17 June 2020

The Pandemic: Indigenous Perspectives on Survival, Adaptation, Rebuilding, and Preparedness

Statement released by Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez,
Santa Rosa First Peoples Community,
Arima, Trinidad & Tobago,
June 16, 2020.

As Amerindians/Indigenous Peoples in the Caribbean, we are historically well acquainted with a series of epidemics and pandemics. We therefore have a lot of historical experience in suffering and surviving from both local epidemics and regional pandemics. We have seen some of the worst in the past, and now the rest of the world is getting a small taste of what we had to go through. The big difference is that we did not have a World Health Organization looking into our situation; nobody came to our assistance; there was no protection or support from the authorities; we were left to our own devices. We have survived the very worst, rebuilt our economies, and we are still here today thanks to our ancestors’ survival skills. We have some lessons to offer from those experiences.

Here are some key points from our historical experience:

(i) “by 1518 only 16,000 [Taino] survived. That year a smallpox epidemic swept through the Spanish colonies, a pandemic, according to the historical demographer Henry Dobyns, that by 1525 had left no American culture untouched. By 1545 the 29 sugar mills on Hispaniola were using nearly 6,000 non-Taino from the South American mainland and the Lesser Antilles and 3,300 Africans as laborers”.i
(ii) In 1739, a smallpox outbreak “decimated” Trinidad’s Indian population.ii
(iii) In 1817 the Yellow Fever Epidemic swept Trinidad, followed by the cholera epidemic in the 1850s; and, smallpox in the 1870s.iii
(iv) In 1854 a cholera epidemic struck North coast Indians* heavily” (pp. 14–15); “The same epidemic decimated the Amerindian population living in the hills around the old Arima mission”.iv
(v) “On the north coast...the surviving Amerindian families were brought together in the mission at Cumana (Toco); but they disappeared inexorably, and the cholera epidemic of 1854 apparently exterminated nearly all the north coast Indians. By 1885 there were only perhaps a dozen half-caste Amerindian families on the north coast”; “In Arima the story was the same. In 1840 there were only about three hundred Indians of pure descent in the old mission, mostly aged. Occasionally surviving members of a group of Chayma Indians used to come down from the heights beyond Arima to the Farfan estate, to barter wild meats for small household goods. But after 1854 they were seen no more: cholera had extinguished the Chaymas”.v

Chief Ricardo leading his people in prayer
Our Amerindian/Indigenous peoples are closely connected to Mother Earth and all the life she sustains. Of benefit to the modern world are the Caribbean Indigenous lessons on listening to and learning from the natural environment; revising our relationships with animals; and building self-sustaining local agriculture.

Part of this pandemic appears to stem from an imbalance between humans and other animals. We cannot afford to continue viewing the natural environment with contempt, or as something to be devoured. The “Medicine Man or Woman” is very important in our culture, with knowledge of the healing herbs and minerals which are gifted to us in the natural environment. The Caribbean Amerindian/Indigenous relationship with the natural, animal world was intensely intimate. It was not just a matter of living in a “harmonious relationship” with nature—it is about being one and the same with nature, inseparable, indivisible, and indistinguishable. On the mainland Amerindian ancestor communities in places such as Guyana, heralded themselves as members of the “Jaguar clan” or the “Eagle clan”—this was not just a matter of empty symbolism. They firmly believed that their ultimate ancestor was a jaguar, or an eagle, and so on. We need to reinstitute that relationship of respect, knowing our limits as human beings, and being attentive to the realities of where we live.

Instead of being constantly and repeatedly exposed to destruction from recurring phenomena, we must learn lessons from the past, and implement changes.

A hurricane will flatten one of our Caribbean neighbours, razing as many as 90% of all structures. So what do they do? They rebuild the same sort of structures that are vulnerable to destruction from hurricanes—square or rectangular houses, with jagged rooftops. The best structure is the Amerindian/Indigenous one, which is conical, and at the very worst is easy to rebuild.

The same is true about having an abundance of root crops (ground provisions), as practised by the Amerindians/Indigenous People. Ground provisions cannot be destroyed in a hurricane, thus ensuring that people have a ready supply of food in order to rebuild.

This pandemic revealed similar frailty. We are fragile by design: it is an outcome of inappropriate policies, and inadequate planning. Our dependency on foreign imports of food placed us in a situation of great insecurity. People were also dependent on going out to buy food, rather than turning to supplies that could have been provided by their own gardens—we were over exposed, and for no good reason.

