is a First People burial ground. “How the immigrant state deals with this question will say a lot about the future direction of relations between our First Nations community and their welcome or not so welcome guests,” said Herrera. She also noted that at the conference, “There will be presentations and discussions concerning First Peoples cosmology, philosophy and the various aspects of their way of life. We are also addressing questions of governance.”

The Heritage Week events also include a Smoke Ceremony at the Hyarima Monument, Arima and the Spiritual Sanctification of the Parliament Building at the Red House on Monday (October 14), as well as the Indigenous Water Ritual at Lopinot River, Arouca on Tuesday (October 15) and much more. The Conference is free to the public and it includes meals, however pre-registration is required before Wednesday 16 October. To register, go to www.santarosafirstpeoples.org

First Peoples Heritage Week Calendar of Events

Friday October 11:
6 pm - 8 pm - Launch of the First Peoples Heritage Week 2013

8 pm – 9 pm - Inauguration of the International First Peoples Conference, “Exploring Heritage, Consolidating Traditions and Creating a Legacy”
Cocktails with live entertainment by Los Alumnos de San Juan
Venue: UTT O’Meara Campus Auditorium

Saturday October 12:
8 am – 4 pm - International First Peoples Conference, Panel Presentations/Discussions
Venue: UTT O’Meara Campus Auditorium

Sunday October 13:
8 am – 4 pm - International First Peoples Conference, Panel Presentations/Discussions
Venue: UTT O’Meara Campus Auditorium

Monday October 14:
Dedicated To the Great Spirit Tamushi
6.30 am – 8.15 am - Smoke Ceremony
Venue: Hyarima Monument, Arima

8.15 am - Street Procession from the Smoke Ceremony to the First Peoples Community Centre
Venue: Streets of Arima

3 pm – 5 pm - Formal Ceremony to commemorate First Peoples Heritage Day
Venue: UTT, O’Meara Campus Auditorium

8 pm – 10 pm - Spiritual Sanctication of the Parliament Building, the Red House
Venue: Red House, Port of Spain

Tuesday October 15:
Dedicated To the Ancestors
7 am – 9 am - Indigenous Water Ritual
Venue: Lopinot River, Arouca

4 pm - Ceremony to the Ancestral Spirits of Anaparima
Venue: San Fernando/Anaparima Hill

Wednesday October 16:
Dedicated To The Indigenous Traditions
9 am – 3.30 pm - Open House Visits to the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Centre, For School Children, Groups and Families**
Venue: 7 Paul Mitchell St Arima.

Friday October 18
Dedicated To Indigenous Traditions of Music, Dance, and Traditional Handicrafts
10 am – 5 pm - Heritage Cultural Fair

6 pm - 9 pm - Cultural Show
Venue: Santa Rosa Catholic Church Park

Saturday October 19:
Dedicated To the Indigenous Traditions on Local Self Governance
10 am – 12 noon - Meeting of the Caribbean Organisation of Indigenous People
Venue: Carib Centre

5 pm – 8 pm - Closing Ceremony and Thanksgiving
Venue: Santa Rosa First Peoples Centre

08 October 2013

Indigenous groups return to Red House to pray.

Indigenous groups return to Red House to pray.
Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday | Tuesday, October 8 2013

AS indigenous groups plan to return to the Red House next week to pray for the peace of the ancestors they believe are buried there, no decision has yet been taken on declaring part, or all of the original seat of Parliament a heritage site.

Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez of the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ Indigenous Community informed Newsday his group, along with the Partners for First Peoples and the Warao indigenous groups, met about a month ago with the Red House Cultural Heritage Team chaired by House Speaker, Wade Mark.

On March 26 last, a number of skeletal remains, cultural and historical artifacts were discovered during initial excavation work as part of the restoration of the Red House. The bones date from 430 AD to 1390 AD.

The Red House Cultural Heritage Team, which includes Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith and representatives of the National Trust, was appointed by Cabinet to manage aspects of the historical find.

The First Peoples groups believe the remains and artifacts are from their ancestors, and have written the team asking that the Red House be declared a heritage site.

Hernandez reported that the proposal was discussed at their meeting with the team and certain aspects were agreed upon, such as the treatment of the remains — they should be reburied and not exposed or displayed though the cultural artifacts can be — and that an insignia of the First Peoples would be included in the renovation.

He also reported that no decision had been taken on whether part or all of the Red House would be declared a heritage site.

They were informed that the process should be completed by the end of the year, and there were still more tests to be done.

He said, speaking for the Santa Rosa group, certain things were kept “secret” from them, recalling that when they asked to see remains they were told they are “well taken care off”’. “While on one hand we are talking, we still feel as First People we should play a more integral role in what is happening there,” he said.

The team informed them that they will contact them again when they are ready. Hernandez said as descendants of First People according to the United Nations declaration they have a right as it relates to the remains of ancestors but “we are not really given that opportunity fully, (it) still seems as the property of someone else”. “We are hoping at the end of it we will be satisfied,” he added.

He noted that they that they plan to write the Red House Cultural Heritage Team and the police today to request permission to hold a spiritual ceremony on October 17 at 5pm at the Red House. The ceremony is part of the 13th annual First Peoples Heritage Week which will be held from October 11 to 19.

