AN AMERINDIAN HERITAGE COMPLEX
A Project Proposal by
The Santa Rosa Carib Community
This proposal is designed to cover a number of issues of vital concern to the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, each one advanced with the expressed intent of furthering the preservation and development of the Amerindian cultural heritage of Trinidad and Tobago and, in turn, making for an important contribution to the cultural and economic development efforts of Trinidad and Tobago. The primary elements of this proposal are: 1) An introduction to the plan and its rationale; 2) A History of the issues of outstanding concern to the Carib Community; and, 3) Ways Forward: detailed discussion of elements of the plan. We sincerely desire the response of the Prime Minister on this project proposal, along with the responses of relevant Members of Cabinet.
1.1 The wider global society in which we live has made salient a number of issues pertaining to Indigenous Peoples and to the developmental opportunities facing small states such as Trinidad and Tobago. With respect to the former, we witness the historic granting of lands and even autonomy to different Indigenous groups in diverse parts of the globe, whether we speak of the Mabo and Wik decisions of the Federal courts of Australia granting Native Title, or the creation of Nunavut, an autonomous zone for Canada’s Inuit and Dene in what has been called the Northwest Territory, or other land-based autonomy schemes instituted in nearby countries such as Nicaragua and Colombia. Here in the Commonwealth Caribbean, our Amerindian brothers and sisters in Dominica and Guyana have long had possession of lands and are an established and recognised part of their respective societies. Through the vehicle of international bodies and agencies of the United Nations it has become an established principle that Indigenous Peoples must have a land base. Also advanced through fora such as the International Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, is the principle that Indigenous Peoples need no longer be physically distinctive (or “pure” as we say in Trinidad given our colonial past), to be recognised as having a special attachment to the land, one that precedes the arrival of either colonisers or immigrant groups, and one that is distinctive for professing loyalty and love to a local territory rather than harking back to a distant shore.
1.2 Another important current in our global society is increased concern with the welfare of the environment and with the protection of the ecological patrimony of humanity. The environment has become a subject for grave concern here in Trinidad especially, as we face floods, water shortages, forest fires, untreated sewerage, contaminated beaches, endangered species of all sorts, and improperly disposed waste, all of which threaten to make Trinidad a gigantic cesspit.
1.3 On the other hand, developing countries have been faced with certain opportunities for advancement. Eco-tourism and Cultural Tourism are two of the most promising. Our Caribbean neighbour, the Commonwealth of Dominica, is making impressive advances in marketing its natural beauty and its Carib Territory. Many visitors flock to the island to see such sights as Morne Trois Pitons, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and tour the Carib Territory, where a Carib Indian Model Village is currently under construction and is partly financed by the Caribbean Development Bank. St. Vincent is likewise on the same track, and there are also plans for a Carib Indian Model Village to be built there. Given that Trinidad and Tobago has also expressed great interest in developing its considerable tourist potential as a new source of income and employment, it is hoped that the government and planners of the day not lose sight of these developments. In addition, eco-tourism and Amerindian Cultural Tourism are precisely the kinds of activities that promise to earn foreign exchange while, hopefully, eliminating any outflow of foreign exchange since the attraction is that which is locally offered.
1.4 Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community are not asking for autonomy, nor do we wish to segregate ourselves, nor do we demand all of Trinidad as rightfully ours, and we do not engage in any recriminations or accusations of displacement or marginalization against our fellow Trinidadians and Tobagonians. We also acknowledge that we have intermarried with other ethnic groups in Trinidad and we do not claim to be “racially pure,” nor do we even feel any great sympathy for such discussions. That being laid to rest right here and now, what do we say we are, and what do we wish for ourselves and the society we live in?
