A peaceful walk and silent protest staged by the First Peoples Community, calling for the proper burial of remains found at the Red House during renovations almost ended in tribal war yesterday. Members of another group of indigenous people “imposed themselves” on the walk, calling for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Square, Port of Spain.
The group of protesters, who included members of the Warao tribe and a social-justice group, stormed the silent protest, holding anti-Columbus signs, and shouting slogans against the historical figure.
Michael “Mikkitang” Tang Yuk, chairman of the Counsil of the Warao Tribe, along with the Fourth Blood Queen of the Warao tribe, Donna Bermudez, and Shabaka Kambon, director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project, led the protest, which called for the statue of Christopher Columbus to be torn down.
But Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, head of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, clashed with the Warao tribe members, saying they want to remove the statue simply for the sake of removing it.
“I am not glorifying Columbus and what he did by saying to keep the statue, but I have a concern. When you remove the statue of Columbus, what is following that? If you can tell me how removing Columbus’ statue would improve the lives of our First Peoples today and what will be put in place, then I would think a second time of it.
"But if you are telling me that you are advocating for the removal of Columbus because of what he did, and nothing follows, and you do not get the authorities to pay more attention to our concerns, then you are wasting your time,” Hernandez said.
Tang Yuk, along with members of the Warao tribe, said the Warao were the first people to occupy this land, and described the recognition of Columbus in the history books, and through the statue in Columbus Square, as an affront to his ancestors.
“We are fighting for what the Europeans have taken away from us. We are fighting for the government to recognise us. We have been fighting for this for 30 years...The first slaves of this country was our ancestors.
"Everyone here has gone through this Columbus garbage. They taught us in school that he discovered this island and he is still on the curriculum in schools.
"And who are we? Invisible beings?”
The Warao people said they wanted the statue torn down so they could erect a monument to 300 years of indigenous resistance.
Bermudez told Newsday she did not want “tribal warfare,” but called for all indigenous groups to come together on all issues.
“We need to get together, stand strong, and build our nation. We need to take control of our youth. We need to take back leadership as parents and leaders. We need as adults to regain our respect and teach our children respect.
"We don’t want tribal war but we want peace among all tribes. Let us grow together and build our nation.”
Members of the First Peoples gathered at about 10 am to pay homage to the remains of their ancestors which were found during renovation work on the Red House in 2013. The remains, which have been dated to AD 990-AD1400, are being held in a container on the grounds of the Red House.
Since the discovery, the First Peoples have been allowed to hold ceremonies on the grounds to remember their ancestors. This year was no different, as they gathered at the Red House, held a ceremony to pay tribute to the ancestors and marched from the Red House to the Brian Lara Promenade. After the march, Hernandez called for a proper burial site at the Red House and a proper burial ceremony.
“This is not to be treated as second class or coming after,” he said. “A space has to be selected on the compound which has to be developed. A reburial ceremony must take place. This is what we are calling for."
He warned that if Parliament returned to the Red House "without doing the appropriate rites of what they have unearthed, then their tenure and all they have talked about would come to naught.”