It is a belated attempt,in some measure, to right the wrongs of the past and to confer due and equitable recognition to this Republic’s indigenous demographic. The First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago are an undeniable, integral and revered component of our history, heritage and dynamic, multi-faceted cultural tapestry.In spite of their past afflictions and woes, the First Peoples continue to soldier on in their quest to preserve their cultural heritage and maintain acommunity way of life that is inspiring and exemplary.
The national community must commend Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez and the descendants of the First Peoples for their enlightening and progressive initiatives during this period of great celebration, including a wonderful Children’s Rally, the undertaking of an ancestral journey to Moruga and the annual Water Ritual. I attended with great pride and honour the Children’s Rallyat the National Cycling Centre in Couva on Wednesday 10th October, 2017 and observed the remarkable display of traditional wear and a togetherness, celebrated in song and dance among the First Peoples of Guyana, Suriname, Belize, Guatemala, Dominica and Canada, on common ground.Their one stirring motif, remains “I am Somebody.” This awareness to engageprimary and secondary school students in celebrations, song and dance of the First Peoples is pivotal. It will redound to the benefit of all, as it will sensitise our Nation’s children about the contribution, traditional values, cuisine and history of the First Peoples. The stands at the National Cycling Centre, Couva were filled to capacity with vibrant, young, innocent, and fascinated‘Anthropologists’ eager to discover and explore a piece of our history, which for far too long, we have taken for granted.
Today a mandate has been given to all citizens of this blessed Nation by our First Peoples. We must lay down our weapons of intolerance, apathy, race and cultural isolationismand indifference and instead nurture a society of compassion, understanding, tolerance and community.The First Peoples have suffered great injusticeshistorically and traditionally;their celebrations and ritualswere classified as primitive when they were really a people under siege, fighting for their very existence and dignity.
Many centuries ago the First Peoples devised a system of structured governance, able leadership, norms and mores that triggered mutual respect within their proud tribes.After centuries of subjugation and fighting for what is theirs, the world is slowly beginning to recognise and appreciate the inalienable rights of the First Peoples to be treated with respect, equality and honour. Trinidad and Tobago has finally come on board and it is hoped as a Nation, we stay on board.
Though it may be a worrying trend, that humanity must be legislated, the 2007 United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,marks a critical step in addressing the wrongs of the past.It is an international instrument which establishes a universal framework of standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of the world. It reinforces international benchmark standards and practices for human rights and fundamental freedoms as it relates to Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
We as a Nation, can learn so much from the traditional value systems of the First Peoples, which placed greater responsibility and ownership on the community rather than oneself. Inherent in the culture and value system of the First Peoples,arerespect for Mother Earth, respect for the elderly, respect within families and the institutional wisdom of the old Sage. The matriarch and the patriarch in First People Communities are the repositories of great influence and guidance and their words of wisdom are always sacrosanct.
My own paternalgreat grandparents wereWaraos,Amerindians, the First Peoples of Orinoco Delta in Venezuela- of that genre of Cocoa Payol; deep brown, weather-beaten men and women who worked tirelessly in the cocoa and coffee estates in Erin, Arima, Rancho Quemado, Moruga and Palo Seco. Part of my DNA is inextricably bound to the First Peoples and I do feel a deep sense of connection and bondto this culture; to this heritage, to this august community of men and women. This has further informed my public support for the recognition of the inalienable rights of the First Peoples to, for example, the declaration of their public holiday, Reparation and theirentitlement to estate.
It is a comforting honour to know that the history and traditions of our First Peoples are in a safe place in the hearts of our regional Chiefs, Queens and children, who continue to spread not only a philosophy of inclusivity, but a strong message that guarantees a symbiotic relationship between man and nature and that ever urgent need to protect Mother Earth.
This history of the First peoples has simply been harsh and unforgiving. This rich culture of indigenous communities existed some 7000 years before the arrival of Christopher Colombus, boasted well-established and stratified governance, community equity and prosperity and yet weredestroyed by the marauding Conquistadores. The past wrongs cannot be altered but they can be recognised for what they are and have been. We can therefore engage in a progressive action that bears testimony to the traditional values and ancestral greatness of the First Peoples. We can and must learn from the First Peoples heritage and there is a generational responsibility for us to so do.
It is my fervent hope that the First Peoples Heritage celebrations will trigger awareness, sensitivity and knowledge of the indigenous and spiritual traditions, highlight the positives and the importance of the sustainable living practices of the First Peoples and engender a revitalisation of the traditional skills associated with indigenous culture. It is further hopedthat there will be inclusive participation of the First Peoples communities in the decision-making and policy implementation processes of the Caribbean Region. I therefore commend Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez and the Santa Rosa Carib Community for their dogged persistence and insistence to be recognised and appreciated and to be given their just due. In some measure, this they have done through their successful advocacy in establishing the right of the First Peoples to their national holiday.
Best wishes and God’s Blessings to our First Peoples on this special and well deserved First Peoples Day!
- Office of the President