12 December 2019

Trinidad's Indigenous Peoples, Reparations, and the History of the Arima Mission

On Tuesday, December 10, 2019, I delivered a presentation based on Arima Born at the Santa Rosa First People's Community Centre in Arima (Trinidad). In January (2020), on this site readers will be able to access a PDF with all of the slides used, plus there will be an accompanying video lecture. The event on Tuesday was covered by the local media--please see the article that follows.

Maximilian Forte at the podium.

Republished from Newsday, December 12, 2019

Originally published as:

First Peoples want HDC house for Carib Queen

by Tyrell Gittens

FIRST Peoples chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez is calling on the government to provide a house for Carib Queen Nona Aqua.

Bharath-Hernandez made the call on Tuesday while speaking at the launch of the book Arima Born by Maximilian Forte, at the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Centre

“We have asked, recently, for a house for our Carib Queen to be made available”.

He said the recently built Carina Housing Development was one site where a unit could be made available, not only because of the location, but also because of its historical significance of the land.

“A house ought to be made available in one of these housing developments, preferably Carina Gardens on the By-Pass Road. 

“When you look at the (historical) maps you see the King of the Caribs, and all his descendants, occupying that land and they lost it whatever way,” said Bharath-Hernandez.

He said given the rate at which housing developments are being built, and houses distributed, he is puzzled as to why a house cannot be provided.

“In this development and this distribution of houses, one cannot be made available for our Carib Queen?

“And when you consider all the contributions that the early ancestors have made, to the (country's) development, tell me why it cannot be done. Why? Can anyone answer me that?” 

Forte’s book explores the birth and baptismal records of indigenous people in Arima in the 1800s. The records were maintained by Arima’s RC church during the church’s Arima Mission. 

Forte, a lecturer in anthropology and Caribbean history at Concordia University, in an hour-long presentation on Tuesday detailed the hardships of Arima’s indigenous population during the church’s mission. During that time, they were stripped of their lands and made to provide free labour for plantation owners. 

The way the First Peoples were treated, said Bharath-Hernandez, suggests why a house for the Carib Queen is the least that can be provided to descendants of the group. 

He said the book also informs on the need to renew wider discussions of reparations for descendants of indigenous communities. He called on Forte to use his knowledge to help advocate, on behalf of the communities, to Caricom's reparation committee. 

Noting that Caribbean governments are responsible for discussions on reparations he said that responsibility was not solely theirs but one they inherited. 

“We heard it here today (in the book), and this is the kind of information that informs reparation.

Acknowledging a verbal apology had been made by representatives of the Santa Rosa RC Church to the indigenous community Bharath-Hernandez said, “We do not really want an apology with words coming from the mouth. That apology must come with some depth, some meaning.

“We feel that the church, at the level of collective churches in TT, can come together and, in some way, do something towards the development of the First Peoples”.

The Santa Rosa First Peoples Community is now turning its attention towards building a heritage park. Bharath-Hernandez, holding up an artist's rendering of what the park will look like, said, “We, the descendants of the original peoples, of the mission of Arima, are striving to establish our heritage village.

“If we can accomplish the first phase (of building) – there are many phases – then I think we would be well on our way to doing many things”.

 Dr. Brinsley Samaroo shares a comment during the discussion following the presentation.