30 September 2007

Roi Kwabena, friend of the CAC, receives special distinction

Dr Roi Ankhkara Kwabena has been one of the longtime friends and supporters of the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink. Dr. Kwabena is a cultural anthropologist, activist educator, and a Trinidadian living in the UK. He is also a prolific writer, webmaster, and blogger (see links below). On two occasions he was named the Poet Laureate of the city of Birmingham.

Recently, Dr. Kwabena was honoured by the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool which named him among history's greatest Black achievers. See the stories in The Independent (UK) and The Trinidad Guardian.

His sites can be found at:

Congratulations and very best wishes to Dr. Kwabena, from his friends at the CAC.

28 September 2007

UNESCO Nominates Garifuna Andy Palacio as Artist for Peace

Thanks to Michael Polonio for circulating this news:

He has one of the most celebrated world music albums of the year, and Andy Palacio has received one more honor. But this one isn't just an award, it's a distinction presently afforded to only 40 artists worldwide. Palacio has been nominated to act as a UNESCO artist for peace.

In the field of music, he joins Canada's Celine Dion, Brazil's Gilberto Gil, Cameroon's Manu Dibango and Peru's Tania Libertad.

In Belize to make the announcement, was UNESCO Secretary General Koichiro Matsuura. After the Secretary General spoke, Palacio reflected on his career from his boyhood in Barranco to the bright lights of stages worldwide.

After the speeches, Palacio presented Matsuura with a copy of his Watina CD. He also announced that Watina has been honored by the jury of the prestigious World Music Expo as the number one world music album of the past year.

Along with producer Ivan Duran, Palacio will go to pick up the award on October 28, when he will perform a number of European dates.

Palacio is also scheduled to perform on November 19th for the Garifuna community in Oronico Nicaragua.

Joan Lucas Lopez
Waruguma miritu

The “Gua” Prefix: Working Hypotheses on the Resilience of the Taíno Language

The “Gua” Prefix: Working Hypotheses on the Resilience of the Taíno Language

Antonio Yaguarix de Moya [i]
Guabancex Wind & Water Taíno Society [ii]


Objective: To start “excavating” some of the hidden secrets about the present use of Taíno, a supposedly extinct polysynthetic Caribbean Arawak language, through the analysis of the frequently used “gua” prefix. The analysis purports to show how much of original Taíno “became” Spanish, is still in use, or has fallen into disuse.
Methods: One-hundred and seventy-one Taíno morphemes that start with “gua” were found and analyzed. Controversial hybrid or obviously misspelled words were excluded from the analysis. The syllabic composition of the morphemes, their presence or absence from Spanish dictionaries, and their presence in today’s Dominican speech were explored.
Results: Out of the 171 documented Taíno morphemes, 44 (26 percent of the total) were adopted by the Spanish language. Thirty-two (73 percent) of those adopted are presently used in Dominican speech; only 27 percent are in disuse. One-hundred and twenty-seven Taíno words were never adopted by Spanish (76 percent of the total). Forty-four of such Taíno morphemes (26 percent of all; 35 percent of those non-adopted), are used today in the D.R. Eighty-three non-adopted Taíno morphemes (49 percent of the total; 65 percent of those non-adopted) are probably extinct. Only one monosyllabic word starting with “gua”; 31 two-syllabic words (18 percent of the total); 71 three-syllabic words (42 percent); and 68 tetra-syllabic words (40 percent) were found.
Conclusions: These findings provide evidence that around half of the original Taíno lexicon related to the important “gua” prefix survived the notion of extinction. The polysynthetic nature of Taíno morphemes is demonstrated by the fact that around four-fifths of them are either three-syllabic or tetra-syllabic. These characteristics suggest that Spanish adopted the simplest Taíno lexicon, while Taíno descendants have kept the more complex lexical parts. The resilience of words may be associated with older age, higher education and social class, and individuals’ regional origin.

Key words: Taíno, lexicon, polysynthesis, resilience, Dominican Republic

In 1993, for the first time, an internationally authorized English-language dictionary, the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, asserted that the Taíno were an ancient people of the Greater Antilles, eliminating the eroded cliché about the old myth of their extinction. Ever since, for this and other dictionaries, the term “extinction” has continued to be applied to the language, but not to the population.

