27 December 2006

KACIKE: New Articles Published Online

Recently, two new articles have been published in KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology. The first is a new paper by Jason Yaremko on Cuba which received glowing reviews from expert reviewers, and the second is a reprint of Alfredo Figueredo's previously published work on Taino-Carib encounters in the Virgin Islands. The two articles are:

The Virgin Islands as an Historical Frontier between the Taínos and the Caribs.--Alfredo E. Figueredo

Yaremko's contribution brings to a total eight authors who have published research on Cuba in KACIKE, the other seven being Barreiro, Camacho, Figueredo, Ulloa, Calvache, Ortega, and Tendero.

While KACIKE remains an open-acess journal, in the future bound special editions may also be available through "print on demand" online retailers.

Issues in Caribbean Amerindian Studies

A new volume of Issues in Caribbean Amerindian Studies has just been published. The new articles that are now available are:

Santa Rosa Carib Website

The website of the Santa Rosa Carib Community has been significantly revised and relaunched after many months of redesign and editing. In addition, the previously existing website titled, "First Nations of Trinidad and Tobago," has been deleted altogether, with some of its materials revised and added to the new Santa Rosa Carib Community website. After almost eight years of work, in which a total of seven different websites were created about Trinidad's Caribs by Max Forte, only one site remains and it is by far the most complete and robust. In the near future, videos will be added to this website, as well as slide shows.

15 December 2006

Guyana Forestry Blog

Janette Bulkan, much of whose work currently focuses on indigenous rights and forestry management issues in Guyana (see http://www.centrelink.org/resurgence/guyana.htm), alerted me to the fact that a new blog has been created at http://guyanaforestry.blogspot.com/. The author(s) remain(s) anonymous. As Janette explained, "for too long the forestry sector in Guyana has been protected by strict State opacity and control." This particular blog consists mostly of letters to the editor, "an indication of the lack of alternative space for civil society to articulate its concerns," as Janette explained. The letters themselves remain unchallenged by the government, which can lead one to the interpretation that the letters are in fact truthful, and that the government has not yet found a way to keep their authors silent.

14 December 2006

Apocalypto Aside from "Accuracy"

I have been following some of the commentaries about Apocalypto posted by academics on H-LATAM, and there are two in particular that I wish to highlight below. One is by Quetzil E. Castañeda, an anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker (see his co-production with Jeffrey Himpele, Incidents of Travel in Chichen Itza). Castañeda goes beyond howling against issues of historical accuracy to look more closely at how academics themselves likely contributed to the shaping and informing of Apocalypto. The second is Kathryn Lehman in New Zealand, who returns our attention to broader issues and reminds us of how cannibalism played a role in depicting natives in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie (the latter film received virtually no attention at all on these same academic lists). Their messages follow below.

A third commentator, whose message I neglected to save, raised some very interesting points about how film critics have handled this film by Mel Gibson. Most reviews have focused more on how this film fits in with Gibson's career as a filmmaker, and try to place it within an overall genealogy of his evolution as a filmmaker. Some have tried to situate the film within the present, as a commentary not about the Mayas, but about the fall of Western civilization, and even as a subtle (perhaps too subtle) critique of dominant potentates such as George W. Bush. Those who were disturbed by the film were most disturbed by its unending violence more than anything else. Most do not comment on the issue of historical accuracy, but simply note the use of an indigenous language.

This comment is in response to the query about the seeming lack of reactions by scholars to Apocalypto. As evidence from the flood of emails on the H-net, it is likely that the lack of reactions is a function of where you are plugged into the internet and list serves.

Many anthropologists and archaeologists are very concerned to respond in public to the Gibson film. Not all of these responses are good -- in terms of analysis -- although all are pretty uniformly negative in their assessment.

While various scholars are (correctly) blasting the historical inaccuracies and the politics of representation of the film, I am very troubled by some things that have remained unsaid. To be sure, the film only has to do with the Maya to the extent that Gibson and the media assert that it does. Even the language is hardly Maya! As a speaker of Yucatec Maya my suspicion that the Maya used in the film was not all very well spoken or correct was confirmed by Francisco May, the grandson of the leader of the Cruzob Maya who established a politically independent state in Yucatan from 1850s-to 1902.

Last night on Fox News Gibson was given the chance to shoo-shoo his critics. He repeatedly cited archaeologists and anthropologists as his source of knowledge about the Maya. Indeed, he did reiterate the analogy of the Maya are Greeks (he called them Grecian) and the Aztecs are Romans; this trope derives from the Sylvanus G. Morley-Sir Eric S Thompson era of Maya Studies (1930-50s). He all but named one of the archaeologists or epigraphers that "broke the Maya code" as an important advisors. Who was it? He noted that he visited an archaeological site, El Mirador in Guatemala and was given a tour by the lead archaeologist there. He also hired various academic consultants for various things. Now, my concern is with the relationship between these scholars, the knowledge/information they gave Gibson, and Gibson's understanding of this information.

The shrill critique of inaccuracies and the horrifying representation of the Maya is quite disturbing, but I am afraid that it will only cover up much more important issues about the scholarly advising and the way in which what we do is already implicated and deeply intertwined with these representations, ethics and politics that we so like to publicly deplore. After all, that Gibson can claim that he is simply an "artist" is ultimately less his excuse than our failure to take responsibility. I would like to know who were the consultants. Why were these not listed on the credits? What did they say? What was Gibson's responses? Consider that the US NSF is cited for thanks in the credits.

Why is the National Science Foundation thanked for its support of Gibson's film? What support was given? Who or what unit within the NSF gave this consultancy? At what price? If this was not a pro bono advising, where is that money now going in the NSF budget?

The issue is not about pointing fingers at certain scholars or federal agencies for collaborating with the devil, for feeding Gibson controversial personal interpretations that are heavily disputed by a large number of other scholars, or for not being able to penetrate and decimate Gibson's pre-formed conceptions (of the Maya, Jews, etc.). The problem is to understand the role and relationship of academia, scholarship even the university to public debates. I think we need to take certain responsibility. There is something much more disturbing about Gibson's film.

Quetzil E. Castañeda, Ph.D.
Founding Director, OSEA
Visiting Professor, Spring 2006-Spring 2007
Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Indiana University


Every time the subject emerges about using film to teach history, I send along a reminder that films tell us more about the history of the moment of production than they do about the historical setting. The Mission tells us more about 1980s debates over Liberation Theology than about the expulsion of the Jesuits from Guarani territory in the 18th century.

This is not a question of historical accuracy, all films are historically inaccurate. What we should ask students is why now? What is happening to Maya and indigenous people today that prompts someone to represent them in this way? And most importantly: who benefits by this representation?

Films like this are hardly innocent and the problem is not one of accuracy. They emerge at specific moments for very specific reasons and they benefit some at the expense of others.

If we can dehumanise historical indigenous peoples with the outrageous claim that the vicious repression of colonisation was somehow a civilisiong mission, (with the inevitable introduction of what Stephen Turner calles the "cannibal moment"), then it won't be difficult to convince them that contemporary struggles over indigenous land, resources, artifacts, genetic agricultural strains, human genetic codes, cultural intellectual property and HUMAN RIGHTS are perfectly acceptable in a world in which wealthy people require cheap petroleum and other mineral resources located on indigenous lands.

We've been here before. We knew that a new wave of this kind of films was coming the moment Johnny Depp was surrounded by cannibals. Here we go again.

These representations are not timeless or based on some problems of accuracy. They are historical because they are ideologically driven at a moment in time, and Gibson's racist comments are perfectly in keeping with this kind of representation.

So if you show this film, give students the basic facts about indigenous peoples TODAY and ask students who benefits from this representation TODAY?

Dr. Kathryn Lehman
Department of Spanish and
New Zealand Centre for Latin American Studies
The University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland, New Zealand

13 December 2006


Many readers of The CAC Review were apparently tolerant of the many criticisms that we published about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Of course, some were very critical of the criticisms themselves, and this diversity of viewpoints was welcomed. Now, with the release of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, many others are starting to express very sharp disapproval of the themes of the film, its imagery, the process of its production, and the relationship between the filmmakers and the local Maya where the film was shot. One of our friends, Dr. Roi Kwabena, has offered his own critical commentary. We again welcome any and all views on the issue of racism and Apocalypto by all of our readers, and we thank Dr. Kwabena for helping to get the ball rolling.

Dr. Kwabena's blog is located at http://ankhkara.blogspot.com/.

26 November 2006

Foro: Rescribiendo nuestra ethno-historia

Estimados(as) Amigos(as):

Están invitados al Foro: Reescribiendo Nuestra Etnohistoria. Adjunto le envío una invitación con mas información sobre las temáticas del Foro. Este Foro servirá como plataforma para informar al publico e invitados sobre los nuevos hallazgos e interpretaciones etno-históricos culturales de Puerto Rico.