In rebuilding, there needs to be a dramatic new investment in local agriculture, and a national plan that includes everyone—not just career “farmers”. Every yard needs to be planted. There should be an abundance of cassava flour that renders imported wheat flour too expensive, and is even a less healthy alternative to cassava flour. We need to teach our people what they can do with local products, that they are not currently doing. A national farming system could turn every household into a unit of production, with excess supply purchased by the state, and processed into items with a long shelf-life. National education, through government media programming, could teach people how they can contribute, or how they can use items such as cassava flour.

What can we do to make life during the next pandemic more bearable? How can we act now, to not be like victims in the future? What must change? How can the Indigenous People of Trinidad & Tobago offer some vital guidance?

Trinidad’s Indigenous People are prepared to lead in establishing the foundations of a national cassava industry. We already have the support of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. The First Peoples Heritage Village, currently under construction, is well positioned to become the nucleus of an expanded agricultural enterprise—it will be a true model, to all other Trinidadians.

i “Indians” here as stated by the Authors, refer to the Amerindians, and not East Indians. From: Keegan, William. (1992). “Death Toll”. Archaeology (January/February), p. 55.

ii From: Ottley, C. Robert. (1955). An Account of Life in Spanish Trinidad (From 1498-b 1797). 1st ed. Diego Martin, Trinidad: C. R. Ottley, p. 42.

iii From Page 253 in: Joseph, E.L. (1970 [1838]). History of Trinidad. London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd.

iv From: Goldwasser, Michele. (1994-96). “Remembrances of the Warao: the Miraculous Statue of Siparia, Trinidad”. Antropologica, p. 15.

v From: Brereton, Bridget. (1979) Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130–131.

16 June 2020

Trinidad: Chief Asks How Does Removing Columbus Statue Improve First Peoples?

Defaced: Red paint is splattered on the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Square, corner of Independence Square and Duncan Street, Port of Spain.

Don’t kill Christopher Columbus a second time just for killing sake.

It will not do the First Peoples any good unless it’s accompanied by tangible measures to advance the indigenous people of Trinidad and Tobago.

So said Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, Ricardo Bharath.

“We want to kill Columbus a second time and it doesn’t do one blooming thing for us,” Bharath told the Express yesterday.

His position comes even as another indigenous group, supported by the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) through its Cross Rhodes Freedom Project, is making a call for the removal of Columbus’ statue in Port of Spain.

Bharath said he was invited by the ESC to make a statement at a recent indigenous ritual ceremony where the call for the removal of Columbus’ statue was made.

He said he made his position clear but it was drowned out.

Bharath said there remain several issues relating to the First Peoples which have not been addressed.

He said indigenous people of T&T were the ones most affected by the coming of Columbus in 1498.

He said it was 200 years after Columbus came, however, that the Spanish authorities began the decimation of the First Peoples.

“They forced them to give up their religion and their language. If they did not accept the new religion, they were sometimes put to death. Some of them fled and killed themselves,” he said.

“You hear about so many suicide points around the country. Many accepted the new religion because they did not want to face death or starvation.”

Bharath said only a fraction of the First Peoples remain today, most of them having intermarried.

Leader of another indigenous group, Queen of the Warao Nation, Donna Bermudez-Bovell, last week called on Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez to remove the statue of Columbus from Columbus Square and replace it with an indigenous freedom fighter.

The Warao Nation and the ESC have begun an online petition for support and thousands have responded.

Their calls to remove Columbus and other “racist” monuments comes after the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Britain by Black Lives Matter protesters.

But Bharath cleared the air on the Santa Rosa First Peoples community’s position on the matter.

“I am not a Columbus fighter saying his statue must remain and neither am I asking for its removal,” he said yesterday.

“How does the removal of Columbus’ statue improve the lives and the plight of the descendants of the First Peoples today?

“If it is just removing Columbus’ statue for the sake of removing it, I see no benefit and no merit. The removal must be replaced with something significant to advance our cause today.

“And if that cannot be done, it’s a waste of time in fighting for the removal of a statue. What is done is done. By removing Columbus’ statue we cannot undo the past.”

Bharath said they have already presented a model of a monument to a government committee concerning the removal of the bones of indigenous peoples during excavation works in the restoration of the Red House.

He claimed funding has been the cause of the keep back in the setting up of this monument, which comprises an indigenous figure and remains of the First Peoples.

