• 13 OCT 2017

Prime Minister’s Speech at Opening Celebration of First People’s Day

On behalf of the people and Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and on my own behalf and my family, I extend warm greetings to the First Peoples of our national community.

I also extend sincerest greetings to all the representatives of First Peoples communities from the region, as well as, from the United States of America, Canada and Australia, present here today.

I want to especially recognise the presence of the Vice-President of Guyana and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, The Hon. Sydney Allicock., and the First Nations Chief of Canada, Mr. Kevin Hart, and to all the delegates present here.

I am, however deeply saddened by the fact that our Indigenous brothers and sisters from Dominica were not able to join in this historic occasion. But we all are aware of the tragedy that occurred there with the passage of Hurricane Maria and the devastation it left behind.

As we speak, troops from Trinidad and Tobago are still there, on the ground, helping to bring some relief to the people there. Our prayers are still with them and I am told that a group of persons from Dominica will be coming in at a later date.

In October 2016, I gave a commitment to the First Peoples Community that serious consideration would be given to their longstanding requests for recognition in the form of a one-off national holiday, to formally recognise their presence and contribution to our country. Today, October 13th, 2017 – a national holiday- I proudly stand with the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to recognise and celebrate the first inhabitants of our beloved nation.

At the forefront of that advocacy and lobby for a one-off holiday was the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community. The community was recognised in 1990 by the Cabinet of the day, as the only organised representative of the indigenous peoples at the time. Since then to now, I believe some other groups have emerged.

The theme of this year’s celebration of Heritage Week, which runs from October 8 to October 14 (tomorrow) I am told is: On Becoming Visible Towards Meaningful Recognition.

This theme is deeply symbolic of the emergence of the First Peoples from the background of our consciousness to the fore, as it were. We must never forget that they were here first.

Over the years, we have seen the First Peoples make significant strides, largely through their own efforts and strong advocacy for greater visibility.

Successive governments have contributed to the development and growth of the First Peoples, one of which was, the granting of a Day of Recognition – which is celebrated on October 14th every year, to mark the contributions of Warrior Chief Hyarima and their indigenous presence here.

While it has been established that the history of the Americas and the Caribbean Region is punctuated with violence, confrontation and subjugation, it is also a history of courage, bravery, resistance and an enduring aspiration to preserve traditions through which we derive our national identity. In Trinidad and Tobago the indigenous Amerindian populations were the first to suffer the onslaught of European colonisers.

Demoralised, disillusioned but never defeated, our First Peoples, largely recognised through the Arima-based Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, have continuously strived to preserve and revitalise their Amerindian history and traditions. Yours has been a struggle spanning a period of over 40 years. (1970 to present)

Many persons among us may have participated in the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Annual Santa Rosa Festival, in honour of the community’s patron saint. More recently during National Patriotism Month 2017, heritage tours were organised to local sites dedicated to preserving the legacy of our First Peoples.

So much of Caribbean history and the history of Trinidad and Tobago has been lost or distorted that it is immediately necessary for us as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to research, hold on to and share our stories with one another and with the world.

Our Santa Rosa First Peoples Community has done much to ensure that their historical legacy is preserved and that they continue to be relevant on our cultural landscape.

I congratulate Santa Rosa Queen, Jennifer Cassar, Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez and the members of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community for their on-going work to sensitise us on the role and contributions of the Community.

I have been told that over the past few months the community has been involved in a number of sensitization activities, including the hosting of two lectures at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, on the findings of DNA testing on Santa Rosa First Peoples and the courage and bravery of Nepuyo Chieftain Hyarima.

I want to congratulate the community for also hosting a symposium, last Tuesday, at which the visiting contingents were invited to speak about their achievements and challenges in their respective countries.

Congratulations, as well, for hosting a National Children’s Rally earlier this week, at the National Cycling Centre, Couva, where I am told as many as 4000 children attended.

Among the other activities were the staging of a play ‘Hyarima’ by well know playwright and poet Pearl Eintou Springer to school audiences at various locations.

So a lot of information has been shared at all levels.

I take this opportunity to thank the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community for its hard work in making these activities possible.

Recognition is also due to them for educating the young members of the First Peoples Community in the history and ways of their ancestors, through their schools’ outreach programmes, and the hosting of schools visits to their Centre and Museum at Paul Mitchell Street in Arima.

It is a history of which we can all be proud.

Today, my government is making tangible strides forward ensuring that the history of our First Peoples are accurately reflected in our school books, through the establishment of a refereed and published history of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

We, in Trinidad and Tobago, are a people of diverse origins. We have weathered many storms and together we will continue to draw on the strength of our ancestors to build a strong and resilient nation.

Today as the First Peoples Heritage Week draws to a close, let us all take this opportunity to acknowledge our First Peoples and celebrate the richness of our collective cultural ancestry.

I want us to meet again at your village at Blanchisseuse on the lands that Cabinet allocated to your Community. We also intend to have lands allocated to the First Peoples living in the south land so that they too can have a place to congregate and have activities.

I hope today’s historic celebration of a one off national holiday make us all more aware of the contributions and culture of our First Peoples, whose blood, sweat and tears shaped the history of this land, and whose bones found at the Red House, are, for the first time, telling us the true story of their presence here.

Work on the Red House has resumed under this Government and is continuing apace. I am told that we can expect the project to be completed towards the end of 2018.

At that time we will have a ceremonial burial so that the remains that were unearthed at the Red House will be laid to rest. We will also, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, decide on a suitable monument which will be erected on the grounds of the Red House.

My government is committed to assisting in whatever ways possible to the First Peoples vision for greater development and growth, keeping in mind at all times, our economic challenges.

I thank you.