La iniciativa de realizar este foro surgió con el objetivo de refutar y descartar viejas teorías. A través de un debate franco, constructivo y abierto pretendemos identificar algunos de los mal fundados tópicos y errores históricos que continúan perpetuándose en el Puerto Rico de hoy. Queremos lograr una nueva perspectiva sobre la herencia etno-histórica cultural de Puerto Rico y el Caribe. ¿Que nos dicen los nuevos hallazgos arqueológicos, etnográficos e históricos sobre esta temática? En fin, apoyamos una revisión literaria de nuestro pasado etno-histórico - reescribir nuestro pasado precolombino.

El Foro es multidisciplinario ya que se presentaran temas provenientes de la antropología, arqueología, biología (estudios genéticos), geografía, e historia - siendo la misma una valiosa experiencia educativa. Se espera que la información compilada en este foro contribuirá a un mejor entendimiento y apreciación de nuestra herencia etno-histórico cultural taina. Se presentaran varios trabajos de temas de autores e investigadores puertorriqueños - todos encabezados a refutar y descartar viejas teorías sobre nuestro pasado indígena.

Una vez más, les agradezco su amabilidad y quedo a la espera de sus noticias. Si tienen alguna duda o necesitan cualquier otra información, por favor, no vacilen en contactarme, ya sea mediante una llamada telefónica (787-671-0455) o correo electrónico (lynemelendez@yahoo.com). Sin otro particular, reciba mi más cordial saludo.


Carlalynne Meléndez, PhD
Departamento de Humanidades
Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico - Bayamón


5 de diciembre de 2006 – 9:00am – 4:00pm
Salón de Usos Múltiples
Universidad Interamericana - Bayamón


Apertura y Saludos
Carlalynne Meléndez Martínez (Yarey)

Grupo Areito Taina-ke Compuesta por estudiantes del Recinto
Estudiantes de: Areito de Cacibajagua
Narrador de Areito:
Cantante: Flor de Jesus


Estudiantes de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico-Bayamón
Tema: Reescribiendo Nuestra Etnohistoria

Centro de Estudios Avanzados del PR y el Caribe
Dr. Juan Manuel Delgado

Sociedad Arqueológica del Caribe
Antonio Blasini:

Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña
Dr. Jose Luis Vega

Universidad de Puerto Rico-Río Piedras
Dr. Ramon Nenadich


Grupo Areito Taina-ke
Areito del Iguanaboina
Cantante: Flor de Jesus

Segunda Ronda de Presentaciones

Departamento de Educación
Dr. Pedro Vega

Oficina de Preservación Histórica
Dr. Miguel Bonini

Centro de Estudios Avanzados del PR y el Caribe
Dr. Sebastián Lamrache Robiou

Presentaciones de la Comunidad Taina

Margarita Noquearas: Servicio en la Comunidad Indígena

Robinson Rosado: Nuevos Hallazgos en Caguana

Martín Veguilla

Dra. Carlalynne Meléndez Martínez

Grupo Areito Taina-ke
Areito: Muerte de Atabey (Madre Tierra)
Cantante: Flor de Jesus


Artesanía Taina


Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico en Bayamón

Organización y Planificación del Foro
Dra. Carlalynne C. Meléndez
Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico-Bayamón

Colaboración Especial
Estudiantes de Humanidades - GEHS-2010
Dra. Gladys Cruz, Departamento de Humanidades
Departamento Audiovisual

Dynamics of the Jamaican Taino

[Many thanks to BronxTaino@aol.com for forwarding this article]

November 19, 2006
Jamaica Gleaner News
The Dynamics of the Jamaican Taino

Edited by: Lesley-Gail Atkinson
Publisher: University of the West Indies Press
Reviewer: Barbara Nelson

Many of us in Jamaica have been taught that the Arawaks were our indigenous people and we continue to refer to them as such. The Arawaks, in fact, were the ethnic group that lived in the northern part of the Guianas. The Tainos were "the ethnic group that inhabited the Bahamian archipelago, most of the Greater Antilles, and the northern part of the Lesser Antilles prior to and during the time of Columbus."

The Earliest InhabitantsThe Earliest Inhabitants aims to promote Jamaican Tainan archaeology and highlight the diverse research conducted on our prehistoric sites and artefacts.

The editor, Lesley-Gail Atkinson, is an archaeologist with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. She explains in her introduction to the 215-page volume, "Jamaican prehistory is regarded as one of the least studied Caribbean disciplines. That is not necessarily the case. The fact is that published Jamaican archaeological research has not had sufficient international circulation."

The Earliest Inhabitants is the first compilation on the Jamaican Tainos since J.E. Duerden in 1897 published a compilation on Jamaican prehistory, which included various sites, and research on the island's Taino artefacts.

The editor's passion for archaeology and her belief that "the knowledge and the artefacts do not belong to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust or the Institute of Jamaica, but to the people of Jamaica" inspired her to "undertake this ambitious project"

It took her almost 15 months to complete the project and she feels it is "a starting point and it aims to fill some of the gaps in Jamaican archaeology".

Six of the 14 papers are reprints of articles that are not widely available and deemed to be of archaeological significance. The remaining eight are based on recent archaeological research.

The volume has four thematic sections:

Section 1: Assessment and Excavation of Taino sites

The first chapter: The Development of Jamaican Prehistory provides a background for the evolution of Jamaican Tainan archaeology and the overall development of Jamaican archaeological research.

The Taino Settlement of the Kingston Area reports on a survey of18 sites that are arranged in an arc around Kingston. Some of the sites are difficult to access today because they are in socially volatile areas (Wareika and Rennok Lodge), while others have been partially or totally built over, for example, Norbrook and Hope Tavern.

The Pre-Columbian Site of Chancery Hall, St. Andrew is a three-part report on the discovery of the site in 1991 by George Lechler to the discoveries made at the site so far.

In Excavations at Green Castle, St. Mary, Philip Allsworth-Jones and Kit Wesler describe progress and findings in the excavations.

The Impact of Land-Based Development on Taino Archaeology in Jamaica. In this chapter, Andrea Richards examines the impact of land-based development on Taino Archaeology in Jamaica. She notes that the total number of recorded Taino sites in Jamaica is 357 and of this total 53 or 14.9 per cent have been reported destroyed as a result of infrastructural and real estate development, farming, natural disasters and raw material extraction.

Section 2: Taino Exploitation of Natural Resources illustrates the importance of natural resources for the Jamaican Tainos. The chapters are:

Notes on the Natural History of Jamaica - Wendy Lee.

The Exploitation and Transformation of Jamaica's Natural Vegetation - Lesley-Gail Atkinson. She notes that the Tainos were known for their majestic canoas (canoes); they slept in hamacas, (hammocks) made from well-woven cotton cloth; and the married women (according to Irving Rouse) wore short skirts called naguas

In Early Arawak Subsistence Strategies: The Rodney's House site of Jamaica - Sylvia Scudder reports on the analysis of the faunal remains recovered in 1978 from Rodney's house, St. Catherine.

Section 3: Analysis of Taino Archaeological Data

In Jamaica, the most abundant artefacts recovered from Taino sites are ceramics and, second, stone tools. This section analyses and highlights the importance particularly of the stone and ceramic artefacts. The chapters are:

Petrography and Source of Some Arawak Rock artefacts from Jamaica - M. John Roobol and James W. Lee.

Jamaican Taino Pottery - Norma Rodney-Harrack

Jamaican Redware - James W. Lee

Taino Ceramics from Post-Contact Jamaica - Robyn P. Woodward identifies evidence of Taino Hispanic cultural contact at Sevilla la Nueva, St. Ann's Bay that is one of the most significant sites in Jamaica.

Section 4 : Taino Art Forms

The Petroglyphs of Jamaica - James W. Lee, published in 1990 highlights the discovery of cave art sites before 1952 and sites discovered between 1952 and 1985. Lee identified 24 cave art sites; since then eleven more sites have been discovered. Most cave art sites in Jamaica are found in the southern parishes of Clarendon, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine and Manchester.

Zemis, trees and symbolic landscapes: Three Taino Carvings from Jamaica by Nicholas Saunders and Dorrick Gray.

The publishers feel the collection will appeal not only to archaeologists, historians and students of archaeology, but also to anyone who is interested in Jamaica's history and archaeology.

I found The Earliest Inhabitants a very enlightening, enjoyable and absorbing book.

08 November 2006


[a poem submitted in connection with the Trinidad Caribs' Santa Rosa Festival. Written by an anonymous Trinidadian author, submitted for use only on this site. Reproduction is not currently permitted.]

Cloaked as she stands
In the stony habit of subjugation,
Saint or cultural shape shifter,
She waits only for the child.

This heart is neither meek nor mild
And that frozen mask of piety
Barely conceals the roucoued face
That stains her robes to flagrant pink.

Such are the small victories,
The toeholds that we must employ
To scale the brazen and impassive face
of ongoing ethnocide.

While roughshod over us they still ride
This infant, this ark of our kind
We will protect and hide
This same child who believed in us
Long after we had been converted
To disbelieving ourselves.

So into this hushed sanctum we will glide
Year after year,
To lift our blazing bouquets against the gloom.
Even under the patronizing smiles
we will slide,
to bring to our bride her infant groom,
To place the baby in her waiting arms.