The Red House, site of Parliament, is a colonial relic allegedly constructed on a burial site of indigenous peoples.

Bharath listed some present and ongoing issues affecting the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago.

He said even though the descendants of indigenous people were considered a small group, they want a political voice, both at the local and central government levels.

He said they were promised assistance to establish an Amerindian village in Blanchissuesse and, to date, were still struggling with this with a small UNESCO grant.

“There are funds in the Public Sector Investment Programme for this but nobody seems to be able to get this out.

“We have land issues. There are areas we would like to see protected which are now being destroyed by quarrying.

“If none of those things can’t be done, I don’t see what is the fuss about this Columbus statue,” he said.

Trinidad & Tobago Government Breaks Ground on First Peoples' Site, Pledging More Support

Originally published as:
on Loop News, by Nneka Parsanlal, February 4, 2020

Minister of Education, Anthony Garcia has pledged $5000 of his own money to the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community. 

He made the promise at the sod turning ceremony for the construction of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Village in Arima today. 

Garcia says that as the Member of Parliament for Arima and as President of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Trinidad and Tobago, he’s pleased to be part of the progression of the First Peoples in T&T. 

Calling the Santa Rosa community, ‘the official indigenous community in Trinidad and Tobago’, Garcia also said that he’d be ensuring that they get further governmental support for their community. 

Earlier in the ceremony, Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, Ricardo Bharath Hernandez lamented that the community felt forgotten and overlooked by successive governments. He said that the community was ready and willing to meet government agencies halfway to get their village constructed, but the government never held up their end of the bargain. 

Garcia promised that this time around would be different.  

“You have my fullest commitment in the two roles I represent here today,” he said.  

Hernandez also raised concerns about the First Peoples not getting their budgetary allocations, but Garcia promised that they wouldn’t have to worry for much longer. 

“I want to assure you also that we will be speaking to the Minister of Culture, Community Development and the Arts, Dr Nyan Gasby Dolly to make sure that the allocations in the budget will be made available to you,” he said. 

The proposed village will feature a number of traditional and indigenous depictions, including a cacique’s (chief) home, a kitchen and other familiar structures. 

They'll also be hosting a fundraising event on May 23, in order to further facilitate works within the community. President Paula Mae Weekes has pledged her attendance.

UNESCO T&T pledges $176,000 to Santa Rosa First Peoples Community

Originally published on LOOP NEWS, February 5, 2020

Education Minister and President of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) of Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony Garcia.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of Trinidad and Tobago, an agency of the Ministry of Education, has approved US$26,000.00 which is equivalent to TT$176,000 to the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community (SRFPC) to finance the construction of phase one of the First Peoples Community in Arima.

Speaking at the sod-turning ceremony on Tuesday, the President of UNESCO Trinidad and Tobago and Minister of Education, Anthony Garcia, said the investment highlights the importance of the project for the preservation of history and culture.

“Through the involvement of UNESCO we will be able to share with the wider society of Trinidad and Tobago insight into a culture that is so integral into who we are as a people today. Trinidad and Tobago boasts of an eclectic and cosmopolitan mix of religions, people, traditions and beliefs and this, is evident simply by looking around at the persons gathered here today. For many of us, tracing our lineage and understanding our heritage is difficult because of generations of misinformation, separation or migration. Therefore, to be able to engage in the establishment of this Heritage Village will be to the benefit of so many people who will now be able to have a better understanding of where they came from and what has contributed to the life that we know today.”

Garcia said the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community is recognised by the Government as the official representative of the country’s indigenous people. In December 2012, the Government agreed to allocate 25 acres of forested lands in the Arima Forest Reserve, to this community. The intended purpose was to demonstrate how a community could engage in sustainable forest-based livelihoods and contribute to the socio-economic development of the wider community while maintaining traditional cultural and spiritual values.

Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat, also attended the sod-turning ceremony. He urged society to begin recognising the First Peoples with the degree of pre-eminence which they deserve and that is now the norm in other countries, such as in Canada.

Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, Ricardo Hernandez Bharath, in delivering remarks, thanked UNESCO for the assistance. He said this First Phase of the Heritage Village will consist of a building depicting the traditional home of an Amerindian Cacique/Chief, the traditional home of an Amerindian family and a traditional kitchen for the preparation of indigenous foods. These structures will serve as the genesis of an established physical Community for the Santa Rosa First People.

