Doing more to help Indigenous peoples
Clint Chan Tack
MORE needs to be done to create space for indigenous peoples in Trinidad and Tobago.
That was the message from Santa Rosa First Nations Community Chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez and Warao Nation Grand Chief Rabina Shar during a virtual meeting with the Joint Human Rights Commission. , Equality and Diversity (JSC) Parliament on Friday.
While Bharath-Hernandez and Shar differed on some points, they agreed that successive governments have not done enough to recognize the rights of TT First Peoples in accordance with the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13. , 2007.
This declaration recalled a previous one adopted on December 20, 2006. Among other things, the 2007 declaration (to which TT is a signatory) recognized that indigenous peoples should be free from all forms of discrimination and had suffered from historical injustices such as colonization and disposal of their land.
Bharath-Hernandez recalled that on August 20, 2018, the group received 25 acres of land in Arima for a First Peoples Heritage Village and Living Museum via Cabinet decision. This land was given to the community under a 30-year lease.
Although grateful for the gift, Bharath-Hernandez said, “We say that entering into a rental agreement for indigenous people is an insult to indigenous people.”
This land should be given to them as a concession. But if it were to be leased, Bharath-Hernandez argued that the lease should have lasted at least 99 years. He called the 30-year lease unacceptable.
Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland acknowledged his comments.
“The committee will try to be practical.”
Bharath-Hernandez suggested a substantial day of recognition for indigenous peoples. First Peoples were recognized on a single holiday in May 2017. Since then they have not had a day when they are recognized like many other ethnic and religious groups in TT.
Bharath-Hernandez said, “We’re like swimming against the tide.”
While granting a holiday to indigenous peoples is not mandatory. he added, “If not a full vacation, but a meaningful day, not just a day of recognition.”
He wanted a team to be put together to accelerate the development of the heritage village and museum project.
“It’s too long. Too many obstacles.”
In response to a comment from Department of Sports and Community Development coordinator Dr Donna-Moe Knights, Bharath-Hernandez said the group wanted to have further discussions on proposals for a state agency to manage the town.
He recalls a conversation he had between 1995 and 2001 with then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday about land for indigenous peoples. Panday asked how much they would need. Bharath-Hernandez said that when he told Panday 400 acres, Panday’s response was, “Why don’t you take the whole Northern Range?”
The use of the Heritage Village by all Indigenous groups and an important annual day for them is where the Santa Rosa First Nations community and the Warao Nation have common ground.
But Bharath-Hernandez observed that the Warao Nation pursues a different agenda than his group. In this context, he disagreed with a suggestion by Tunapuna MP Esmond Forde to address the concerns of both groups simultaneously.
Although he made no judgment on the direction of the Warao nation, Bharath-Hernandez said, “Our rapprochement will not take us forward.”
Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye shared her knowledge of working with Indigenous peoples in other countries to benefit them and their nation as well. She admitted to being confused about what the two groups wanted the government to do for them.
“I have the impression that they are not happy with what happened to them. There is a need for mediation.”
Tabaquite MLA Anita Haynes agreed. “There is a greater need for awareness and education.”
Shar said his group focused on the lands allegedly taken from them from colonial times to the present day.
“If our rights are not recognized, how can we contribute (to national development)?
Shar wondered if the JSC was giving his group a fair hearing.
JSC Chairman, Senate Deputy Speaker Dr. Muhammad Yunus Ibrahim reminded both groups that in the TT “every creed and race finds an equal place”.
Responding to Shar and referring to Scotland’s earlier comments, Ibrahim said one of the JSC’s roles was to find possible solutions to concerns raised by groups that come before it.