Rosa lets them sing their psalms
But when the child rests smiling against her breast
The only song to give him rest
Will be her Carib lullaby.

Guanaguanare: Universal Aboriginality

As some readers already know, I am a fan of a Trinidadian blog that is titled, "Guanaguanare-The Laughing Gull." I recently received an email from that blog, with the following post:

....I have chosen to focus on one aspect of Trinidadian society and culture – the aboriginal presence. I will take the opportunity to think about the amnesia surrrounding aboriginality, whether deliberately induced or happily adopted, as the betrayal of man’s true nature. It is not my intention to write factual accounts about aboriginal peoples in Trinidad and Tobago. I’d be simply repeating what others have written. What I will try to do is to retreat into the cave, the Guacara, to try to remember-by-dreaming what it means to me.

To say that I have aboriginal ancestry is to proclaim that I belong to the human race. Every single one of us is descended from an aboriginal. On the physical level, DNA markers are obsessive recorders and guardians of our genetic roots and meanderings. If, for my survival, due to the introduction of competition or threat, I must lay claim to a particular geographic location or cultural identity, I must also admit to myself that this aboriginality as location is also temporary, not written in stone, not bequeathed for eternity.

Most of us originally came from elsewhere. If the centre of human genesis as we know it thus far, was located in Africa, then according to our logic, African peoples who still occupy their lands are the only genuine aboriginals. Even so, the connection to land, although a source of real comfort and rootedness, does not lock us into infinitely attaching ourselves to one location. There are many original peoples who have over time made voluntary and epic migrations from their “aboriginal” lands. We tend to think of diaspora in terms of specific ethnicities and geographic points. More interesting to me is the psychic diaspora which is part of man's experience over time and for many is remembered only as a bridge irreparably burnt.

I speak of this in order to delink and liberate the concept of aboriginality from physical location. I myself, own no land and feel no desire to reclaim the specific lands that were “taken” from my ancestors. It does not mean that I do not feel the loss but this comes NOT from my not having access to the land of my ancestors. It comes simply from not having access to any land which I feel is the right of every human being who is a citizen of this earth. I do not believe that land should be owned privately and in perpetuity by anyone and that includes myself. I will return to the topic of rights to land at a later point but I mention it here only because that is often the starting point for discussions about aboriginality.

I instead want to put aboriginality before land. I want to put it before everything else by which we allow ourselves to be distracted. Long after religion and philosophy had been trying to convince us of the brotherhood of man, science confirmed that we did in fact all come from the same place, that we had the same parents. That this discovery was not met with greater universal rejoicing is an indication of our amnesia. I want to go back to the Guacara, to remember the place where there was no doubt that we were ONE.

Plunder without Profit: Janette Bulkan on Guyana

253 South Road Bourda, Georgetown. Guyana.
Email: guyanafloods@yahoo.com
Tele Nos. 592-227-5523/24


November 8, 2006

The Guyana Citizens’ Initiative is sponsoring a public presentation on the topic ‘Plunder without profit: an investigation into forest governance in Guyana’ by Janette Bulkan who is currently completing a PhD at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Janette Bulkan has travelled and worked for over twenty years in Guyana’s interior on issues of local development and governance. Prior to pursuing a doctoral degree, Janette Bulkan was employed for over 15 years in the Amerindian Research Unit at the University of Guyana, and then as Senior Social Scientist with the Iwokrama Rainforest Programme for 3 years.

Janette Bulkan’s presentation will focus on findings of her research on developments in the forestry sector in the last ten years. The findings of this research are meaningful to all Guyanese who have an interest in good governance and sustainable development of Guyana.

Janette Bulkan’s presentation will focus on developments in the forestry sector in the last ten years. She catalogues the impact on the Guyanese economy, forest-dependent people, and the forests themselves of the export of an increasing volume of unprocessed logs, not peeler logs, but the prime Guyanese hardwoods. These logs are mostly shipped to Asia by the Asian-owned enterprises which now dominate the forest economy in Guyana. Yet these companies have or have had FDI incentives to invest in value-adding processing, employment and skills training for Guyanese.

Janette Bulkan argues that:

1-Forestry sector reforms were abandoned or not implemented and penalties not enforced on major companies; TNCs and local collaborators behave like pirates and abuse FDI arrangements;
2-Renewable natural resources are under-taxed when exported unprocessed;
3-Progressive national policy statements are not backed by adequate legislation and regulation; and
4-Oversight of regulatory agencies by the National Assembly / Select Committees and by civil society remains weak.

The outcomes of this regulatory vacuum include irregularities such as transfer pricing; under-declaration of log volumes in break bulk shipping; and mis-naming of timber species to evade controls, which result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of US $ monthly to the national exchequer and the liquidation of Guyana’s premium timbers without commensurate benefit to the nation.

Janette Bulkan advocates a return by regulatory agencies to the national interest (public good) versus private profits and sets out a programme of reforms that can be undertaken to stem the hemorrhage of the grossly under-valued patrimony of Guyana.

A public forum for presentation and discussion of these findings will be held at Cara Lodge in the Woodbine Room at 18:30 hours on Thursday, 9 November 2006.

GCI Secretariat
Telephone 227-5523/4
Fax: 227-5523
Email: guyanafloods@yahoo.com

Lokono Prayer in Trinidad

A very simple video, a slideshow essentially, composed of audio recorded online from a live webcast via I 95.5 FM (Trinidad) and photographs posted online by an unnamed Trinidadian photographer at http://triniview.com. I am enchanted with this prayer and find the need to share it whenever I can.

05 November 2006

On the Other Side of the Barricade

Mohawk Warrior on an ATV in CaledoniaMuch of what has appeared on this blog concerning the Six Nations land protest in Caledonia, Ontario, has been admittedly one-sided. While I believe that the criticisms I presented were fair (in part), it is nonetheless unfair to cast one set of actors (the non-Aboriginal residents of Caledonia) as villains, while those across the barricades (the Six Nations Mohawks) are treated as beyond fault. Given the complexities of this case, and the lack of effective media coverage, I will do my best to balance my previous posts on this subject and then write no more about Caledonia. (One may access links to those previous posts on this page prepared for my class,ANTH 303 "Indigenous Cultures Today". In this post, I will be adding to that list links to other resources that are necessary for a more balanced understanding of this conflict and some of its actors.)

Even the terminology used here is problematic: we do not know for a fact that the residents of Caledonia are all non-Aboriginal, as some may well be members of Canada's "non-status" Indian majority, that is, descendants of those who married non-Aboriginal men and lost the right to live on their reserves. As for the Six Nations side, not all the protesters come from the Six Nations reserve, with some notable protesters traveling from areas well outside of the disputed land in the
Haldimand Tract in Ontario. It is not even clear to what extent the protesters legitimately speak for the members of the Six Nations reserve, since the number of protesters, even when swollen by those visiting from other reservations in Canada and the US, has always been a fraction of the total population of the reserve. Finally, it has not been established what the actual goals of the protest group are, and here one can hear many voices speaking within that camp, and even some individuals speak with many voices. This is the only a fragment of the many problems that lurk beneath the surface of this protest.

The Barricade as a Mirror
Canadian soldier and Mohawk Warrior 'face off' in Oka, 1990What struck me recently, and served as a warning to not rush into issuing blank cheques of sympathy, was that some of the louder voices on the Native side of the barricade are presenting some of the worst features of Canadian society back to itself in a kind of mimetic politics of reaction. One can find numerous examples of such expressions in Mohawk Nation News.

Where Canadians are perceived to be racist, the reaction is to treat all Canadians as usurpers, invaders, exploiters and in essence, enemies. At worst, Canadians are cast, to only slightly paraphrase, as "homogenized scum," who have "risen to the top of the pot" holding a boiled mixture. Canadians are perceived as rootless, wandering and lost, without even the slightest attempt made by these critics to fathom how Canada has become home to millions, and has been so for many generations in most parts of the country. This is an example of historical obfuscation of the contemporary, which happens when one's vision is entirely occupied by a selective reading of events that transpired two centuries ago or more.

Where Canadians are seen as demanding indigenous peoples to demonstrate their indigenous-ness in terms of a static continuity of cultural traits from pre-colonial times, the reaction is to engage Canadians in revisiting antique documents and colonial relationships. We are told by some of the protesters, members of one or another Mohawk Warior Society, that the band councils which rule their reserves are creations of the Canadian government and rule without legitimacy--they are non-traditional. Yet, these non-traditional entities have been in existence for the better part of a century, and one would expect that the novelty might have worn off by now, that invention has become convention.

Where Canadians are cast as lusting for power and profit, we are presented with ambiguous long-term goals of reclaiming Toronto and Montreal as Mohawk territory, and where lands cannot be returned, rents must be paid. Hence we have another layer of prospective proprietors, living off of usury, establishing themselves at the top of a landlord-tenant relationship, without any regard for the class position of those who will be called upon to pay these rents.

Mirror Images in Oka 1990Where Canadians are described as greedy individualists who turn land into a commodity, we are presented with Aboriginal claimants to land as private property, no longer owned by no one (as might have been the Aboriginal perspective) but rather owned by some and never others.