We say we are Indigenous, that we are Amerindians. On the one hand, we simply feel “indigenous”: we love this land, we wish to safeguard and preserve it, we wish to learn from it and live from it, we feel and respect this earth as our Mother, we love no other place and feel at home nowhere else except here. On the other hand, we know from our family histories that we are of Carib descent, with ancestral roots in Calvary Hill, Arima, and wider Trinidad. We do not invent fictive genealogies and we do not also call ourselves Carib because we think that this makes us superior to our fellow citizens in any way — indeed, many shed this identity thinking that it rendered them inferior in the public eye, and given the dearth of resources that Caribs have been allowed to have, and the lack of respectful recognition, we are not surprised. Our Amerindian ancestry has bestowed to us a number of family traditions, traditions we know are Indigenous and which we have moved from the private to the public realm. These traditions include: a rich Cassava Culture — growing cassava, making cassava bread, cassava farine and cassareep; knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs; knowledge of the forests and rivers, their qualities both physical and spiritual, and how they can provide a sane and sustainable living without harming them; knowledge of Indigenous house building, using tapia and timite; knowledge of weaving a wide variety of items, using terite especially; and important religious rituals that have either become ours or were ours as Amerindians — the Santa Rosa Festival and the Smoke Ceremony, thus juxtaposing both Roman Catholic and shamanic Carib traditions. We strongly feel that it is time that Trinidad and Tobago both acknowledge and support this retained heritage.
1.5 What do we wish for ourselves? Greater recognition; communally owned land; financial assistance in developing Caribbean Amerindian networks with our kin. What do we wish for our society, for Trinidad and Tobago? Respect for the environment; cultural pluralism, of diversity with harmony, with differences that distinguish without dividing; encouragement and adoption of supplementary and “alter-native” development efforts in line with the growing popularity of eco-tourism and cultural tourism. Our goals meet the highest standards of community development and self-reliance.
2. A HISTORY OF THE ISSSUES OF OUTSTANDING CONCERN TO THE CARIB COMMUNITY
On May the 8th, 1990, Cabinet formally recognised the Santa Rosa Carib Community, a registered limited liability company, as the only legitimate representative of Trinidad and Tobago’s sole retained community of Indigenous People. Also in that month, a formal annual subvention of $30,000 from the Ministry of Culture was established in order to assist the Carib Community with the maintenance of the Santa Rosa Festival, Trinidad and Tobago’s oldest festival. In 1990 the Government also formed a Joint Committee with the Carib Community — however, this Committee never effectively functioned and thus bore no results. In 1992 especially, and again in 1995, the Santa Rosa Carib Community played a central role in CARIFESTA and was prominently featured in conjunction with our Amerindian kin from Guyana, Dominica, St. Vincent, Suriname, Belize, and other places. In 1993, the United Nations’ International Year for the World’s Indigenous People, the then Director of Culture praised, in an award, the Santa Rosa Carib Community, for our demonstrated commitment to support Indigenous Peoples worldwide. On August the 31st, 1993, the Carib Community received the National Award of the Chaconia Silver Medal for our work in Culture and Community Service. August of 1993 was also the month in which we hosted the Second Gathering of Indigenous Peoples with representatives from the Amerindian communities of the Caribbean basin. Lastly, numerous media reports, especially in recent times, have featured our struggles to preserve and maintain the Amerindian heritage of Trinidad and Tobago.
2.2 Communally-Owned Lands:
The Santa Rosa Carib Community was reorganised into the form of a limited liability company, with the assistance of the Ministry of Culture, precisely in order to receive lands. We have never received any lands that we applied for. Applications have been lodged over the past 22 years to the ministries and divisions responsible, at various times, for forestry and agriculture, to no avail.
This is an exceptionally painful issue of outstanding concern since the lack of land strictly prohibits us from fruitfully practicing Indigenous life-ways. The lack of communal lands also prohibits us from growing and developing as a community. The lack of land allows us no independent access to resources that could help us take care of our young, offer a home for our elderly, of offer any kind of future to our youths. The lack of lands to be shared communally also keeps potential new members from joining as meaningful participants. Indeed, we have been waiting for lands for approximately 213 years, ever since we were moved from our traditional lands in order to make room for the influx of French Caribbean planters and slaves who came to turn Trinidad’s economy into one based on sugar exports, a development that ensued from the 1783 Cedula de población. It was customary for Amerindians to have their own lands in order to grow food for their sustenance, yet, not having proper title we have lost all of our lands over the intervening generations.
We feel that Amerindians in Trinidad not having land is an unfortunate and woeful state of affairs that must be remedied at all costs as soon as possible.
