By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ (http://rcsocialjusticett.org) & Director, CREDI
“We must not ignore those who claim the status of First Peoples in this country as owners of this land before we came, they ask and say to us, very humbly — as we acknowledge those who came as Hindus, Muslims (and) Christians, as we acknowledge them every year with a holiday — to put aside one day, not every year, but just one day as the day of recognition of our First Peoples….We have heard you and we too will acknowledge you because we are all one people in T&T.” (Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, October 27, 2016)
On Wednesday, August 9, the world will observe the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, focusing on the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Ten years ago, on 13 September 2007, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a major milestone with respect to the cooperation and solidarity between indigenous peoples and Member States. The Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It embodies global consensus on the rights of indigenous peoples and establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. It elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms, as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples…
“There is a need to address remaining gaps between the formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground. At the national level, there is a need to demonstrate political will, technical capacity and financial commitment to implement the Declaration as the minimum standard for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world” (www.un.org ).
For many years, Ricardo Hernandez Bharath, Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, has been lobbying for a one-off holiday in T&T “to sensitise the public about the existence and struggles of indigenous people in this country”. Following Dr Keith Rowley’s promise above – made in May this year, a statement was released from the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Arts, informing the public that Friday, October 13 had been approved as a one-off national holiday in recognition of their contribution to the islands. In a media release, Hernandez Bharath referred to this one-off holiday as “a jewel of great price”.
He said it “serves to highlight the fact that the First Peoples have made their contribution to the development of this land, and continue to do so. We believe that our vision for the future development of the First Peoples, will contribute to the development which is so often spoken about, in contributing to the economy, and at the same time, preserving and restoring the original culture of the First Peoples.”
The Vatican reports that on February 15 this year, Pope Francis met in Rome with a group of about 36 representatives of indigenous communities from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and spoke to them about “the need to ‘reconcile the right to development, both social and cultural, with the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories.
“This is especially clear, he said, ‘when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth’. He said confrontation and conflict can be overcome through ‘prior and informed consent’ of indigenous peoples for initiatives proposed by governing authorities.
“The Holy Father said the second aspect ‘concerns the development of guidelines and projects which take into account indigenous identity’. He called on governments to recognise ‘that indigenous communities are a part of the population to be appreciated and consulted, and whose full participation should be promoted at the local and national level’.”
He praised indigenous communities for approaching progress “with a special care for Mother Earth. In this moment in which humanity is committing a grave sin in not caring for the earth, I urge you to continue to bear witness to this…do not allow those [new technologies] that destroy the earth, that destroy the environment and ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”
In his prayer intention for July 2016, Pope Francis said: “I want to be a spokesman for the deepest longings of indigenous peoples. And I want you to add your voice to mine in a heartfelt prayer that all will respect indigenous peoples, threatened in their identity and even in their existence.” Let us stand in solidarity with our indigenous brothers and sisters.