Where Canadians have tried to instill shame in Aboriginals, the reverse is to instill guilt in Canadians, including those who own nothing and rent everything. I sense an attempt to turn the tables, rather than a critique of inequality. Given that there are some super-profitable corporations in the Six Nations reserve, such as Grand River Enterprises (see this page from the Hamilton Spectator), one senses the possibility that profits are not distributed equitably among community members, and the politics of some members of the Mohawk Warriors Society may be of the invidious sort, seeking their own financial resources to sustain and propel their activities.

Who Speaks for Whom?
One of the many facets that remains murky is the relationship between the Mohawk Warriors Society and the reserves in which they are based. The Haudenosaunee Home Page, which presents itself as the official source of news and information from the Haudenosaunee, comprised of the traditional leadership of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora Nations, presents the Mohawk Warriors Society as itself a threat to Aboriginal sovereignty:

"The Great Law of Peace is very clear that the purpose of human life is to promote peace. As the Haudenosaunee, we are to be the people who build a long house of peace. We were to bury the weapons of war and not shed blood among one another. The Warrior Societies within our communities have subverted the Great law and have sought noting short of the total destruction of the Haudenosaunee Council of Chiefs for the mere purpose of making money for themselves. It is this perversion of the Great Law and the use of violence against their own people that casts each and every 'warrior' outside of the circle of the Great Law of Peace." [click here to read more]

Between Honour and Trash
Communication across barricades is of the most limited and perhaps damaging kind, and intellectually not much deeper than toilet graffiti. One member of a Mohawk Warrior Society told me of skinheads brandishing clubs shouting insults and taunts at the Mohawk protesters, with the Mohawk return consisting of "oh yeah, well come and get us," or "shut the fuck up, it's time for you to pay." Aside from the politics becoming monetized, it has become dangerously infantilized as well.

My impression of some of the Mohawk Warriors is of individuals caught between images of the honour and dignity of wise ancestors, and the trash of "white" popular culture, and desperately trying to crawl back towards the greatness of the ancestors by means of cash and resentful trash talk. One has to ask then if they have not already lost the "mother of all battles": the battle to resist the monetization of social relationships, the battle to resist incorporation into the "white" culture of money and consumption. I also don't think they realize what a powerful set of negative and contradictory images they created when they appropriated the partly finished condominiums built on the site at the centre of the protest in Caledonia: from a protest against "development" on their land, they moved into that same development and took it as their own. In the old "Third World Studies" literature, written by people such as Ali Mazrui, this was known as "negative dependency" and the "radical knock of entry into world capitalism."

Quite aside from this is the question of tact and consistency. It seems like a difficult line for a Mohawk Warrior to maintain a denunciation of colonialism while at the same time recalling with pride how the Mohawks were allies of the British in the fight against the Hurons and the French. To proclaim "we won" when condemning the principle of "might makes right," and then to do so in Quebec where even the licence plates are inscribed with the words "Je me souviens" (I remember), might be viewed by some as a potentially self-defeating provocation. Likewise, to condemn the "white man's courts," while praising the successful Noongar land claim in Western Australia, or to bask in the words of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or to denounce colonization while making appeals to the authority of Queen Elizabeth II, all strike me as a confused and chaotic script that is still "under construction." It's as if the aim were to produce a discourse that deconstructs itself, that falls apart in the very act of being articulated, that evaporates in open air.

The Nationhood Trap?
We also come to the question of the "nation-to-nation" relationship that is especially advocated by members of the Mohawk Warrior Society. In practice, this is cast as an argument for sovereignty, for nationhood qua nation-state status (internalizing European notions of sovereignty and re-presenting them to Canada as Aboriginal), conflicting with the obvious reality that they are not such entities under international law and have no such recognition in the United Nations. That's actually not the most significant problem in my view. The more significant issue is whether such proponents have understood the ramifications of their quest. To be viewed, respected, and treated as separate nations means that they become foreigners with respect to Canada. In such a situation, rights to employment within Canada would be eliminated. In order to move from one corner of Canada to another, they would need passports, thereby reintroducing the same pass laws that were treated (and rejected) as an abomination of internal colonialism. Access to social services, such as health, education, and public works would also be terminated. In order to sustain a quality of life which most residents of their communities desire as evidenced by current practice, they would now have to pay to import "specialists" from Canada or elsewhere, which could cancel out any benefits to be derived from any rents to be paid by Canada for use of reclaimed Aboriginal lands. It's possible that this arrangement could even place them in a relationship of debt and dependency with the rest of Canada. Worse yet, it would sever many urban, non-status Natives from their homes of origin.

Land Rights...and Urban Natives?
And that, finally, is one of the crucial issues that we come to. Given that a majority of self-identifying Natives in Canada do not or cannot legally live on reserves, and instead live in urban areas, it is very difficult to see how "land rights," fought on the behalf of reserve-based minorities, is of especial relevance to the contemporary indigenous experience in Canada. What I am not seeing is how any of these issues, debates, and questions are being addressed by this struggle, and the discourse tossed across the barricades does nothing at all to shed any light on these subjects.

Other Links
For those who wish to investigate some of the issues raised above in a little more depth, one may visit the following pages:

While I certainly wish for an outcome that satisfies all parties and brings real justice, I suspect that divisions on both sides of the barricade will continue to deepen until this protest reaches a climax. Already it seems that what began as a reclamation has bow begun to feel like a state of siege for those involved. In the meantime, the best thing that I can do is to disengage myself from writing any further on this topic. I would still appreciate any commentaries from visitors, and I encourage ideas from all perspectives to be expressed, including if not especially those that are severely critical of anything that I have written.

31 October 2006

Tainos in the Dominican Republic

Newspaper article from the Dominican Republic.

Por Franklin Domínguez Cruz El autor es periodista martes 31 de octubre de 2006, 12:00:00 AM (AST)

Durante varios años exploramos La Reserva Indígena de Chacuey en la comunidad de los indios, Municipio de Partido, Provincia de Dajabón. Esta Zona Pertenecía al Cacicazgo de Marién, dominado por Guagacanagarix y los sub. -Caciques: Chacuey, Guaraguanó y otros.