2.3 Financial Assistance:
Anyone who knows this Carib Community knows that its membership is uniformly poor, some being retired, and others dependent on temporary work. We would not like to be dependent on annual payments of government funds, yet, some measure of start-up funding is necessary to build the micro-enterprises that could support our members based on our traditional production processes: i.e., making cassava bread and related products for sale; making local wines; making Amerindian handicrafts. The running of an Amerindian Resource Centre, serving a wide public of schoolchildren, journalists, local and foreign university researchers, and interested visitors is something we cannot do, beyond the rudimentary, without financial assistance.
2.4 Caribbean Amerindian Cultural Interchange:
In the 1990s, and especially since the Carib Community became an official member of the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous People (COIP) we have hosted numerous cultural exchange visits from Guyana and Dominica, as well as St. Vincent, Suriname, Belize, and from the Taïnos of Puerto Rico. The mutual teaching, learning and sharing of Amerindian traditions that are currently unevenly maintained across the Caribbean has been a major source of support for our Community and its heritage development efforts.
However, we have never been able to reciprocate these visits for lack of funds. Indeed, we have also been told not to expect future visits from the Caribs of Dominica, for example, until we first make a journey to Dominica.
Such travel requires considerable funding, beyond what we can ordinarily make from sales and fundraisers given that we must also maintain the Santa Rosa Festival since government funds are not totally adequate, and provide visiting schoolchildren with our time and instruction.
Much more serious even is that while Amerindians have been the traditional practitioners of regional integration long before the phrase became popular with technocrats and policy-makers, we are now hampered in our cultural interchange efforts by the intrusive measures of relatively new states, however much they pledge support to the concept of “regional integration.” In other words, if we wish to host visitors from the Carib Territory of Dominica for an indefinite period of time, visitors who can aid us with their technical assistance, we simply are not allowed given work permit and visa restrictions. Ordinarily, a visitor, as you know, is given a three-month tourist visa and must have a return ticket. Any extension must be with proof of supporting funds and employment is not permitted. These laws are a grievous intrusion into the affairs of Amerindian Peoples of the Caribbean and are opposed by the latter in each of their respective territories.
2.5 Inadequate Administrative and Support Infrastructure:
In actual fact, the Santa Rosa Carib Community has no office, no permanent files, no full-time secretary and no means of its own for producing printed information or engaging in effective communication. We have no computer, no Community telephone, no e-mail, no fax, no websites, no office furniture or supplies, no photocopier, no permanent staff and no adequately supported Resource Centre. This state of affairs renders us permanently dependent on outside agents for even the simple typing of reports. Moreover, we are sometimes at the mercy of those who produce information about us, sometimes producing an inadequate representation of who we are or what we do. Ideally, we would have our own infrastructure that could effectively cover all major areas of storing, transmitting and producing all information pertaining to us, whether for administrative or educational purposes. The lack of this infrastructure, now a necessity for any organization seeking to survive and thrive in a modern world, represents a permanent leakage of funds from our community chest.
3. WAYS FORWARD: AN AMERINDIAN HERITAGE DEVELOPMENT COMPLEX.
3.1 Trying to remedy all of the problems outlined in Section 2 would seem a daunting task that would make little sense in the absence of a long-term plan. In actual fact, we have developed a rationale, a plan for a complex of events and activities, with short- to long-term financial and cultural benefits that would thus make assistance more useful and meaningful than simple individual gifts to the Carib Community. Also, such remedies would not all be of maximum benefit were it not for a rational project that could integrate all elements into a coherent plan where every one element supports and reinforces every other element. We would thus like to outline those elements below and how they interrelate.
3.2 Recognition: Amerindian Heritage Day.
We the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community call upon the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to formally recognize the presence, the efforts, the inputs, and the historical contribution of the Caribs to the national foundation of Trinidad and Tobago. We do not ask for a public holiday. Instead, we would prefer a special day to be declared, one that is to be observed each year, provisionally titled, “Amerindian Heritage Day.” The purpose of such a day would be to help instill pride in Trinidad’s numerous descendants of the various Amerindian tribes that occupied this land, not just the Caribs of Arima. Secondly, such a day would provide an educational opportunity for schools to focus on special activities geared to Amerindian Heritage Day. Thirdly, the day could help in sensitizing corporate citizens and other communities in the nation about the history, presence, and struggles of Amerindians and their descendants in Trinidad and Tobago. We also feel that August 9th, of each year, should receive some special mention in state information media as it is the United Nations’ International Day for the World’s Indigenous People. Granting us a special day would also be a positive gesture on the part of the Government in light of the fact that we are mid-way through the United Nations’ International Decade for the World’s Indigenous People.