In the following exercise, which has no intentions other than opening an urgent debate among linguistic scholars and students, as well as inciting rigorous research on our language and culture, we ask ourselves whether it has any sense, thinking it over, that a population such as the Dominican Republic’s (D.R.), could survive, while its language vanishes. This could be no more than a childish historical misnomer.

According to Emilio Tejera (1988), [1] at the beginning of the European conquest of America, the Spanish chronicler Pedro Mártir de Anglería wrote that the “gua“ syllable was the most frequent word particle used by the Taíno people. He and other authors in the 16th and 17th centuries, also quoted by Tejera, say that “gua” was the “equivalent of a determinative article… which could be translated as ‘he/she who is,’ ‘this who is’” (Zayas, pp. 21, 24). The priest Velasco (1562-1613) also states that “some people say that it denotes ownership of something signified by the name to whom it is attached, some others say that it is a particle of respect…. [2] Four centuries later, Febres Cordero (p. 162), quoted by Tejera, wrote that in 1892 he published “a list of 500 [Amerindian] geographical words in which gua appears as a radical, and more than 200 words where it is a suffix.”

Taking into account the apparent resilience of this grammar particle and its frequent use in present–day Dominican speech, it was decided to make a brief incursion into a handful of documents, with the objective of starting to “excavate” some of the possibly hidden secrets about the use of our speech. In this way, it was possible to inductively explore both Tejera’s quoted text and the List of Places in the D.R. that start with the prefix “gua” (http://ww.fallingrain.co/world/DR/a/G/u/a), [3] in order to unveil this language’s vitality as we examine it more closely.


One-hundred and seventy-one morphemes [4] with obvious Taíno, Arawak, or possibly Guarani origins, which start with “gua” were found and analyzed Those words whose linguistic origin could be controversial (because of likely hybridization with Spanish or with African languages) or that are obviously misspelled were excluded from the analysis. The syllabic composition of the morphemes vis-à-vis their likely polysynthetic characteristic, [5] their presence or absence from the Windows Modern-Spanish Dictionary, [6] and their presence in today’s Dominican speech were explored. It is important to recognize that the truth of this last assertion could be highly variable and controversial, due to its likely association to variables such as age, education, social class, and individual regional origin.


The analysis unveiled the following findings:

Forty-four (26 percent of the total) Taíno words entered the Spanish lexicon; 127 words (74 percent) were not incorporated into Spanish. Only one monosyllabic morpheme with the prefix “gua” was found that had not been adopted by the European Spanish-language that is still used in the D.R.: “guay,” a heavily loaded emotional interjection that seems to be a death cry.

Eighteen disyllabic morphemes that entered the Spanish lexicon were detected. Twelve of them are still used today in the D.R., namely: guaba, guaca, guacal, guagua, guaicán, guama, guanín, guao, guaro, guasa, guate, and guayo. Six have tended to fall into disuse: guaco, guama, guamo, guana, guaní, and guara. Thirteen disyllabic Taíno morphemes were not incorporated into Spanish; of them, 8 morphemes are still used in the D.R.: guací, guaicí, guaigüey, guaigüí, guaiza, guano, guatiao, and guaucí. Five words not adopted by Spanish apparently have fallen into disuse in the country: guabá, guacón, guaibá, guamí, and guarey.

Eighteen three-syllabic morphemes entered the Spanish lexicon. Thirteen are used nowadays in the D.R.: guabina, guácima, guajaca, guajiro, guanaja, guaraná, guaraní, guarapo, guásima, guataca, guayaba, guayacán, and guayana. Five are not used anymore: guaniquí, guaruma, guayaco, guaguanche, and guaguaza. Fifty-three words were not incorporated by Spanish; 18 of them are presently used in the D.R.: Guabancex, Guabate, guácara, guanima, Guanuma, guárana, guararé, Guarionex, Guaroa, guarúa, Guayama, guáyiga, guaymama, Guaymate, Guaynabo, Guayubín, guayuyo, and guázuma. Thirty five words are not presently used: guacaica, guacana, guacaox, guacayo, guagaica, guaguací, guaguari, guaiquía, guajaba, guajagua, guajayán, gualete, guamira, guanabax, guanabo, guanabrei, guanaguax, guanama, guanara, guanía, guanibán, guaoxerí, guaquía, guaragüey, guaraiba, guaraje, guarianón, guaurabo, guavanaán, guayagan, guayagua, guayaro, guaybana, guaymosa, and guázara.

