Monday, October 26, 2009

Amerindians bless burial grounds in Sando

Members of the Amerindian community put on a dance during Tuesday’s ceremonial blessing of the grounds on St Vincent Street, San Fernando, believed to be a former Amerindian burial ground. Photo: Rishi Ragoonath

TRINIDAD - Indigenous people from Arima, Guyana and Suriname, wearing their native dress, created quite a stir on Tuesday when they blessed the grounds on St Vincent Street, San Fernando, believed to be a former Amerindian burial ground.

The site is under construction for a $7 million state-of-the-art community centre in the San Fernando West constituency. Some stakeholders have raised objections to the construction on sacred grounds. Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, Junia Regrello, said there was no evidence that it was an Amerindian burial ground, but in the face of concerns raised, the project was temporary halted to undertake an investigation to see how authentic the claims were.

After consultation with the Amerindian community, they agreed to bless the site so work could proceed. “We don’t want to offend any community,” Regrello said.

Work is expected to resume today, he added. Led by Chief Ricardo Bharat-Hernandez, the Amerindians called on the great Spirits to consecrate the grounds and forgive any disruptions which may have been caused by the construction. Visiting High Priest from Suriname Harold Taweroe, also led a song and dance around a container filled with dirt, and a half of a calabash filled with water, as the Native Indians smoked their peace pipe and shook their chac-chacs to complete the ritual. Bharat-Hernandez, Deputy Mayor of Arima, said the site, on which a basketball court was presently constructed, may have been an Amerindian cemetery. “I have asked for evidence, but no one could give that evidence. Burial grounds are very sacred, and in the absence of concrete evidence, we performed a simple ritual, as if it were a burial ground, to appease the Spirits and ask the creator to bless what is happening here now,” he said.

Bharat-Hernandez said the First People had no intention of stopping any development of the community. He said he was happy to hear Regrello say they were about putting people first and his intention to create a shrine or special place to preserve whatever remains or artefacts they may find. Bharat-Hernandez also used the opportunity to call on government to recognise the First People and put them in their rightful place. He said all of the other people who came to T&T has been recognised in many ways, but the First People, in spite of their contribution, had not.

“Here we are concerned about the remains of our ancestors, but we have living indigenous people across the world and in our region and we are in a struggle for meaningful recognition.” He said without that recognition, a very important cultural heritage would be lost. “The Minister said we put people first, well I want to tell him to put the First People in their rightful position,” he said.

Author: Yvonne Webb

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Amerindians call for public holiday

TRINIDAD - Indigenous people have called on the Government to give them a one-time public holiday as they celebrated Amerindian Day last Wednesday. After dawn, the indigenous community held a ritual ceremony at the monument area of the Arima Savannah, where they paid tribute to their ancestors who were killed by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. Following the ceremony, chief/ president of the Santa Rosa Carib Community Ricardo Bharat-Hernandez led his people in a street procession through Arima. Spectators stopped to enquire about the celebration and many expressed interest in knowing about the history of the indigenous people.

Chief responds

In an interview, Hernandez said a public holiday should be given by the Government to honour the contribution of the Amerindians. “People are not aware of our history and that is why we need a public holiday. We can even have a one-off public holiday. People are working and busy and it’s difficult to reach them so that they could support this. The indigenous heritage needs a public holiday or a one off, so the country can stop and recognise our indigenous past,” Hernandez said. He said if a public holiday was given, the Carib community could organise a heritage day.

The Carib chief also said T&T could learn a lot from the legacy of the Amerindian people, as they practised conservation and respect for life. “We know that they practised conservation in the way they treated the forests. They did not destroy the forests. They hunted enough to feed themselves. They also had knowledge on the medicinal value of plants, as well as a strong, vibrant agricultural tradition,” Hernandez said. He explained that people could also learn from the belief systems of the Amerindians, as they honoured their ancestors and showed respect for family life.

Preservation of history

Hernandez said some indigenous instruments were still being used within the Carib community today. “Some people have lost interest in some of the traditional utensils but we still use the couleve, a long woven basket to strain the bitter cassava,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said the indigenous history was rich and needed to be preserved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moraikobai looks to large-scale agriculture, call for govt assistance

 At the mini exhibition, Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud examines a cassava grown in the community while Regional Chairman, Harrinarine Baldeo (partly hidden, at back) looks at a craft item.
At the mini exhibition, Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud examines a cassava grown in the community while Regional Chairman, Harrinarine Baldeo (partly hidden, at back) looks at a craft item.

GUYANA - As Amerindians support the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), residents of Moraikobai in the Mahaicony River have called on government to assist with equipment and soil testing so they could diversify to large-scale agriculture.

The residents, concerned that they would have to ease up on logging, which is their main means of earning a livelihood said Moraikobai is not a major farming community but they were willing to start planting and growing more.

As part of the celebration of Agriculture Month, Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud visited the area on Saturday to “address” some of the concerns of residents and assured them that they would get the required support. At the end of his address he presented a quantity of fruit and vegetable seeds, chemicals to deal with acoushi ants along with two breeding pigs to Toshao Dereck John. The items would be used to benefit the community.

The residents had gathered for training sessions including farming techniques, controlling pests and proper care of animals, conducted by technical staff of the Agriculture Ministry and the Guyana Forestry Commission.

