After years of clamouring for greater national acknowledgement, the First Peoples in TT will be recognised formally on Friday with a one-off public holiday.
And to commemorate the observance, the community has organised a week of activities, under the theme, On Becoming Visible Towards Meaningful Recognition, in an effort to enlighten fellow descendants and others about the history and contribution of the indigenous peoples to the country’s development.
The activities began on Friday with a lecture on the topic, DNA Testing of the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago: Identification of their genealogical ancestry, at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port-of-Spain.
Later that day, the group hosted a Waponaka Concert, a rich mix of parang, calypso and other cultural presentations at the Santa Rosa First Peoples Centre, Paul Mitchell Street, Arima.
Today, at 6 pm, the community is expected to host an orientation ceremony for visiting First Peoples delegates at the centre on Paul Mitchell Street.
Tomorrow, the group is due to host an ancestral journey to Moruga, at which celebrants will perform sacred rites and various musical expressions.
Other events scheduled for the week include a symposium, titled, From Chrysalis to Butterfly: On Becoming Visible Towards Meaningful Recognition, at the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s O’Meara campus; a children’s rally and a ceremonial walk through Arima.
For Chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez, president of the Santa Rosa First Peoples, Arima–perhaps the largest and most vocal First Peoples community in the country–the holiday is not intended to encourage relaxation.
Rather, he said, apart from reflecting on the atrocities which were committed against the indigenous peoples, centuries ago, the holiday presented an opportunity to truly celebrate their contribution.
It gives First Peoples descendants, numbering close to 1,500 in Arima, and others a chance to participate fully in the community’s events.
“Because, in ordinary times, without a holiday, people would usually say they can’t come because they have to work or their children can’t come because they have to go to school. So, my feeling and the community’s feeling was that with a national holiday, nobody cannot use that excuse not to participate.”
Outside of Arima, First Peoples descendants can be found in Lopinot, La Pastora, Maracas/St Joseph, Santa Cruz, Paria, Brasso Seco, Tabaquite, Moruga, Brazil, San Rafael and Talparo.
Bharath-Hernandez, who has said repeatedly they are not just another minority cultural group, insisted they had inherent rights with respect to land titles, which were supported by the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some 144 countries, including TT, voted for the Declaration.
Bharath-Hernandez was cautiously optimistic that the group’s lobby for a heritage park–a permanent place to call their own–will become a reality.
Plans for the park began during the former People’s National Movement administration, under late prime minister Patrick Manning. A Cabinet decision was taken to give the First Peoples a five-acre plot of land along Blanchisseuse Road, Arima, which they found to be inadequate. The community later identified a hilly piece of land which had once been occupied by First Peoples centuries ago.
When the People’s Partnership came into office, in May 2010, it rescinded the PNM’s offer of a five-acre plot, and gave the community an additional 20-acres at the same site. The land has since been surveyed, following which an offer of lease was issued to the community from the Commissioner of State Lands on September 9, 2015. Alluding to the movement toward economic diversification in this year’s budget, Bharath-Hernandez said First Peoples in other parts of the region, namely Dominica, Guyana and Suriname, were already firmly entrenched in their islands’ tourism initiatives.
“We are still to reach that point but we see potential in our vision for a permanent space to call our own. We can contribute to the tourism sector. “
Bharath-Hernandez said the parcel of land which the community has received for its park, is expected to provide employment in the areas of food processing and sales, handicraft, wildlife farming and eco-tourism.
The facility also will contain a museum, cultural/recreational space and living quarters for the Carib Queen and about a dozen families.