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Wednesday 18 October 2017
Editorial

Lessons of our First Peoples

It feels like chaos on our planet.

Undercurrents of war as relations between the United States and North Korea worsen, and as China, Russia and other nations try to make sense of an increasingly tense reality. Devastation because of hurricanes, storms, mudslides and flooding, from Sierra Leone to India to Texas, and now parts of our precious Caribbean almost entirely destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

At home, it does not even take a powerful weather system to cause our capital to flood or create instability with food supplies.

Human beings are reaping the results of their lack of respect for the planet. The year “2016 was recorded as the hottest year on Earth,” and increasing temperatures in the air and ocean are not only playing a role in the massive weather systems being experienced, but are a direct cause of higher sea levels and intensified flooding.

As one commentator put it, “Let’s not dance around the issue: Hurricane Harvey was a direct consequence of global warming, which in turn is a direct consequence of human activities.”

We talked about these matters while in rehearsal for upcoming performances of Eintou Springer’s play I Hyarima. The play is being put on as part of national commemorations of the heritage and culture of our First Peoples. Theirs is an ancient legacy, going back some 6-7,000 years.

Indigenous peoples lived in harmony with the earth, surviving on the meat and fish around them, planting crops and accessing the medicinal properties in the trees and plants. They killed to survive and used every part of the animal, so what they did not consume, was used for clothing or other aspects of home life.

Spiritually, they paid reverence to the change in seasons, cycles of the moon and sun, the animals, rivers, and forest. Their rituals and traditions reflected synergy with the earth.

Tracy Assing, a descendant of the peoples from the Santa Rosa community in Arima, has created a successful documentary about the history and heritage of her family, as a way of ensuring that they are not written out of the consciousness of the people of TT. She says, “I go to the forest and look for guidance and answers. Here I feel most connected with the universe and my family.”

But there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to achieve her goals. Recently, I cringed to hear a well-known cultural practitioner describe Hyarima, the cacique or chief who waged war against the brutality of the Spaniards, as a guerilla. And a new social studies book for infants does not include the First Peoples.

Commenting on this grave faux pas, Collin Harris, Director of Research at the Warao Research Institute, conceded that available information was limited, staying largely within the families of the various groupings. “The Warao Research Institute was created to clean up that mess that the Spanish, French, Dutch and English made.”

In our own way, through the dance, the movement and the words in the play, we will make our contribution to the omissions of history, and to the consciousness of the people who will come to see us perform. But a more permanent solution is required. We need to integrate our indigenous peoples into our education system and daily lives, and teach citizens how to live in harmony with the earth like their ancestors before them.

Is it too late to arrest the damage we have caused? Perhaps. Earth has already heated up and sea levels continue to rise. The First Peoples have a great deal to teach us. The crucial question is, are we willing to listen.

Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN

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