04 February 2020

ARIMA BORN: Land, Labour, Power, and Colonial Mythology in Trinidad

Focusing on the history of the Arima Mission in the Island of Trinidad, ostensibly a mission for Indigenous people, the documentary below features what was learned from the baptismal registers of the Mission of Santa Rosa de Arima—in conjunction with historical texts, government documents, and official memoranda and reports of the time. What we encounter are four main “myths,” or working fictions: 1) the myth that the Mission was for Indians alone; 2) the myth of “Christian protection”; 3) the myth of assimilation; and, 4) the myth of extinction. The film, and the book on which it is based, argues that a proper understanding of the history of the rise and demise of the Mission has to be in relation to the slave plantation economy. Broadly speaking, we are dealing with a story at the intersection of land, labour, and power under conditions of oligarchic domination and the creation of poverty out of plenty.

Research that went into the book, Arima Born, on which the documentary below was based, became part of my “knowledge repatriation” strategy. This was accompanied by a series of events that, for some, would be examples of “public anthropology”.

First, copies of the book were deposited for free in various key access points: in Canada, copies were deposited with Libraries & Archives Canada, along with an e-book; in Trinidad, copies were deposited in the Heritage Collection of the National Library (NALIS), the Arima Public Library, and the West Indian Collection of the Alma Jordan Library of the University of the West Indies.

Second, free copies of the book were delivered to the Santa Rosa First People’s Community, in addition to providing copies to select members of the Arima community more broadly, including the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Church.

Third, an offer was made to the leadership of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community to republish and print the book locally in Trinidad, under an imprint of its choice, with the majority of revenues going to the SRFPC.

Fourth, public presentations based on the book were made at the community centre of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community on December 10, 2019, and at the Arima Public Library on January 8, 2020. The slides below accompanied those public presentations, and are being made available for download:

Fifth, awareness of the issues presented in the book, and in the public presentations, was heightened by the publication of three separate articles by different authors in the national media in Trinidad & Tobago:

  1. Arima mission a ‘slave colony’,” in Newsday (Oct. 22, 2019), also available here.
  2. First Peoples want HDC house for Carib Queen,” in Newsday (Dec. 12, 2019), also available here.
  3. Counting ‘Indios’,” review by Bridget Brereton in the Daily Express (Jan. 29, 2020), full text available here.

Sixth, the documentary below is the latest form of public presentation of the knowledge gained from this research. The film is available both on YouTube and Vimeo.

01 February 2020

“Counting ‘Indios’”: Review by Bridget Brereton

Originally published in the Daily Express
by Dr. Bridget Brereton
January 29, 2020

Dr. Bridget Brereton, Trinidad Historian
The history of Trinidad’s First Peoples before the coming of the Europeans has been researched by archaeologists like John Bullbrook, Irving Rouse and (more recently) Arie Boomert. After European contact (from 1498) written records are available to reconstruct what happened to these people, and the Arima based Santa Rosa First Peoples Community (SRFPC) has worked hard over several decades to remind us that their descendants today form an important part of the national population.

Maximilian Forte, a Canadian anthropologist at Concordia University in Montreal, has researched the history of Trinidad’s First Peoples, especially those associated with the Arima Mission, for many years. He published an important book in 2005, with the (typically academic!) title Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs: (Post)Colonial Representations of Aboriginality in Trinidad and Tobago, and is a long-standing collaborator with the SRFPC.

Last month, I was lucky to attend the launch of Forte’s new book, Arima Born, held at the SRFPC Centre in Arima. Introducing him, Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez described him as a friend and “documentalist” of the SRFPC for over 20 years, a counsellor and teacher “with the characteristics of the eagle”.

In a fascinating presentation, Forte explained that his new book was based on the baptism registers of the Arima (Roman Catholic) Mission Church, covering the period 1820 to 1916, plus various other documents of the same period. In Trinidad, as in many other places, surviving church registers (baptisms, marriages, burials) are a key source for historians, especially when we remember that government or “civil” registration of births, marriages and deaths typically began only in the 1800s (1847 in Trinidad).

Forte said that his research for Arima Born has led him to expose what he called four “myths” about the Arima Mission, which was the main Catholic-run centre for surviving First Peoples (whom Spanish priests called “Indios” or Indians) in Trinidad from 1786. (Overall, 630 “Indios” appear in the Mission’s baptism registers.)

