28th Sunday OT (A)
October 13, 2017
‘From Roots to Wings’
October 13, 2017

First Peoples – the journey to recognition

Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez at the August 1 sacred smoke ceremony at the First Peoples’ Centre, Arima. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

By Simone Delochan, sdelochan.camsel@rcpos.org

On Friday, the country celebrated a one-off holiday to commemorate the indigenous groups of the country.  It has been a long journey for the First Peoples as they sought to have their heritage seen and acknowledged. The movement to the validation of First Peoples is one that is not mere local concern, but global impetus, as a history of genocide, control and land displacement was repeated. Particularly here, their stories have been somewhat thrust aside by the predominant narratives of African slavery and East Indian indentureship.

In a brief interview with Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, after an October 6 presentation at NAPA on the DNA of the First Peoples’ community in Trinidad and Tobago, hosted by the University of Trinidad and Tobago, he acknowledged that the community has been “making strides and getting that recognition”.

The Chief, in his address to the audience at NAPA, commented: “For quite a few years, I had stopped singing that part of the national anthem [where every creed and race/ find an equal place] but today I can say, with the awarding or granting of the national holiday, indeed I can say, every creed and race finds an equal place in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago”.

The theme this year is Becoming Visible Towards Meaningful Recognition, and the holiday is seen as a step in the right direction as it brings the First Peoples and their history in the islands to the fore. The journey, says Bharath Hernandez, began in the late 1960s to 1970s, with the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ community, “continuing to agitate to make their presence felt through the Santa Rosa Festival, which was the only vehicle at the time, to keep aspects of the culture and tradition intact”.

In the 1990s, under the National Alliance for Reconstruction government, the Santa Rosa Community was recognised as representative of the indigenous Amerindians of Trinidad and Tobago. Successive governments have been taking incremental steps.

How does Bharath Hernandez define recognition? It takes different forms, beginning with protocol. “We are in Arima, and sometimes you are invited to functions. They would invite leaders of the community, the queen and chief, all the speakers would go up there and they would not even recognise you. [It] says a lot about how they respect you in society; that alone tells you how people look at you.”

He continues, “We are saying on the Arima Borough Council, there should be a permanent voice to represent our First Peoples…for instance, you open the Parliament, and you have sections of people coming to offer prayers, there is no sign of the First Peoples.”

He mentions as well the governmental response to the finding of artefacts at the Red House. A letter was written by the First Peoples on how the artefacts should “be treated with” but the response was silence.

During the interview, the Carib House in San Fernando was brought up, and he supplied an interesting fact that this writer was not aware of: “Right behind the Carib House, there is a midden and there are artefacts of the First People…When you are recognised and you call on the authorities to recognise the sacred sites, and historical sites, well that should be done. In the absence of recognition, then you do not have the wherewithal, the laws to govern and protect these places and sites. Nobody takes you on.”

NEXT WEEK: First Peoples and the Catholic Church, and DNA testing results