TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: First Peoples / Reconciliation

An interesting (though mild) look at the history and present of the Indigenous Carib population of Trinidad, and the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ Community, the representative body of the community. This includes an interview with the late Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar on cultural transmission, engaging youth and building identity, and public awareness. There’s also a look at Amerindian Heritage Day (now called First Peoples’ Day of Recognition and Heritage Week) and plans to build up active agricultural, culinary, and traditional knowledge bases.

However, past this video, there’s some very interesting deeper nuance. This older article, Reviving Caribs: Recognition, Patronage and Ceremonial Indigeneity in Trinidad and Tobago” by anthropologist Maximilian C. Forte focuses both on the organizational challenges the Santa Rosa community faces and that they risk “reconciliation without self-determination” – ceremonialized and celebrated by the state, but not engaged in political advocacy and reconciliation the way other Indigenous groups are.

However, Forte’s article also recognizes a nuance with Indigenous reconciliation in Trinidad – Trinidad is not Canada or Australia. It’s not really because of Trinidad’s smaller Indigenous population (both in absolute numbers, and proportionally), it’s largely because Trinidad was not a settler colony, but an extractive colony.

A settler colony is where a large mainly-European permanent population is brought in to displace the Indigenous people already there (Canada, the US, New Zealand, French Algeria was a failed attempt). The settler population normally has legal and proprietary rights. However, an extractive colony is where there is a small elite extracting wealth and resources, including wealth produced by the labour of either an Indigenous population or a new population brought in for that purpose – usually slaves or indentured labour, that does not have the same rights as the elite (India, most of Africa, the Caribbean).

As a former extractive colony, the ancestors of Trinidad’s population had either no or little choice to come to the island, and only gained their own true self-determination themselves through emancipation, decolonization and the civil rights movement. This makes it a lot less clear-cut situation when it comes to reconciliation between the Indigenous community (and even the larger Trinbagonian population) and the state – what responsibility does the modern post-colonial state and population of Trinidad and Tobago carry for the sins of the colonial government’s past?

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