06 October 2013

‘Stop Orange Grove aquatic centre’ ...historian calls for archaeological probe.

‘Stop Orange Grove aquatic centre’...historian calls for archaeological probe.
By Charles Kong Soo
Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online | Sunday, October 6, 2013
Topsoil being removed in the Orange Grove Savannah.

Historian Angelo Bissessarsingh says all construction work should be halted on the Government’s aquatic centre in the Orange Grove Savannah (also called the Eddie Hart Grounds) so that an archaeological investigation can be carried out. This was to determine if the area contained priceless historical and cultural artefacts dating back to Spanish colonial times or the First Peoples and can be declared an indigenous protected area.

Bissessarsingh said, “These spaces are very important to the history and culture of the area and by extension T&T. “When projects like these are undertaken, there should be an archeological investigation before anything is done given the lack of consultation with the community.

“When those construction equipment went in, I grieve for what might have been lost. My experience has taught me that when public spaces have existed for as long as the Eddie Hart Grounds has, there are usually artefacts such as coins and ornaments in the subsoil and topsoil.”

Approximately two lots of topsoil was removed from the Eddie Hart Grounds during excavation on September 20. Residents said they were told that the excavation was done without the knowledge of officials at the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago or the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation. Bissessarsingh said there were First Peoples’ settlements spread across that corridor leading into Arima.

He said during the 18th century onwards, there were Spanish encomiendas or plantations given to conquistadors along with an allocation of semi-enslaved First Peoples. Bissessarsingh said there were encomiendas at Tacarigua, Arouca and Caura and that certain spaces existed in perpetuity, especially cemeteries and public spaces such as the old Spanish Square in St Joseph, since 1595.

He said Palmiste Park in South was not as old as the Eddie Hart Grounds and treasures such as 19th-century coins, gun flints, pottery bottles and objects of great antiquarian value to the history of the Republic can still be discovered there.

Bissessarsingh said many people knew the savannah as the Eddie Hart Grounds but it was known long ago as the Orange Grove Sugar Plantation. He said the plantation was owned up to 1850 by William Hardin Burnley, who was the richest man in Trinidad, quite possibly the richest man in its history. Bissessarsingh said upon Burnley’s death, his net worth was probably millions of pounds.

When he died, the property was inherited by his son William Frederick who lived in England and could not come to Trinidad, so it was managed in trust by William Eccles, who founded the St Mary’s Anglican Church and the St Mary’s Orphanage in Tacarigua. He said parts of the estate were sold off to various private entities such as Caroni 1975 Ltd, parts became Trincity, Blue Waters, Trintoplan and Belgrove Funeral Home.

Bissessarsingh said the ground itself was not just a space, it was a social structure and gathering space where generations of people from the time of slavery to the present day met. He said he understood the need for growth and development, but he believed that more consultation with the people had to be done before the aquatic centre was built and not in an ad-hoc manner.

Belix: Protect indigenous peoples’ sites
President of the local indigenous peoples group Partners for First Peoples Roger Belix said the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was adopted by 144 member states, including T&T, stated quite clearly that burial sites and artefacts of indigenous peoples should be protected and returned.

Belix said, “These sites are sacred and also historical to the peoples of indigenous blood. While they would want to say we don’t exist, they should be preserved and be recognised as indigenous peoples’ sites and returned to the indigenous peoples by the people who now occupy our land.”

Resident: We were not adequately informed
Vernon De Leon, 63, a resident of Arouca for the past 43 years, said there was still no meaningful response from the Government, and the community was still at square one since consultation was limited.

De Leon said while the residents were not against the Ministry of Sports or the Government, appreciating that they had noble intentions, they believed, however, that they were not adequately informed about the implications of converting a section of the savannah into a car park for 300 vehicles, a swimming pool and a road running through the savannah. He said since the car park area was paved there was an increase in flooding on the southern side of the savannah.

De Leon said paving over and destroying the aquifer in the savannah will cause even more flooding in the area and negatively impact the water supply for a significant part of the country as it served WASA’s eight water pumps around the savannah and provided water to north, east and central Trinidad.

He said the low crime in the area was a result of having access to the facilities in the savannah for activities ranging from picnics, sporting events and elderly people coming from as far as Arima to walk leisurely in the outdoors. He feared that this may reverse. De Leon, whose children, Melissa and Marlon represented T&T in track and field, said they were part of “Buggy” Haynes’ football club before they went into athletics, and he used to take his daughter jogging on the field.

He said the area had a rich sporting tradition with the likes of Stern John, “Buggy” Haynes, Eddie Hart, Ellis “Puss” Achong and Keith Aqui and he feared the demise of that legacy with the loss of the savannah. De Leon said of historical significance was a Chinese Pistash tree that still stands in the savannah that dates back to the 1800s to the time of William Hardin Burnley. He said there were alternatives for the location of the aquatic centre and other facilities to be considered such as Trinity College East.

De Leon said there was enough space to accommodate all the proposed facilities in one location south of the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, opposite Pan Trinbago and Blue Waters without “ripping out the heart of the community.”