The symbolic significance generated in and through a special day would also facilitate in the sensitizing of the national community to the needs the Carib Community has outlined in this proposal and the benefits of the plan we are putting forth.
3.3 Lands: The Amerindian Heritage Complex.
We the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community respectfully ask the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to grant us 400 acres of forested land in the Northern Range. Such land would ideally possess frontage in or near Arima, with a clean river running through the land. We would hope that there be put in place a formal option for future expansion should the Carib Community grow in size.
Our proposed use of this land can be described as follows:
- The farming of cassava, corn and cane on approximately 100 acres, in order to provide our own supplies of agricultural produce needed for processing and producing traditional Amerindian food and drink for mass marketing in Trinidad and Tobago
- An Indigenous Cassava Processing Plant, housing graters and wood stoves for producing and packaging cassava bread and other cassava products for sale in Trinidad and Tobago’s groceries and perhaps abroad as well — frontage in or near Arima would thus allow easy access to transport and markets
- A Guest House, featuring the regular modern amenities, would also be constructed in order to host local and foreign guests who would be interested in an eco-tourist and/or Amerindian cultural tourist holiday package
- A Communal Building where administrative work is done, meetings held, and other activities pertaining to the Carib Community — this would be a multi-purpose centre with an in-house auditorium arrangement along with office space and spare rooms
- A Handicraft Centre where members gather to produce in quantity our own Amerindian handicrafts: baskets, carry cases, mats, lamp shades and a whole host of other household adornments woven from terite; wooden sculptures; and, souvenir items
- The preservation and rearing of indigenous animals — i.e., agouti, manicou, lappe, amongst others
- Animal husbandry focused on indigenous wild game, producing both the popular meat of agouti, manicou and lappe, inter alia, for sale and possibly also selling live animals should there be a public demand — we would hope this would help curtail the drive amongst our fellow Trinidadians to hunt these animals to the point of near extinction
- Most of the land would be preserved in its indigenous state and form the heart of our own eco-tourist venture
- Reafforestation of the forested area, re-introducing plants indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago
- An Amerindian Model Village comprising actual homes for the members and visitors, constructed from indigenous materials using Indigenous techniques, while providing a limited range of modern amenities — this would form the heart of the cultural tourism experience
Hence this plan addresses a number of developmental needs on several fronts:
- The need for lands for the Amerindian community to survive and thrive, to maintain Indigenous lifeways;
- The provision of new services and attractions in the areas of Eco-Tourism and Cultural Tourism, thus aiding the drive to create a competitive tourist infrastructure in Trinidad;
- Local, indigenous agriculture that could help, in some small measure, to reduce the nation’s tremendous dependence on imported foods
- Preservation and maintenance of indigenous eco-systems, indigenous flora and fauna;
- An overall contribution to reduction of the nation’s expenditure of foreign exchange, whilst helping to generate new foreign exchange earnings, at the same time as our Community is uplifted socially and economically, thus promising even further inputs in the local economy on our part.
3.4 An Amerindian Cultural Interchange and Technical Assistance Network:
We the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community respectfully request that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago come to our assistance in building a durable inter-Amerindian network that permits regular communication and the sharing of expertise. We would like, on a selective basis, to be able to host Amerindian visitors that could assist us with their technical expertise in building up our own complex in Trinidad. We would thus need to fund their travel and their stay in Trinidad. In addition, we would like to host such visitors for extended periods of time, from one to two years at a time, at a minimum. In addition, and once more on a selective basis, we would like to be able to travel to the other territories to facilitate communication and exchange, especially where our Amerindian brothers and sisters might not be able to leave their homes for any significant stretches of time. We have been very happy to host such delegations in the past and they proved to be of essential value in the maintenance and development of our indigenous traditions. Such assistance would be an invaluable component of our plans to build the above-outlined complex and bring our efforts to fruition. There is also the opportunity, discussed among the Amerindian communities of St. Vincent and Dominica, to form an integrated travel package for foreign visitors in order for them to visit the model villages of our three territories combined.
