The quiet act of protest by the Santa Rosa First People's Community on Friday in full tribal dress was planned to draw attention to the need for a proper burial of remains found at the Red House during its renovation.
With the removal of the sheltering construction roof from the Red House, there is a general sense of hope that a repair and restoration project begun in 2004 is finally drifting to an end and a resumption of the role of the structure in both governance and as a central work of architecture in the city centre.
The remains were discovered in 2013 after Udecott took over the project in 2011. They were tested and placed in a glass case at the Waterfront location of Parliament. The First Peoples last appeared at the Red House in October 2017, where they called for a clear explanation of the Government's plans for the remains. From the perspective of the First Peoples, these remains are those of their ancestors, and their call for respectful treatment of these bones and artefacts as part of their history, which is inextricably shared with the nation's history, is reasonable and sensible.
Friday's protest walk was interrupted by members of the Council of the Warao Tribe and Shabaka Kambon of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project who sought attention for the removal of the statue of Columbus in south-east Port of Spain. There seemed to be no serious differences between the positions of the two groups, save for a matter of priority.
Chief Richardo Bharath Hernandez, head of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, made it clear that while he had no interest in "glorifying Columbus," his focus was on improving the lives of the First Peoples today and ensuring that their legacy was respected. What seems necessary here is a clearer articulation of what the descendants of the original people of Trinidad and Tobago would want to see from today's Government and a proposed timeline for its implementation.
For its part, the Government's response to this delicate matter hasn't deviated from their usual response to such matters, mollifying reassurances that the First Peoples have nothing to worry about.
This is a matter that's important enough that by now, the Government should have been able to consult with the First Peoples and to design a suitable ceremony and space of remembrance within the project that satisfies all the expectations that have arisen since the discovery. Anything less is insensitive and condescending.
There is room at the Red House for all this nation's legacies and descendants of its first inhabitants shouldn't have to continuously demand respect and legitimacy.