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Aug 9: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

An indigenous woman greets Pope Francis during a meeting with participants in the Indigenous Peoples' Forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development Feb. 15 at the Vatican.(CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout) See POPE-INDIGENOUS-RIGHTS Feb. 15, 2017.

Tuesday, August 9 marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year’s theme looks at the Role of Indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge and the impact of Indigenous women on maintaining their culture and identity.

This is a battle hard fought for this specific group as according to the UN:

“Globally, 47% of all indigenous peoples in employment have no education, compared to 17% of their non-indigenous counterparts. This gap is even wider for women.” [And] “Indigenous peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-indigenous counterparts.”

Nevertheless, the indigenous voice, has survived despite intense hardship. Trinidad and Tobago has an ancient history with Indigenous populations. According to, Trinidad may have been one of the earliest settled countries within the Caribbean region who were “pre-agricultural indigenous groups from the Orinoco Delta of South America that first settled at least 7,000 years ago.”

If we are to remember our Social Studies curriculum correctly, “The Arawakan Tribe dominated the Caribbean Islands. They were settled communities with agricultural based economies, and having well developed cultures. The Cariban societies never achieved the state of civilization displayed by the Arawakan tribes; they were more nomadic than the Arawaks.” (

The Catholic Church and the Amerindian community in Trinidad and Tobago also have a long and complex history, filled with both violence, dominance, and conversion.

“From as early as 1513, efforts were made to Christianise the Amerindians of Trinidad. Despite the hostility from the Amerindians towards these efforts at conversion, the Spanish Capuchins of the Province of Catalan, of the Order of St Francis, responded to the king’s invitation to send missionaries to Trinidad. In August 1687, a group of 10 Capuchins landed here. Their role was to encourage the Amerindian people to work on the land where missions were established, to train them to accept the lifestyle of Spanish society, and to instruct them in the teachings of Christianity.

The tribes in the Arima area kept Spanish colonisation of the area at bay for a long time. It wasn’t until 1749 the Capuchin monks were able to establish the Mission of Santa Rosa de Arima. It was named after Santa Rosa de Lima, the first saint of the New World.

According to Carib oral tradition, Rosa was born in Arima to Spanish parents while staying in Trinidad on their way to South America. Legend tells the story of three Carib hunters of the Carinepogoto Tribe who, while hunting in the Pinto forest, stumbled across a young, seemingly mute girl. They thought she was lost, so they took her back to their village (which extended from the present Santa Rosa Church to Calvary Hill).

The village priest saw that she was not a child, but a spirit. Three times she disappeared and three times they brought her back. They believed her to be the manifested spirit of Santa Rosa, willed back to Arima where she was born.” (

Like the plight of global Indigenous groups, Indigenous tribes within Trinidad and Tobago have struggled to survive. Yet, women have always played a central role, with the tradition of the Carib Queen in the Santa Rosa community instilled by Catholic missionaries in Arima remaining strong to this day.

The reverence around their queen, a female as a figurehead is arguably highly progressive as the Carib Queen is representative of all Amerindian descendants, not just that of the Carib tribe.

“The Carib Queen is a titular figure whose main role is to oversee all preparations for the Santa Rosa Festival. She is an elder matron of the Carib Community who is elected for her knowledge of Carib traditions, her ability to pass on that knowledge and offer training in weaving skills amongst other things, and for her ability to deal with the public, receive visitors, and maintain a high standard of protocol on public occasions.

The Santa Rosa Carib Festival takes place in August and is intended to pay tribute to the First Peoples of the New World.” (