We would thus like to maintain communication and cultural interchange with a number of Amerindian communities, which in the past have proven to be important partners. In the present, they continue to maintain an active interest in the affairs and daily struggles of our Carib Community and are acutely attentive to all developments. The groups with which we wish to maintain and develop such a network include those of: Belize, Brazil, Cuba, Dominica, Guyana, Puerto Rico, St. Vincent, Suriname, Venezuela, and even the United States of America and Canada.
3.5 Administrative and Support Infrastructure for Communication and Education.
We the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community also humbly ask the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for its assistance in helping us to obtain the necessary computer, communications and multimedia technology and software in order to successfully manage and develop our business and continue to provide educational resources for the wider national community. In this respect, we specifically ask for a computer, with built-in data/fax modem and multimedia capabilities, with current software for word processing, publishing, graphics design, photo editing and video capture and editing, internet and e-mail, amongst others; a colour flat-bed scanner; a colour laser printer; and, our own video and photographic cameras for publishing on the internet, for producing instructional materials for schools, and for advertising and marketing purposes.
These items would thus assist us in better managing our commercial and productive endeavours while also feeding in to our efforts to maintain communication with our Amerindian kin in the wider Caribbean. In addition, the production of newsletters and information kits for schools and visitors would be an added benefit that could be derived from such a facility.
3.6 Organized Financial Assistance.
We the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community respectfully propose that a functioning Government-Carib Joint Committee be established to oversee, negotiate and administer the above project elements. Financial assistance will be necessary. Detailed cost analysis would have to be performed, needless to say, prior to the initiation of each element of this overall plan.
4. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION.
We the members of the Santa Rosa Carib Community sincerely believe this project proposal ought to be received by the Government and national community as the ambitious and exciting plan that it is. Much has been advanced here and represents not only the depth of our commitment but also a yawning gap between our previous applications and the continuing neglect of our needs and special position in this society. We know that a progressive and dynamic government would recognise this.
We also wish to allay any fears that we are somehow not “up to” our goals or overextending ourselves in some manner. First, we have experience in administration and management. We have a member with years of experience in local government, responsible for planning, organizing and funding cultural events and activities for the entire Borough of Arima. Members of our Community have had training in business, commerce and marketing, both through personal experience and advanced educational training. Within our Community we have those trained in the administration and management of Amerindian communities. We also have members that have worked in the employ of the government’s forestry and agriculture divisions and have experience in reafforestation. Key members also have worked in important positions in the Paria Springs/Brasso Seco Eco-Tourist project. Members have ongoing experience in the rearing of animals, weaving, and cassava production. Others have both training and experience in food preparation, preservation and agro-processing. As an organized limited liability company and as a cultural group we have experience in sales, marketing and networking with a very wide matrix of local and foreign institutions, corporations, schools, religious bodies, local and national government, private citizens’ bodies and many more. We even have a member in the media. Every year we produce a number of organized cultural events, some of national significance, such as the Santa Rosa Festival. A member also received a scholarship to study at a First Nations college at the in Canada. We have played host to large and diverse delegations of Amerindians — and we have considerable experience across the entire array of activities and endeavours we have outlined in this plan. One might be surprised to learn that a Community so small, and relatively poor, could have built up such capital and could be so dynamic. When we say that we meet the highest standards of community development and self-reliance, for which we have been officially recognized by governments of different parties in the past, we know that we are not merely boasting.
We thus humbly and sincerely wish that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago favourably receive and assist in implementing this project proposal, the main parts consisting of a call for greater recognition, the granting of lands and financial assistance, and the provision of technical support. We bring this plan to the attention of Government due to its command over resources and legislation and because elements of this plan have, in the past, been beyond the interest, commitment and vision of many of our corporate citizens. We are not looking for handouts, or to be dependent on state charity. We wish to uplift ourselves and our neighbours, but we cannot do so without considerable start-up aid.
We thus hope that you will agree with us that this is an investment in a community, with returns for a nation.
Ricardo Bharath and Cristo Adonis with the assistance of Maximilian Forte, in September and October of 1998