John expressed gratitude for the items they received. He told this newspaper that residents were also grateful for the knowledge they were gaining from the training sessions. “Technical personnel are not here so these people come in to teach us and demonstrate to us and it is a big boost to the community,” he said.

The minister told the residents that while the community relied on logging he was happy that residents have been exposed to the discussion on the LCDS and what is happening in terms of climate change and that they would be part of the strategy.

He also pointed out that the LCDS is not intended to impinge or interfere with their livelihood but that government would ensure that the community has a stable and sufficient supply of food and that there are no disruptions in terms of forestry activities.

A mini exhibition, showcasing ground provision and as well as craft items made by the women, was also held. The women raised the issue of their crafts not being sold despite efforts to display them at various exhibitions.

Persaud then advised them to be a part of AGRIFEST at the National Stadium on October 31 as a way of securing markets.

Meanwhile he took the opportunity to ask Jamaica’s Minister of Commerce Michael Stern who was in Guyana on a business trip and joined the team on the visit to take note of the women’s concerns about markets.

Stern, who promised to assist in that regard, advised the people “to try and do as much as you can to create wealth in your community. Through that wealth creation you would become more sustainable and your children would have a better life…”

He said too that if they take advantage of all the assistance that they were getting they would have a successful community. He even promised to return one day to enjoy some of what they produce. The community had received computers for a state-of-the-art computer laboratory which is currently being housed at the primary school until a building which is currently being constructed for lab is completed. The building, according to the Toshao, would also be used for farmers’ training.

Persaud mentioned that on a previous visit residents had complained that the computers could not be used because the area only gets electricity at nights and that a generator has since been provided.

The residents said the community is having problems accessing potable water and Regional Chairman Harrinarine Baldeo informed residents that Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali would be visiting this week.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs Nigel Dharamlall who was also part of the team told the Amerindians that the ministry intends to continue serve them and that the budget proposed for next year is bigger.

Dharamlall said too that all Amerindian villages are considered vulnerable and that the ministry has recently launched a Database Management Information System to capture all the problems affecting them as well as the proposed solutions.

Source: Stabroek News

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Venezuelan Yukpa Indigenous Community Attacked, Two Murdered Following Land Grants

Yukpa chief Sabino Romero (Aporrea)

Mérida, Venezuela -- On Tuesday, the day after the national government granted more than 40,000 hectares of land to Yukpa indigenous communities in northwestern Venezuela, assassins attacked the community of Yukpa chief and indigenous rights activist Sabino Romero, killing two and injuring at least four.

Romero's son in law, Ever Garcia, and a young, pregnant Yukpa woman were shot dead in the attack. Romero received three bullet wounds and is currently in the hospital in stable condition, according to reports from the community. Romero's daughter, grand daughter, and nephew were also hospitalized with bullet wounds, and are now in the hospital in stable condition.

Romero was one of several Yukpa chiefs who led land occupations last year to demand that the government pay indemnity to the private estate owners and transfer the land to the Yukpa in the form of collective property, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution and indigenous rights laws passed by the government of President Hugo Chavez.

Since the land occupations began in July 2008, the Yukpa communities involved have been subject to repeated death threats and attacks by thugs believed to have been hired by large estate owners and their local government allies.

In August 2008, estate owner Alejandro Vargas participated in an attack on Romero's community, during which Romero's father, a community elder of more than one hundred years of age, was beaten and killed.

Vargas, a cattle rancher, in an attempt to justify his deadly raid on the Yukpa, accused Romero of stealing several head of cattle. He also claimed on one occasion to have paid bribes to local legal authorities for protection against prosecution, according to the victims of the attacks.

The Yukpa reported the attacks to local police, who said investigations were opened, but no suspects have been arrested.

The National Guard maintains a heavy presence and the government plans to build a new military base in the sparsely populated and conflict-ridden border zone, which is rich in coal deposits and affected by the spillover of refugees, guerrilla insurgents, and paramilitaries from the civil war in Colombia.

Romero and other Yukpa chiefs allied with him are openly opposed to the land grants issued by the government on Monday. They say the government did not effectively consult with the Yukpa communities about the proper demarcation of Yukpa land, and instead carved up Yukpa territory to protect large estate owners, preserve access to coal deposits, and preserve space for a military base in the region. Meanwhile, several other Yukpa chiefs have allied themselves with Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nicia Maldonado and supported the government's plan for indigenous land demarcation.

Housing and Credits Granted to Indigenous October 12th

In addition to the land titles issued on October 12th in celebration of Columbus Day, which the Chavez government officially renamed Indigenous Resistance Day in 2004, the government also gave houses, transport vehicles, and a variety of small business credits to semi-rural indigenous communities in the states of Amazonas, Bolivar, Anzoátegui, and Zulia.

Education Minister Hector Navarro and Agriculture and Land Minister Elias Jaua attended the inauguration of a bilingual public primary school in Anzoátegui state, where the local indigenous community will be able to study and learn in Spanish as well as their native language.

In the Amazon region, Presidential Chief of Staff Luis Reyes visited a community of approximately one hundred Piaroa families who received small houses of uniform suburban design that were built by the government. The government also gave the community vehicles to transport fruit from their farms to the market. In previous years, the community received credits to build a fruit processing plant and a radio station, and the government built a primary school and a local health clinic as well.

Venezuela's indigenous population constitutes less than two percent of the national population. Indigenous communities have gained substantial constitutional, legal, and parliamentary recognition since President Chavez took office in 1999.

Author: James Suggett