Carib Chief Ricardo Hernandez-Bharath yesterday launched a scathing attack on those responsible for ignoring and neglecting the plight of the First Peoples of Trinidad at the launch of Amerindian Heritage Week.
In his address, held at the banks of the Arima River at Roland's Place, Wilson Street on the Blanchisseuse Road, Hernandez-Bharath said, "We are no longer populations like animals for management, but we must now be seen as peoples with rights. We are not child-like. We are not children who must be wards of the State to be administered to by paternalistic policies."
He said despite efforts by missionaries and governments to "commit genocide...we have survived this and we are distinct people, not because we arrived, but survived."
Hernandez-Bharath added, "In many parts of the world, we have distinct identities and we continue to occupy and share ancestral lands."
He said, in the eyes of social scientists and missionaries, "We have moved from being uncivilised savages, beasts of the fields and subhuman species to the status of humans."
In his emotional speech, Hernandez-Bharath said the challenge in Trinidad and Tobago for the development of an indigenous policy based on the recognition of the notion in indigeneity makes the First People distinctive.
"We are not just a racial minority, we are more than just elements or members of a multicultural society and we make a distinct status based on indigeneity."
He referred to the 25 acres of land granted by the Government as an important beginning, but there is still much to be done to the descendants of the First People.
He said if an acceptable level of recognition were not granted to the community he would not be present at next year's Heritage Day festival.
"I will not be around if things do not improve for the community," he said.
Hernandez-Bharath said it was an insult to the First People that on the eve of the launch of the celebration the Government had not yet decided on the allocation for the festival.
The festival was postponed by a week because of late funding.
"Others who came after have been given suitable recognition," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, Embau Moheni, Minister in the Ministry of National Diversity, said his government is in the process of developing a programme that will give status to the First Peoples.
"It will be one of the priority projects that my Ministry will undertake," he said.
Rodger Samuel, MP for Arima, was unable to attend the function but his greetings were relayed via telephone.
The launch was preceded by a smoke ceremony held at the feet of the statue of Carib warrior Hyarima outside the Arima Velodrome.
Among those who brought greetings were Amerindians from Guyana, Suriname and Miami.
Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar attended the ceremony along with her contingent of the Santa Rosa Cairb Community.