La Plaza de Chacuey, es un instrumento Astronómico Megalítico, que marca la existencia de una civilización, anterior al impactante " descubrimiento de Don Cristóbal Colón" el 12 de octubre de 1492.
Al realizar estudios de Astronomía, a través del club Dominicano de Radio- Astronomía (CEDORA), para entonces; recibíamos lecciones del club CEDORA, con Titulares como este: Astro-Arqueología Taina.
Descendimos al lugar y encontramos que la construcción de una carretera destruyó parcialmente la Plaza.
Desde 1988, exploramos palmo a palmo, la zona de Chacuey, altiplanos y montañas. En el río Chacuey, encontramos el Charco de las Caritas, cotejado por el Museo del Hombre Dominicano y por el Antropólogo, el gran amigo; ido a destiempo Dr. Fernando Luna Calderón.
En el marco Histórico de este río, encontramos una visión representada en el arte rupestre, con bailes de Areitos.
Areitos es el baile tradicional de los indígenas, el cual guarda el "Secreto Taino" es la tradición de persona a persona que a través del tiempo, lo transmiten, manteniendo viva la cultura y la existencia Taina en la Isla de Santo Domingo.
Luna Calderón, " Establece que entre los huesos encontrados en el
Cementerio Indígena de la Caleta, en Boca Chica, con pruebas de laboratorio a varias personas de color Indio Dominicano, "se encontraron Cromosomas idénticos en la química del Ácido Deciserrenobonucleico (ADN)”.
Los Tainos del Caribe, tienen Tribus en franca civilización en Cuba y Puerto Rico, pero en Santo Domingo, se mantienen diseminados en la Composición Social Dominicana.
Sin embargo; en la Sabana de los Indios, en Partido, varias Familias; demostraron que son descendientes directos de los indígenas que poblaron esta zona de Haití, Quisqueya o Babeque*.
El Estudio, se realizó, revisando el árbol genealógico de las familias participantes, los cuales fueron Orientados por miembros de La Fundación Conservacionista Cubituarios. FUNDARIOS.
*¿Que desea en esta tierra? Eso quiere decir ¡Babeque! según el diccionario de la lengua Taina, en el "Diario de Colon".
Cálculos del CEDORA: Resultado del estudio Megalítico, resumen.
“La indiada Taina, del grupo cultural Arawac, localizada hace 514 años, en la zona Noroeste de la RD. , en el área que ocupan ahora las poblaciones de la provincia de Dajabón, utilizaban para sus ceremonias lo que hoy es conocido como la Plaza de Chacuey, la cual consistía en :
Una Calzada , un sector empedrado, Este Nordeste, el Portal llamado " del este u oriental", el Portal del " oeste occidental", Dos Camellones Parejos, que bajaban hasta el río Chacuey, " Los tres Menhires encontrados" y lo más concreto en este monumento, la zona petroglifica del charco de las caritas".
- Todo este complejo ha sido ubicado sobre una extensa sabana, por dos razones Fundamentales: su máxima cercanía al Charco de las Caritas y porque desde allí se tendría un horizonte mas amplio para estudiar las estaciones del año, que le servían a Marién y demás Cacicazgos, de las precisiones para la agricultura y la pesca .
Indudablemente, que esa gigantesca calzada cuasi elíptica fue construida con fines ceremoniales, de índole deportivo, religioso, junta Social festiva y Astronomía -.
La Plaza de Chacuey, fue un instrumento megalítico Astronómico, aunque; fuera objeto de otros usos.
Dada esta demostración, para los investigadores futuros; podemos indicar que estos petroglifos (pintura en las piedras) con los grabados de los Menhires, las Caritas, la Calzada, el sol, son ideogramas (representación de la plaza megalítica)
Realmente los Tainos estaban atraídos por las influencias ejercidas por la divinidad solar, así era practicado por los usuarios Tainos de la plaza de Chacuey, Estos Glifos (de lo cual hemos echo un levantamiento en video y fotos ) son concebido en el contexto animal- vegetal, las figuras en la rocas representan la plaza y sus actividades, veamos:
Interesantes grabados semicirculares, crestado en cortas líneas, 12 en total, encierran un circulo y entre ellos se destacan tres gruesos puntos, que pudieron resultar " Solsticio- Equinoccio - solsticio".
Otras figuras antropomorfas con prolongaciones radiales en el circulo de la cara, representa el Sol, la cual se repite, pero sin piernas retorcidas,
“Haciendo un ejercicio en la Plaza, tuvimos la satisfacción de ver corroborada nuestra hipótesis, cuando vimos salir el Sol, a unos 6 grados 30 segundos (6.5) desplazado hacia el este, de una trocha que fabricamos cercano al polo astronómico, precisión que puede considerarse exacta en los equinoccios, en un grado cada 71.62 años, o un grado,. 396 segundos por centurias, ese era; el solsticio de verano”.
La Plaza Indígena, virtualmente ha desaparecido, los curiosos, extranjeros y busca tesoros, han violado prácticamente este importante centro arqueológico, pese a la prohibición publica del Museo del Hombre Dominicano, quien tiene instalada una valla informativa, La cual rescatamos de la maleza que la arropaba , contando con el apoyo de los comunitarios de la Sección de los indios-.
Recomendamos leer: "Secreto Taino " libro que trata sobre la vida de los indígenas en la Isla, del Escritor Dominicano, Milton Olivo, de circulación reciente, el cual coincide en algunos puntos con la exposición nuestra y el CEDORA .
¡ Solicitamos al SEFA y Medio Ambiente, protección para que los ignorantes, no sigan desfigurando lo poco que queda de los petroglifos en el Charco de las caritas en el Río Chacuey de Partido !
Ahora nos falta, el rescate de los descendientes Tainos, que podamos identificarlos por regiones, para crear reservas protegidas para esas personas, quienes de manera Mística; han sobrevivido en la marginalidad entre indignados y orgullosos.
¡Ellos son los dueños de la isla, así debemos reconocerlos!
DiarioDigital RD

Jorge Estevez (Taino)
National Museum of the American Indian
One Bowling Green
New York, NY 10004
(212) 514-3716

23 October 2006

Pepsi Co. Boots The Last Puerto Rican Indian


Monday, October 23, 2006
Contact Luis Cordero at

Pepsi Gives the Boot to The Last Puerto Rican Indian

Bobby González was supposed to be reading from his latest work, The Last Puerto Rican Indian, a 96-page book of poetry at Pepsi world headquarters in Purchase, NY on Thursday, September 27, 2006. However, after reading a copy of the poem "Thank You Mr. Columbus," Pepsi management reconsidered and in fact rescinded the invitation made by Pepsi's Hispanic Heritage Committee to participate in their Hipanic Heritage Month Celebration.

Christopher Columbus is celebrated throughout the Western hemisphere for taking the risk of sailing the uncharted Atlantic Ocean and discovering a new world. This celebration however is not shared among the Native American communities that he supposedly "discovered." The poem "Thank You Mr. Columbus" brings to your attention the many crimes committed by Christopher Columbus and his followers.

According to the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee members, Pepsi management felt the poem was "offensive to some people." Pepsi, however says that Mr. Gonzalez was disinvited because the invitation was not open to publishers and athors but only to crafts vendors.

We at Cemi Press are disappointed that Pepsi management has taken that stance which covers up an attempt at censoring the story of the Native American holocaust. We are aware that this shameful chapter in history is not known to the general public and corporate America is not in the business of uncovering the truth. "The Last Puerto Rican Indian" is a book that serves as an introduction to the history of the European encounter with Native American cultures.

You can read the full story at:

You can read the entire poem at:

The “Last Puerto Rican Indian” is published by Cemi Press and is available at http://www.cemipress.com/, at New York's El Museo del Barrio's gift shop, at Straight Out of Harlem at 704 St. Nicholas Avenue at 145th St., NYC and in Taller Puertorriqueño’s Julia de Burgos Book and Crafts Store, 2721 North 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA.

For more information on Mr. González, visit: http://www.bobbygonzalez

20 October 2006

Debating Race As If It Mattered

An online forum, ostensibly devoted to the topic of US racialism, found several of its pages being turned over to a lively, and sometimes instructive, series of exchanges on the "true" identity of Belize's Garifuna, that is, whether or not they are "actually" African more than Carib. Genetics then acquires a prominent place, thereby reducing culture to a matter of biology. What is lost as a result is any real discussion of how much of the Caribbean region's Amerindian culture has been carried forward by the Garifuna. As far as I see, how the Garifuna supposedly "look" is neither interesting nor relevant, nor a settled issue for that matter. If you are curious, have a look at:


Words of Wisdom from Guanaguanare

An anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Guanaguanare (the laughing gull), a person/bird who clearly is possessed of a great love for his/her island of Trinidad, has once again shared some wisdom with the rest of us in a recent posting that tries to explain the identity of Guanaguanare and in the process produces an Amerindian vision of survival, reconstitution and healing. Simple words really, but clearly heartfelt and very effective.

He/she/the gull writes the following:

"Why the Laughing Gull?
Guanaguanare, the happy, non-threatening seagull hovers over this blog. This seagull symbolises something of the resilient though besieged natural spirit of the islands and many of its inhabitants...an aboriginal presence...a retiring, gentler spirit that does not seek heavy baggage and leaves a light footprint. The name Guanaguanare is an Amerindian word for the laughing gull and you probably know that it was also used by the Amerindian cacique - Cacique Guanaguanare, who gave the Spanish the land on which they were to establish San Jose de Oruna or St. Joseph, the first capital of Trinidad.

resources on Island Carib language, I created the site's rallying call:

Ahakutiwa, alëlekatiwa, akuyawatiwa!
We awake, we laugh, we return!

It is meant to give hope to all people who are mourning the loss of a better quality of life. On another level, it is also addresses people with Amerindian ancestry who do and do not publicly identify with this connection. We are still here, sleeping maybe, but not extinct.

Apart from its use to disprove the fact of a continuing Amerindian presence among us and in our veins, the extinction myth is also used to suppress so many other possibilities, to nip life itself in the bud. Someone decided that Hope is Extinct and people are despairing because they are beginning to believe the myths, that human kindness is dead, that the option of a simpler, less punishing lifestyle is a lost cause, that Trinidad and Tobago is going down the tubes, that law breakers and inconvenient human foetuses are better off dead, that all efforts to reverse the tailspin will amount to nothing.

The site belongs to everyone, all the spirits who fly through to contemplate or to leave their contributions to this conversation about Trinidad and Tobago. Even if you do not submit works, please visit to read and to leave your comments.

Looking forward to meeting you! Many blessings!

Mweh ka allay!

17 October 2006

A Lokono Prayer in Trinidad

The following is the original and translated text of a prayer in use in the Santa Rosa Carib Community in Arima, Trinidad. Some will have already heard another version in a previous audio file posted on this site (click here to open/download), being read by Ricardo Bharath. At a recent Interfaith Thanksgiving Service for the former President of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Justice Noor M. Hassanali (1918-2006), held on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006, in Queen's Hall, Port of Spain, the shaman of the Carib community, Cristo Adonis, was invited to be the first to offer his prayer. In the program for the event, Adonis preceded an Orisha representative (Pearl Entou Springer), who was then followed by Fr. Clyde Harvey (Roman Catholic--see this previous post). So much for the lengthy introduction, now let's get to the prayer:

Adaiahiili Tamushi Anshika ba
O Great Spirit God give us your
Maiauhii daiba wai koma anshihi
Peace so we can love as you love us
Amarita mun sakwa daiba
Make us healthy so
Wai koma kamunka usahu kahiihii
We can have a good life
Wa chin achi waianchicha
We praise you O Lord

More than likely, elements that suggest Christian influence, are not accidental. The prayer was provided by Toshau (Chief) Neville Goveia from a former mission in Guyana, and who has stayed as a guest of the Carib Community in Arima a few times in recent years, including as recently as last month.

