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.

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