ANY reform of the Constitution must include the recognition of the status of indigenous peoples, said Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez.
He was one of the attendees at the third meeting of the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform on Saturday evening at the Arima Town Hall.
Bharath-Hernandez noted that the United Nations has adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in September 2007. He said, locally, they have begun to see some form of recognition for the first time.
He pointed out that while the National Anthem of Trinidad and Tobago says "every creed and race finds an equal place", he did not feel the indigenous peoples had an equal place.
Bharath-Hernandez recalled that he served as People's National Movement councillor and deputy mayor for 18 years and had lobbied unsuccessfullyfor indigenous people.
He pointed out in 1982 when Canada had their Constitutional reform they recognised the rights of the aboriginal peoples (Indian, Inuit and Métis). He predicted that his lobbying efforts locally would have been more successful if indigenous peoples were included in the Constitution.
Another attendee noted that late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was being praised for championing the rights of indigenous peoples in his country. He noted that indigenous people have long been marginalised and they needed to be included in this country's reformed Constitution.
Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, in his remarks, noted that Constitutional reform has plagued this country for many years. He noted that the People's Partnership Government came into office with the promise of Constitutional reform in a number of areas and the consultation was a fulfillment of that promise.
He said for many years people have complained that the only time they get to exercise their democracy is on election day.
"We believe the people of Trinidad and Tobago should say what kind of Constitution they want. That is why we didn't put a Draft Constitution, put it out for comment, put it out for consultation. We believe from the voices of the people we will have the will to come up with a Constitution...that is really a contract between the people and those given the authority to govern," he said.
A total of 17 consultations are to be held from March 4 to May 4 at 14 locations in Trinidad and three in Tobago.
The next consultation will be at the Sangre Grande Civic Centre today at 5 p.m.