Part 6: CARICOM also seeking Reparations for Native Genocide
BRIEFLY glimpsing the history of Guyana’s First People from the affectionate words and 12 original drawn and painted illustrations in Robert H. Schomburgk’s book ‘Views of the Interior of Guiana’ (1840) and recent developments relating to indigenous people’s representation and development in several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-states, the question begs:
Has the Caribbean done and/or is doing enough to stamp indigenous people’s rights into their rightful places in contemporary life and history?
It will take more than space will allow to fully answer, but any brief review will reveal CARICOM member-states with indigenous populations have cared more today for their indigenous populations’ causes than ever before, even though at different levels.
Back in 2013 when CARICOM started pursuing ‘Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide’ from Britain and European nations that built empires on the TransAtlantic Slave Trade and Chattel Slavery, the ‘Native Genocide’ part was not an afterthought, as Slavery was preceded by a steady campaign of European genocide that all-but rendered the region’s indigenous people (and their civilisations) extinct.
After Columbus opened the way in 1492, all indigenous populations in the Caribbean and The Americas suffered different degrees of Native Genocide by the European conquistadores.
Colonial invaders used different methods over time to achieve the similar goal of wiping-out the people they met, including use of early germ warfare by deliberately lining colorful blankets (meant as ‘gifts’ for the friendly indigenous people) with deadly contagious diseases such as Small Pox, which have never left the region.
Today, the University of The West Indies (The UWI) is looking with the University of Glasgow at jointly investigating bad Caribbean health conditions inherited from slavery; and The UWI also has a special scholarship, in the name of the late Sir Arthur Lewis, for the benefit of the region’s indigenous communities — of which Dominica’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Hon. Cozier Frederick, was an honored beneficiary.
Today, First People worldwide are recognised by the United Nations (UN) as deserving of the greater levels of participation that belong to them as the original inhabitants of this large slice of Planet Earth.
Like fellow Caribbean citizens of African and Indian descent, Caribbean First People have long passed the stage of begging for a seat at the table, the UN having passed a ‘Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’ since 2007.
Today, the Declaration is regarded as the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples, as it establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.
It also elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples, whether in Asia or Africa, Australia or New Zealand, the USA or Canada, or The Americas and the Caribbean.
The UN also designated August 9 as International Day for Indigenous People and the recent outreach between Belize and Guyana at government levels can go a long way in addressing issues that also affect First People in other CARICOM nations.
The Organisation of American States (OAS) has also announced its 2022 Inter-American Week for Indigenous Peoples will run from August 8 to August 12, to coincide with the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year’s theme, adopted by OAS Member States, is ‘The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge in the Americas’.
The OAS is also encouraging celebration of indigenous traditional knowledge through events in which participants share elements of their ancestral knowledge through stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, rituals, traditions, gastronomy, dances, paintings, carvings or other artforms.
First People’s descendants today, therefore, are more than just the great-grand daughters and sons of the original Caribbean and American inhabitants who built civilizations destroyed by Europeans in quick time.
Instead, they, like the descendants of enslaved Africans, are heirs and successors of their ancestral legacies, as generational victims of the ‘Native Genocide’ that preceded TransAtlantic Slavery.
The United Nations in 2001 declared TransAtlantic Slavery as not just ‘A Crime Against Humanity’ but ‘The Worst crime Against Humanity’ known to Humankind.
All 14 CARICOM governments have therefore committed and successive governments are expected to remain duty-bound, to pursue Reparations for Slavery alongside similar Reparatory Justice for the descendants of the First People, destruction of whose blood and civilisations opened the way for TransAtlantic Chattel Slavery through the extremely-profitable so-called Middle Passage and Great Triangle (between Africa, the Caribbean and Americas region and Europe).
There have been meetings of indigenous peoples in the last two decades involving entities representing Belize, Dominica, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago.
Indeed, CARICOM isn’t only seeking Reparations for Slavery, but also for Native Genocide on behalf of the region’s First People, who continue to be treated as its always-last-in-line citizens.
Through designed Mass Murder — now appropriately called Native Genocide — the number of First People across the also-misnamed British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish ‘West Indies’, was reduced by the European ‘conquistadors’ from the millions they met to mere hundreds, in just a few decades.
But apart from the historical deliberate extermination of entire peoples, indigenous communities, some coastal and many located away from urban cities, have also, in most recorded cases, been victims of recent Climate Changes, while COVID highlighted and underlined the relative lack of protection most indigenous populations suffer the world over.
However, First People everywhere continue to press ahead for those who abused their ancestors and stole their lands to apologise and atone, just like CARICOM is also pursuing reparations with and for them.
To this end, CARICOM and American governments concerned have a common stake in ensuring they take common approaches to the common issues affecting the region’s First People — and 15 years after the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is a good-enough time to start.