I was very happy to see Uncle Neville again, and he resumed our past conversations about kanaima in Guyana as if four years had not passed since we last conversed. Uncle Neville is now 74 and is still going strong. I wish him another 74 years, at least. Below is a photograph of Neville Goveia walking and talking with Cristo Adonis during the 2002 Santa Rosa Festival.

Thus here the reader can "see" what some Arima Caribs refer to as "cultural interchange" in actual practice. This is what I have been most interested in recently--the more intimate, direct and interpersonal exchanges between members of neighbouring indigenous communities in the region, with a lot less emphasis (unlike my work in the past) on leaders gathering among other social and political elites and pitching themselves to those elites.

Haitian Arawak Movement

I was very excited to receive the following message today:

"I am very happy that this side of the history of the Dominican Republic [in a special issue in the journal KACIKE] had been brought to light and I hope that the same thing could be done for Haiti. I am a mixed-blooded Arawak from Haiti and I'd like to take this opportunity to let the world know that we, the Indians of Haiti, were never extinct and we are very proud of our indigenous heritage. I hope that our brothers and sisters in DR understand that our language may be different but we are the same people. Anyone who wishes to learn more about the Haitian Arawak people or speak to us can visit us at: www.haitianarawak.com
Long live the Arawak/Taino people!
Guanahata Ben Emmanuel"

Indeed, I had a chance to visit the website of the Haitian Arawak Movement, and I think a great many people will find it to be appealing, not just visually, but also in terms of some content that helps to fill in a very large gap in public consciousness. It never made sense to me that Taino cultural survival would somehow stop at the border with Haiti, as if that relatively novel and arbitrary post-conquest creation corresponded with indigenous realities. Incidentally, I am not suggesting that anyone has made this argument, but the focus on Taino survival in Hispaniola has, to date, tended to focus on the Dominican side, and not because of any sinister conspiracy. I would like to see more dicussion perhaps as to why there has been this Haitian absence from discussions of indigenous cultural survival, aside from some of the very engaging work produced by Maya Deren (Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti). I look forward to hearing more from Ben Emmanuel.

15 October 2006

Australian Aboriginals Win Claim to Perth

For those of you who did not read this news when it was announced in the international media about three weeks ago, the Noongar Aboriginal people of Western Australia were affirmed as holding title to a substantial part of Western Australia, including the city of Perth. You can read the actual case of Bennell v. State of Western Australia (2006) FCA 1243 at: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/

For more news coverage from Australia concerning this landmark claim, see:


"Australian PM Concerned Over Perth Native Title Claim" at:


Call for Pre-Columbian Specialists

From: "Dr. H. Micheal Tarver"
Date: October 3, 2006


I am writing on behalf of ABC-CLIO, the leader in history reference publishing. We are currently working on an ambitious twenty-one volume Encyclopedia of World History, and are in need of Pre-Columbian specialists to write some critical entries. If you are interested, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Arrangements can be made to translate essays (500 to 1000 words) into English.

With best regards,

Micheal Tarver
Editor, Era 8

Dr. H. Micheal Tarver
Department Head -
Social Sciences and Philosophy
Arkansas Tech University
Witherspoon 254
407 West Q Street
Russellville, AR 72801-2222

Tel: 479.968.0265
Fax: 479.858.6452


Caledonia, Ontario: Beware the Big Bad Indian

Several months ago I watched a CBC News television report of a protest by non-Native residents of Caledonia, Ontario, where Six Nations protesters have reclaimed land that they insist, and eagerly demonstrate, was illegally usurped. In that report, a young blonde woman, veins bulging on her throat, rose over the other non-Native protesters to scream that the Natives were "terrorists" and that her children were afraid whenever they drove past the Natives.

The immediate question that came to mind was: "Lady, what kind of racist rubbish are you teaching your children?" Why are three Mohawks carrying placards the new definition of terrorism now? Is it the old prejudice that when Natives gather "trouble's a brewin' "?

Such gratuitous prejudice did not end with one speaker, of course, after all this is "Canada" and fools roam in herds over our vast open spaces. Once again, the CBC reports the following in its
latest article from the scene: "VanSickle, who said her elementary-school children are afraid to be home alone, also took aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper for engaging in negotiations with the Six Nations while Caledonia is 'held hostage.' " Afraid to be home alone? As a parent, what has she done to assuage what hopefully is only the irrational fear of a child...or has this irrational fear been taught to the children by the mother? Held "hostage"? Why are such images, accusations and bogey men dredged up in Canada whenever protesters lack the deathly pallor that has been associated with "civilization"? I suppose that I have just answered my own question.

The question that does remain for me is this: how can one live as a "Canadian" citizen without feeling a deep sense of shame and anger over the obvious failure of our school system to raise our compatriots from the gutters of nineteenth-century European racism? One possible answer, for some anyway, has been to pretend that Canadians are a fundamentally just and even handed people, "unlike Americans." This has been a useful lie some of us have told ourselves for some years now, using George Bush as a convenient foil. That lie had to wear off, as soon as we woke up to realize that we too have secret detentions, that Muslims are targeted for surveillance and abuse in the streets, that our newspapers have frontpage stories linking immigration with terror plots, and that our troops are fighting a pointless dirty war in Afghanistan.

I admit that I have been much more polemical in my writings than in the past on this blog. What has not changed is my belief that the way "Canada" acts toward indigenous peoples is symptomatic of a much larger web of domestic and international social relations and cultural politics that remain fundamentally colonial in nature.

20 September 2006

Upcoming News from Arima, Trinidad

Well everyone, in a few hours I am off to Arima, Trinidad. I will be covering events surrounding CARIFESTA (see http://www.carifesta.net/), focusing entirely on the Santa Rosa Carib Community as it plays host in Arima to numerous Amerindian delegations from across the Circum-Caribbean region. At the same time, the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples (COIP) will be entering a new phase as Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, head of the Arima Carib community, becomes COIP's new chair.

Despite the many shortcomings and disarray that have plagued CARIFESTA IX, this should still be a momentous occasion for many of the region's indigenous communities.

I return to Montreal on October 1st, and I should post some materials, and some news, on this blog soon after I return.

[My thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding that made this trip possible. Funding was received in the form of a Standard Research Grant for my project titled, "Indigenous translocals in the Caribbean: place, intimacy and the quotidian dimensions of the regionalized Carib resurgence."]

Tainos and DNA Studies: Ayes' Art Blog

One "blogger" (I cannot get accustomed to this new terminology, this word sounds offensive somehow), John Ayes, a Florida-based artist with a blog available at


is featuring a number of articles and links on the study of DNA to show Taino biological survival in Puerto Rico. Some of you may be interested in chatting with him and providing any further information that you might think could be useful.

Best wishes to John Ayes.

[In the meantime, someone should explain to me what Bluetooth is--it sounds like a disease--as well as what getting Yahoo messenger on your FiDo is supposed to mean.]

Tainos por las calles dominicanas

In the newspaper, Hoy Digital, from Santo Domingo, a story was published titled "Taínos por las calles dominicanas", which is available at:


CAC editors Lynne Guitar and Jorge Estevez also appear in the story, from which the following was extracted:

"La idea de esta desaparición fue una especie de plan de supervivencia desarrollado por los frailes dominicos, según la teoría de Lynne Guitar, arqueóloga norteamericana actualmente trabajando en el país. Este plan tuvo algún éxito, a juicio de la arqueóloga Guitar: 'En comparación con la cantidad de los taínos en La Española, muy pocos españoles llegaron y los que llegaron eran, en su mayoría, varones. Aunque ha habido mucha discusión acerca de la población original de los taínos, el consenso hoy día es que habían unos millones en la isla en los años de 1490 en adelante –la cantidad sube año tras año–. Los españoles, entonces, eran una minoría; pero, arrogantes con el éxito de su Reconquista (la expulsión final de los moros de España en 1492), implantaron su propio orden social, económico y político en la isla, con el apoyo de sus aliados invisibles –muchos virus y bacterias– en contra de las cuales los indios no tenían ninguna inmunidad. El impacto de la colonización europea en los taínos los devastó. Hizo una reestructuración total de la trayectoria de su modo de vida, pero no los eliminó'."

Garifuna Protest at Disney: Photographs

Photographs for the Garifuna protest of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean can be viewed online at:


The protest was against the release of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. This took place on Disneyland's Main Street on Saturday June 25, 2006 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm in Anaheim, California.

New Taino Website: Wakia Arawaka Taina

Wakia Arawaka Taina is a new Taino website, accessible at:

Here is a short introduction from the website itself:

"El Grupo Wakía Arawaka Taina, Representa nuestra cultura indígena de Puerto Rico y su proposito es fomentar el conocimiento de la procedencia de nuestra ideologia Taina, a la ves llevar un mensaje positivo, enfatizando en la educación hacia nuestros niños, llevando así el Sentimiento de que el Taino aun Vive y somos Cultura Viva."