First, Arima’s population in the early 1800s was predominantly African not “Indian”: most baptisms recorded in the Mission registers for the 1820s were of enslaved (African) children. Arima was a small settlement surrounded by plantations, many owned by French Creole families, and worked by enslaved Africans, who outnumbered the First Peoples (“Indios”) in the “Indian Mission”.

Second, what Forte called the “myth of Christian protection”: in fact, the Church could and did sell or grant the lands of the Mission (in theory vested in the resident “Indios”) to others for plantation development, such as the Farfan family. And the Mission ran its own rum shop and allowed the “Indios” to run up debts to the shop, a way of controlling their labour and maybe forcing them to sell their lands.

Third, the myth of “assimilation”, the idea that the First Peoples of the Mission adopted Christianity and its associated lifestyles with little resistance. In fact, many fled from the Mission; disobeyed church teachings; buried their dead in the hills not in the Mission cemetery; and rejected Christian marriage (53 per cent of the baptisms of “Indio” children were “illegitimate” between 1820 and 1852).

Finally, the myth of “extinction”, the “vanishing Indian”: the “Indios” didn’t vanish, of course, but the Mission was disbanded when slavery ended in the 1830s. Now, their labour was no longer needed and their lands in Arima were wanted for plantation development. And so they were no longer counted; in the baptism registers, they were no longer identified as “Indios” from the 1840s, but given a new ethnic identity, such as “mestizo”.

Sadly, Arima Born was not available for purchase at the launch, but Forte’s new book—from his presentation clearly a major contribution—can be ordered online from Alert Press.

The Peopling of the Caribbean: New Research Findings

From the Daily Express, where it was published with the headline: "Tech proves Columbus’ claims: Hundreds-year-old beliefs debunked," republished from scitechdaily.
Jan 27, 2020

Christopher Columbus’ accounts of the Caribbean include harrowing descriptions of fierce raiders who abducted women and cannibalised men—stories long dismissed as myths.

But a new study published on January 10 in Scientific Reports suggests Columbus may have been telling the truth.

Using the equivalent of facial recognition technology, researchers analysed the skulls of early Caribbean inhabitants, uncovering relationships between people groups and upending long-standing hypotheses about how the islands were first colonised.

One surprising finding was that the Caribs, marauders from South America and rumoured cannibals, invaded Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Bahamas, overturning half a century of assumptions that they never made it further north than Guadeloupe.

“I’ve spent years trying to prove Columbus wrong when he was right: There were Caribs in the northern Caribbean when he arrived,” said William Keegan, Florida Museum of Natural History curator of Caribbean archaeology. “We’re going to have to reinterpret everything we thought we knew.”

Columbus had recounted how peaceful Arawaks in modern-day Bahamas were terrorised by pillagers he mistakenly described as “Caniba,” the Asiatic subjects of the Grand Khan. His Spanish successors corrected the name to “Caribe” a few decades later, but the similar-sounding names led most archaeologists to chalk up the references to a mix-up: How could Caribs have been in the Bahamas when their closest outpost was nearly 1,000 miles to the south?

But skulls reveal the Carib presence in the Caribbean was far more prominent than previously thought, giving credence to Columbus’ claims.

Face to face with the Caribbean’s earliest inhabitants

Previous studies relied on artefacts such as tools and pottery to trace the geographical origin and movement of people through the Caribbean over time. Adding a biological component brings the region’s history into sharper focus, said Ann Ross, a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University and the study’s lead author.

Ross used 3D facial “landmarks,” such as the size of an eye socket or length of a nose, to analyse more than 100 skulls dating from about A.D. 800 to 1542. These landmarks can act as a genetic proxy for determining how closely people are related to one another.

The analysis not only revealed three distinct Caribbean people groups, but also their migration routes, which was “really stunning,” Ross said.

Looking at ancient faces shows the Caribbean’s earliest settlers came from the Yucatan, moving into Cuba and the Northern Antilles, which supports a previous hypothesis based on similarities in stone tools. Arawak speakers from coastal Colombia and Venezuela migrated to Puerto Rico between 800 and 200 BC, a journey also documented in pottery.

The earliest inhabitants of the Bahamas and Hispaniola, however, were not from Cuba as commonly thought, but the North-west Amazon—the Caribs. Around AD 800, they pushed north into Hispaniola and Jamaica and then the Bahamas where they were well established by the time Columbus arrived.

