Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 16th 2014 Contents B2
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, October 16, 2014
"I am mixed, but I knew I had
strong Amerindian roots...At the
time I didn t know the details of the
heritage ---the culture and rights..."
But though connecting with others,
he learned, and educated himself
about his own people s history.
Time for meaningful recognition
Hernandez has been a consistent
advocate for more meaningful recog-
nition of First Peoples rights here.
He acknowledges First Peoples
were recognised by Cabinet in 1990;
at that time a small subvention of
$30,000 was granted annually to
the Santa Rosa First People s Com-
munity. Later, in 1993 the commu-
nity received a Chaconia Silver
National Award for work in culture
and community service.
"These things will not empower
you as a people to survive. It is token
recognition. It does not do anything
to uplift and empower the commu-
nity to move from one stage to the
Land rights in limbo
"I strongly believe that many gov-
ernment officials do not know the
history of the First Peoples, and
especially, the issue of land rights
when it comes to the First Peoples
of Arima. They don t know. It is only
now, some of them are becoming
aware, because we are discussing it.
"They may feel: this is just another
group looking for handouts. But
indigenous people have a unique,
inherent right to the land. All peoples
need the land for survival, regardless
of if you are indigenous or not, but
indigenous peoples have a unique
right---all peoples met us here first."
Hernandez explained that he is
not talking about giving individual
plots of land to people of Amerindian
heritage; he is talking about having
a permanent, single land area of rea-
sonable size to be owned collectively,
to build a sustainable village. The
village would have a cassava pro-
cessing plant, a museum, a herbar-
ium, and would operate eco-tours
in the forest.
First Peoples could develop their
arts, crafts, and music there. There
could be a guest house for visitors.
"These activities would allow our
people to be self-sustaining," stressed
"Under the last government, five
acres were given," said Hernandez.
"Then when the new Government
came in, they rescinded that, and
gave the Santa Rosa First Peoples
Community 25 acres to build a model
"But because the land is in a forest
reserve area, there are many legalities
and complications that have pre-
vented us from starting to do any-
thing. They say they can de-reserve
it for use by the community...Will
it be leased? Will it be a grant? Will
it be allocated for use? We don t
know...A Cabinet committee will
study it, under the National Diversity
ministry, and make recommenda-
tions to Cabinet.
"We would like a larger portion
of land to be allocated to the First
Peoples," said Hernandez.
"Under the Panday administra-
tion, we asked for 200 acres. Some
felt it was asking for too much; we
wouldn t get it. But they do not
understand. They feel that you are
asking for 200 acres of land to bull-
doze it! And that you really do not
have the capacity to work it, so you
are mad. That is how some look at
"But the forest plays an integral
part in the indigenous culture. So
most of this land would be kept in
its pristine state. We need the forest
for harvest materials for craft, for
housing, for medicines, for farming.
Just a small percentage would be for
A history of land theft
"The Amerindian people were
brought to Arima in the establish-
ment of the Mission in 1759, which
was neglected for 30 years, then
enlarged in 1785...The Amerindians
in Arima numbered more than 600
at that time; and they were granted,
collectively, 1,000 acres of land. The
land was held in trust by the Church
for the Amerindians---there were no
individual deeds...Then another gov-
ernor came and added 320 acres of
land to that original 1,000. So in all,
the Amerindians of Arima owned
"And under the British, all the
lands were taken and sold, because
they asked the Amerindians for a
deed. In Christ s name, where would
they have gotten a deed? Who would
have given them a deed?...And that
is how the Amerindians lost their
land. All 1,320 acres were taken away
from them. It was essentially theft.
"I am being realistic and practical.
I am not asking the Government
today to give us back 1,320 acres.
But to give us back just 25 acres is
an insult. It is ridiculous."
"First Peoples were the foundation
of this country. It is important we
know that. Civilisation did not start
From Page B1
Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, chief of the Santa Rosa First People's
Community, at the Heritage Village, Arima Velodrome, on Monday.
PHOTO: SHEREEN ALI
Festival slumps after elders die
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