11 September 2006

Photographs of the 2006 Carib Santa Rosa Festival

Coupled with the audio files presented in a previous post on this subject, we now have an extensive range of photographs of the events of Sunday, 27 August, 2006, covering the Caribs and their celebration of the Santa Rosa Festival. They have been posted in three galleries on the massive Trinidad website known as "TriniView.com" (please see: http://triniview.com/album/Carib_Festival_270806). The photographer, who does not appear to have been named on the site, obviously did a great job of following the Caribs from the moment they left their community centre, their procession to the Church, their presence inside the Church, the procession of the statue of St. Rose through the streets of Arima, and the festivities at the Carib Centre after mass. In a few instances, mistakes are made in the captions with the names of individual members of the Carib Community, however, the photographer still did an impressive job of collecting so many of the names to begin with.

05 September 2006

"You Got Recognition"

I was reflecting on parts of the letter recently sent by Cristo Adonis (see the previous post of this date), and recalled a film I was to have shown in class today, You Are On Indian Land (1969, directed by Mort Ransen), which covers the barricades erected by the St. Regis Mohawks to block travelers along a highway from the US leading into Canada, a highway built on their land without their permission. They charged all travelers with trespassing and blocked the route. The police, who arrived in numbers, frequently told the prostesters, "you got recognition," and it definitely sounded to me like the unspoken addendum to that sentence was, "now get lost."

The Caribs of Trinidad "got recognition." Recognition is a great achievement if for centuries your very presence has been denied. Recognition can also play into a politics of paternalistic dismissal: you have been recognized, we love to put you on display for select ceremonial occasions, and we give you various candies, but please do not dream of inserting yourselves into the serious politics of the nation in which you live, as if you could have any say. This is why in a previous post I called the state's recognition of the Caribs "cosmetic respect" for indigenous culture: a superficial celebration of their presence, treated as tokens of the nation's legendary past, but not viewed as holders of knowledge of alternative ways of living and fundamentally respecting Trinidad's environment.

If the Caribs were to have a say in national affairs, this could prove very awkward for the state, and for the ruling party specifically. The government in fact seems intent on appropriating the label "indigenous"-as in Guyana--to denote anyone born in Trinidad, or anything created in Trinidad, whether Amerindian or not, which might be deemed reasonable on a number of grounds. However, it is also one way that indigenous peoples are pushed into the background of national qua "indigenous" decision-making.

That "recognition" is reduced to celebration is probably the reason why the Caribs are Trinidad's only ethnic community not to have received land from a government ever since their lands were expropriated. Even Spiritual Baptists and Orisha communities, which were hardly core support groups for the mostly East Indian United National Congress which ruled Trinidad in the late 1990s, still received lands and buildings from that same government. The Caribs, most of whom vote for today's ruling People's National Movement, have received no such consideration, and that's after three decades of promises. With friends like these...

Letter from Cristo Adonis (Carib, Trinidad)

The following is a letter from Cristo Adonis, shaman of the Arima Carib community in Trinidad, forwarded thanks to Tracy Assing.

In his Historical Sketches of Trinidad and Tobago, K.S. Wise noted in 1934:
“No one can live long in Trinidad without being told that Iere was the aboriginal Indian name for the island … so much so that this name has become part of the traditional history of Trinidad and has been adopted as a place name.”

Wise also wrote:
“Caribs were an intractable and warlike people; they were proud and dominating and preferred death to subjection. Throughout history the Caribs have always been indomitable and implacable opponents of all invaders. The early Conquistadors found in the Caribs valiant and worthy opponents, and only too often the Spaniards suffered disastrous defeats.”
The Amerindian thus bestows on the nation a sense of antiquity and a sense of occupation of the territory that is Trinidad. – Maximilian Forte, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Concordia University. Author, Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs

Dutch archeologist Arie Boomert wrote in a 1982 article in the Trinidad Naturalist, entitled “Our Amerindian Heritage” that due to Trinidad being “one of the world’s most cosmopolitan populations” as a result “it is often forgotten that a few of the people now living in Trinidad are descended or partly descended from the original inhabitants of the island, the Amerindians.”

Bridget Brereton’s An introduction to the History of Trinidad and Tobago (1996) makes specific references to the contemporary Santa Rosa Carib Community. Her chapter entitled “The first Trinidadians and Tobagonians” following Dr Eric Williams’ (1962) designation of “Our Amerindian Ancestors”. She repeatedly uses phrases such as “the first people” and “the first Trinidadians” throughout her chapter.

The resistance theme appears in her text as well, without discriminating between Caribs and Arawaks: “Amerindians resisted … strongly. The Amerindians were good fighters and it was not until 1592 that the Spaniards could actually make a permanent settlement” (Brereton, 1996). Instead of arguing that Ameridians became extinct, Brereton opts for the view of Amerindians declining in numbers. She says:

“Only a few people in Trinidad and Tobago today have Amerindian blood, but we should all be proud of our first people. Their legacy is all around us. We can see it in many words and place names, reminding us that these people made the islands their own by settling down and naming places, rivers, bays, districts and things. We can see it in roads which date back to their paths. We see it in ways of cooking, especially dishes made with cassava. We also have a community in Arima, who call themselves ‘Caribs’ and are very proud of their culture. They are working hard to make us all more aware of the heritage of our first people.”


I have observed the Independence celebrations and noted that no invitation was sent to members of the First Nation People of Trinidad and Tobago to speak or offer any blessings to the nation.

We have also not been invited to participate in the recent discussions regarding the decision on what the nation’s highest award/honour is to become.

In sending greetings to the First Nation People of Trinidad and Tobago on the occasion of the recently held Santa Rosa Festival, which seems to be the only First Nation celebration of interest to the media and the Government, I have noticed that corporate citizens chose to use the statue of Hyarima … some people would be proud of that but we have live people as well.

We are grateful but this helps cement the view that the only real First Nations people in this country are dead.

The real honour for Hyarima lies in the smoke ceremony homage we pay to our ancestors.

I respect other peoples being granted their holidays, our people have been granted a day of recognition and we did not ask for a public holiday as we have so many of those.

When it is our day of recognition hardly anything is mentioned in the media. In fact, the media only recognises the existence of First Nations Peoples on specific days of the year for the rest of the year we do not exist.

But in our own country, in the country of our ancestors we continue to await the Promised Land.

Not the Promised Land promised to us by those who converted our ancestors to Catholicism but the land promised to us by the Government as a move toward reparation.

It is my belief that our people should be included in all discussions pertaining to the environment and the well being of our country. This is a land we understand. We understand the rivers, the sea, the mountains, the trees, the plants and the animals.

The story of the First Nation People of Trinidad and Tobago is one of survival.

Cristo Adonis

28 August 2006

Addendum: Caribs & Santa Rosa, 2006

This is an addendum to the previous post--my apologies for the omission, but I suspect I was already trying to forget this:

I had forgotten to bring attention to one of the other gems of exaggeration and distorted representation featured by the church, and its radio commentator, during this mass. Soon after the mass commenced, I was initially delighted, though a bit puzzled, to hear of "the proclamation of the gospel in Amerindian", and that the whole congregation would be involved in making this proclamation. In "Amerindian"? The entire congregation would do so? I wondered what that could mean. Well, what it means in fact is that the church's own choir would now play at being Amerindian, and without much in the way of effort or imagination either. What they did was to set the Hallelujah chorus to stereotypical tom-tom music. My personal recommendation to the church and its choir: leave the job of being Amerindian to the Amerindians.

Phony Amerindian Hallelujah

27 August 2006

Caribs and the Santa Rosa Festival, 2006

Today, Sunday, was the celebration of the 220th anniversary of the Santa Rosa Festival in Arima, Trinidad. Given confusion over dates, this anniversary has actually been claimed previously, but now it seems that more people are certain, for now, that this indeed is the 220th anniversary. The event was also special in that it was carried live by radio and over the Internet, courtesy of Trinidad and Tobago's I 95.5 FM. It has been a couple of years now that on each Santa Rosa feast day (that is, on the Sunday closest to August 23rd) that this radio station has broadcast the entire three-hour ceremony live. And when I say the entire ceremony, I mean that it also gives full play to the many, very lengthy, hymns, which can be a real "listening challenge" for those who are not especial devotees of this musical genre.

This article, part polemic, part exposition, is built around a selection of audio files that were edited from the larger broadcast. The files are in mp3 format. When clicking on each link below, you can choose to save the file to your computer and listen to it later and/or click the "open" button on the popup box that will appear when clicking on the links, and play it with your computer's designated audio player.

A member of the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Parish in Arima served as commentator. Like other members of this parish, she proclaimed it to be the "largest Catholic parish in the Caribbean" (by this I assume she meant the English-speaking Caribbean alone--sometimes people in the Anglophone Caribbean forget that the Spanish speaking, Roman Catholic, giants like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are also in the Caribbean).

The Santa Rosa Festival certainly seems to have aquired an air of significance in recent years when, at the best of times, a newspaper article about the Festival, maybe even on the front page of the dailies, would be all one could expect to find in terms of national coverage. The significance of the event must have been heightened enough to be covered by commercial radio, especially since a mass is not something that can be easily covered live, and the sportscast-like commentary is sometimes intrusive, even if necessary.