“I had been stumped for years because I didn’t have this Bahamian component,” Ross said. “Those remains were so key. This will change the perspective on the people and peopling of the Caribbean.”

For Keegan, the discovery lays to rest a puzzle that pestered him for years: why a type of pottery known as Meillacoid appears in Hispaniola by AD 800, Jamaica around 900 and the Bahamas around 1000.

“Why was this pottery so different from everything else we see? That had bothered me,” he said. “It makes sense that Meillacoid pottery is associated with the Carib expansion.”

The sudden appearance of Meillacoid pottery also corresponds with a general reshuffling of people in the Caribbean after a 1,000-year period of tranquillity, further evidence that “Carib invaders were on the move,” Keegan said.

Raiders of the lost Arawaks

So, was there any substance to the tales of cannibalism?

Possibly, Keegan said.

Arawaks and Caribs were enemies, but they often lived side by side with occasional intermarriage before blood feuds erupted, he said.

“It’s almost a ‘Hatfields and McCoys’ kind of situation,” Keegan said. “Maybe there was some cannibalism involved. If you need to frighten your enemies, that’s a really good way to do it.”

Whether or not it was accurate, the European perception that Caribs were cannibals had a tremendous impact on the region’s history, he said. The Spanish monarchy initially insisted that indigenous people be paid for work and treated with respect, but reversed its position after receiving reports that they refused to convert to Christianity and ate human flesh.

“The crown said, ‘Well, if they’re going to behave that way, they can be enslaved,’” Keegan said. “All of a sudden, every native person in the entire Caribbean became a Carib as far as the colonists were concerned.”

Community centre on ancient burial ground?

Originally published in the Daily Express,
by Kimoy Leon Sing,
June 14, 2019

Community centre: The newly opened San Fernando North Community Centre.

Flickering lights and power failure marked the official opening of the San Fernando North Community Centre on Wednesday.

Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and mayor of San Fernando Junia Regrello were at the site to open the multi-storey facility, which has had several unexplained occurrences since 2009.

It was reported during the initial phase of construction that these incidences were believed to be the work of spirits.

Some of these unexplained occurrences included falling tools and various accidents, after members of Amerindian tribes visited the site in 2009, claiming it as a First Peoples burial ground.

However, these claims were never confirmed.

According to Gadsby-Dolly, the centre sits on one acre of land along St Vincent Street, San Fernando and has taken 11 years to build to the tune of $16.8 million.

The multi-million dollar facility is a four-storey structure which consists of an auditorium with a capacity to hold 275 people along with changing rooms and washrooms, all located on the top two floors of the facility.

On the ground floor, the centre is comprised of an audio-visual room, computer room, a gymnasium, administrative office, kitchen, and multipurpose room.

There is parking in the basement and outside the building. There is also an elevator and ramps for the differently abled.

Speaking to media following the unveiling of the commemorative plaque and ribbon cutting ceremony, Gadsby-Dolly chuckled when asked about the supernatural occurrences at the centre.

She said, the country is steeped in folklore, but the flickering lights and power failure at the start of the opening ceremony was not any foreboding of evil and doom, but there was a reasonable explanation.

“We are a country rich in folklore and heritage and that’s good too. Burial sites are revered by T&T’s first people and were happy to have done the right kind of ceremony, which had the blessings of the Amerindian descendants,” she said.

“We feel that we are honoured to be on this site. We feel that it is a good addition to the foundation and it means that the whole centre is steeped in the good values of our ancestors and we look forward to that continuing,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

She noted with the change of government in 2010, work at the center halted, but with PNM returning to office in 2015, work at the center resumed in 2017.

At the opening ceremony, residents of Spring Vale, San Fernando, and environs said the center was a great addition to the community.

Regrello said the centre will now be used for various events and outreach programmes spanning education campaigns, health activities, and many cultural items.

It will also act as a safe haven and be a central pillar in the community, he said.

“These activities are simply some of the everyday initiatives that community centres such as this can host. However, one of the most critical factors that we all must pay heed is ensuring that all those who utilise this facility take responsibility for it. Treat it as your own. The long-term sustainability of this building, as well as many of the other upcoming projects in San Fernando, hinge on our citizens accepting responsibility for the general upkeep of these buildings,” he said.

Project manager of UDeCOTT, Terrence Beepath attributed the flickering lights and loss of power during the opening ceremony as power failure.

He said, “UDeCOTT is going to be here one year after, on this project to improve all aspects.”