The commentator began by framing the Festival as one of especial importance to the Caribs of Arima, and she also noted who was present in the crowd, paying especial attention to Queen Valentina Medina (who was recently popularized as a massive Carnival costume, titled "My Love for Carib Queen Valentina Medina"). This theme, that of the Caribs' historical ties to the festival, would go on a roller coaster ride of dramatic shifts in signification throughout the mass, repeatedly highlighted and then downplayed. My personal belief is that this Catholic church is unwilling to admit to itself that the main reason anyone outside the parish might show even passing interest is due to the Carib presence--otherwise, the mass itself can be rather ho-hum and like any other Catholic mass in Trinidad.

Controlling Information
The Roman Catholic Church in Arima is very diligent about controlling information and authorizing only those perspectives that favour it the most, which will doubtfully surprise many. The Santa Rosa Festival is no exception. On the one hand, the parish has recently begun to utilize the Web, launching its own Santa Rosa RC website.
Santa Rosa RC Church Website
Messages there are reinforced by a broader, national publication, The Catholic News, which also covers Arima events in occasional articles on its own
website. On the other hand, by selecting a parishioner, a non-Carib, as the radio commentator, this also allows the Church an inside edge, that is, an edge over the Caribs who are politely treated as mute participants from whom, and about whom, we rarely hear during the ceremony itself. Over the years, the Church has utilized the Festival to offer sermons that seem to promote a very basic theme, one that could be summarized as: "you aren't Caribs now so much as Catholics, and Trinidadians, so forget the past and remember your devotion to the Church." Sometimes the message is subtle, and sometimes it is abrasive and blunt, like today's ceremony by chief celebrant Father Clyde Harvey, although even here, as we shall hear, the message can sound quite confused, perhaps deliberately so.

As usual, the Church had one of its stalwarts lecture people on the "true" history of the Santa Rosa Mission, an event offered in the run up to this year's Festival. While the Church is keen to prop up its own amateur and unpublished "authority" on the Caribs, the Caribs themselves are routinely denied any voice. You can only look at them, but don't speak to them...and they have nothing to say anyway, right? Indeed, in 1998, as I attended the festivities in the Carib Centre, I heard the parish priest advise visitors to speak to this supposed expert--"she is the authority on the Caribs"--and he said so right in the presence of a mass of Caribs who, rest assured, have a thing or two to say about themselves. His absence, however, has not changed either the tone or the slant of the Church's own enforced whitewashing of history.

After all, the Catholic Church in Trinidad and Tobago is an especially conservative and defensive one. Unlike Catholic Churches in other nations, this one is particularly unrepentant about its own history of exploitation of Amerindians (using them as labour to plant and harvest cocoa for commercial export) and abuses (which in one case led to the famous 1699 uprising). This is not a Church that says "sorry"--ever. We should also bear in mind known cases where the Catholic Church in Trinidad covered up for priests who sexually abused minors, removing them to other parishes, or other dioceses, rather than defrocking them. We "lay people," however, living in our state of perpetual sin (although since God knowingly created Satan, created evil, someone please explain why we are the ones who are guilty of "sin"), we are required to be perpetually asking for forgiveness.

The message of submission in today's mass began with one of the first readings from the Bible, an astonishing passage given popular social transformations since the 1960s, in that it emphasized submission to the Church as shaping, and being shaped by, the total and unquestioning submission of a wife to her husband (or perhaps the submission of a little boy to a priest). A morning of speeches from the pulpit began with patriarchy and ended up in colonialism, assimilation, and then ethnically-cleansed nationalism.

Controlling the Setting
The Santa Rosa RC Church also has a curious, but hardly shocking, way of controlling the setting for the Festival, as if to remind everyone that this, at the end of the day, is a Catholic festival and not a Carib one. This brushes aside the Caribs' own belief that Saint Rose of Lima is their special intercessor, one who appeared to them, as legend has it, and is very particular to their Mission history...indeed, that is how the Festival came to be in the first place, via the Indian Mission of Arima. So while the Caribs may be used by the Church as a selling point, they are not meant to be the ending point.

"Selling" brings other issues to mind. This year, as has happened on occasion in the past, the Church decided to compete with the Santa Rosa Carib Community on the platform of the sale of lunches after the Santa Rosa High Mass. Given that the Caribs have always offered lunch to parishioners at their Community Centre, and rely heavily on the revenue generated from such sales, it seems odd that the Church, with greater resources, should now need to specialize in selling lunches. Do churches normally offer "take out"? Such a move can only financially hurt the Carib Community and work to further marginalize it, at the same time that the Church claims to be celebrating the Caribs, even posting a picture of them on their website's front page.

For at least four years now the Church has decided to keep the core of the mass under a tent adjacent to the Church (although from what I understood this year was different). Why this was necessary is a mystery: inside the Church sat parishioners, comfortably watching on a giant flat screen the proceedings that were transpiring just outside. Why couldn't the mass take place inside the Church and have the excess number of people outside to watch the giant screen under the tent? It's not an arrangement that pleased many Caribs: the subtle message appeared to be that circuses take place under tents, and Caribs are welcome as performers outside the Church. Given that the very large numbers of Caribs who have left the Roman Catholic Church and joined other denominations, along with those who never really cared too much about any church, this seemed like a dangerously back-handed welcome. Indeed, the Church seems to have been made to recognize this by the leadership of the Carib Community.

Keeping the main event under the tent outside also serves to marginalize the work done by the Carib Community in decorating the interior of the Church of Santa Rosa with their own crafts and flowers, a major tradition of theirs for this Festival. Perhaps, as some prelates might strategize, if Carib labour is minimized then so is the Carib investment, and the symbolic Carib imprint on the Festival. Instead we are offered what appears to be a lawn wedding, under a hot tent, packed into a parking lot.

Mixed Messages?
Speaking of greetings offered with the back of the hand, the main message of today's sermon was rather brazen in its "anti-tribal" message, as spoken by Father Clyde Harvey.

Father Clyde Harvey, celebrant for Santa Rosa Mass, Aug 2006

While we are instructed that we cannot go "back" to our tribes, it is curious to find out what lies ahead as an alternative. Ironically, the answer we are given by Father Harvey is: tribalism. He asks us to choose which god we will serve, acknowleding a plethora of other competing gods. To choose to be a Catholic, or a Christian generally, in a multi-ethnic and multi-denominational country such as Trinidad and Tobago is in fact to choose to belong to one of his so-called "tribes." So is the Roman Catholic Church in Trinidad truly against "tribalism" (assuming that "tribalism" is the neafrious creature that some believe it to be)? No, it is against the kind of tribalism that does not place it, as a social institution, in a place of privileged preeminence. However, some might argue: the Catholic Church is not a tribe in a ethnic sense. One could answer: so what? Is one form of sectionalism, of particularity, of difference somehow better and more valuable than another? In any event, Catholicism in Trinidad is very much marked in ethnic and colour terms--it is not the preferred religion of either East Indians, who have been routinely maligned by Catholics for being alleged "idol worshippers" who "pray to devils," nor of the African urban underclass.

Some might be tempted to suggest that there was "something for everyone" in today's sermon by Father Harvey. Indeed, while he at one point urges Trinidadians to think of themselves as one people (conveniently leaving the cultural content of this Trinidadian nation unspecified), he also returns to ethnic particularism, going as far as marking Santa Rosa as a woman with Indian tribal blood in her veins. He does, however, argue for a "Trinidad" that is under the Holy Trinity--again an expression of particularism that will clearly leave Trinidad's many Hindus and Muslims entirely unimpressed at best.

Where are the Caribs?
While the Caribs participate for their own reasons, their presence in the Festival is tightly controlled, and it is not accidental. Even mention of them, during the course of a three-hour ceremony is very rare, and rarely are they allowed to speak in any way, although today offered us one wonderful exception, with Carib leader, Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, reciting a prayer in the Island Carib language (usually considered by linguists as a derivative of Arawakan, and indeed Ricardo says the prayer is in "Arawak"). Otherwise, one can expect routine "blessings" to be offered to the Caribs, sometimes phrased as if the Caribs were ailing.

[ADDENDUM, posted 28/08/2006: I had forgotten to bring attention to one of the other gems of exaggeration and distorted representation featured by the church, and its radio commentator, during this mass. Soon after the mass commenced, I was initially delighted, though a bit puzzled, to hear of "the proclamation of the gospel in Amerindian". In Amerindian? The entire congregation would do so? I wondered what that could mean. Well, what it means in fact is that the church's own choir would now play at being Amerindian, and without much in the way of effort or imagination either. What they did was to set the Hallelujah to stereotypical tom-tom music. My personal recommendation to the church and its choir: leave the job of being Amerindian to the Amerindians.

Phony Amerindian Hallelujah]

Time dictates that I end here, even if abruptly. I welcome all comments by readers. It certainly has been a pleasure for me to have three hours of "fieldwork at a distance" today, and I am certain that there will be several other, alternate readings of today's events and statements. Please feel free to express your opinions and share your thoughts by posting comments below.