Eight tetra-syllabic morphemes entered the Spanish lexicon; 7 are still in use in the D.R.: guacamayo, guachupita, guanábana, guaraguao, guatemala, guayacanes, and guazábara. One has fallen into disuse: guanabina. Sixty tetrasyllabic words were not incorporated into Spanish; of these, 17 are used today in the D.R.: guaconejo, guagugiona, guajimía, guanahaní, guananico, guaraguanó, guaranate, guaricano, guariquitén, guarocuya, guatapanal, guataúba, guatíbere, guacanagarí, guacarapita, guacayarima, and guayajayuco. Forty-four words not adopted by Spanish are extinct: guabanimo, guabarete guabonito guacacuba guacamarí guacaniquín guacaraica, guacaraca, guacuamarex, guainamoca, guajabona, guamacaje, guamaonocon, guamiquina, guamorete, guanabites, guanaguana, guanahibo, guanajuma, guananagax, guanatuví, guanavate, guanayvico, guaniabano, guaragüey, guaraiba, guaramatex, guarianón, guarizaca, guasabacoa, guasábalo, guaticavá, guatiguaná, guayabacón, guayamico, and guayaronel (four syllables); and guabaniquinax, guanahatabey, guanaoconel, guaninicabón, guaragüeibana, guavaenechin, and guavavoconel (five syllables).

In sum, the existence of 44 Taíno morphemes starting with “gua” that have been adopted by the European Spanish socio-lexicon (26 percent of the total; 18 two-syllabic, 18 three-syllabic, and 8 tetra-syllabic) is documented. Thirty-two (73 percent) of them are presently used in Dominican speech. Twelve (27 percent) are extinct. One-hundred and twenty-seven Taíno words were never adopted by Spanish (76 percent of the total). Forty-four of such Taíno morphemes (26 percent of all, 35% of those non-adopted; 1 monosyllabic, 8 two-syllabic, 18 three-syllabic, and 17 tetra-syllabic), are used today in the D.R. Eighty-three non-adopted Taíno morphemes (49 percent of the total, 65 percent of those non-adopted; 5 two-syllabic, 35 three-syllabic, and 43 tetra-syllabic) are probably extinct. Only one monosyllabic word; 31 two-syllabic words (18 percent of the total); 71 three-syllabic words (42 percent); and 68 tetra-syllabic words (40 percent) were found.


The polysynthetic nature of 171 Taíno morphemes that start with the prefix “gua” documented in this analysis is demonstrated by the fact that only one of them is monosyllabic, 18 percent are two-syllabic, 42 percent are three-syllabic, and 40 percent are tetra-syllabic. One fourth (26 percent) of those Taíno morphemes were adopted by the European Spanish socio-lexicon. Almost three-fourths (73 percent of those adopted; 19 percent of the total) of these “Spanish” morphemes are still in use in present-day Dominican speech. Only a minority has experienced extinction (7 percent of the total). Three-fourths (74 percent) of the Taíno lexicon were not incorporated into the Spanish language. One-fourth of all morphemes not adopted by Spanish (26 percent of the total; one-third of those non-adopted), continue to be used by the Dominican population, not knowing their Taíno origin. Two-thirds of those morphemes not adopted by Spanish (half of the words) have become extinct in the D.R.

On the basis of these findings, the following hypotheses [7] are advanced:

1. The more complex the syllabic structure of a morpheme is (higher contraction of prefixes or higher polysynthetic agglutination), the lower is the trend to adopt the morpheme to Spanish.

2. The more complex the syllabic structure of a morpheme is, the higher is the trend to know and to continue using this morpheme in Dominican speech today, despite its absence from Spanish dictionaries.

3. The more complex the syllabic structure of a morpheme not adopted by Spanish is, the higher the trend of extinction is of this morpheme in Dominican speech today.

In conclusion, in contrast with the received view, these findings provide evidence that Taíno language lexicon related to the important “gua” prefix survived the notion of extinction. This exercise suggests that about one-fourth of the Taíno vocabulary was adopted by Spanish, and another fourth is used today in Dominican speech. The loss in the Taíno lexicon, five centuries after the encounter among the cultures and languages of America, Europe, and Africa, seems to amount to half of the original vocabulary. Agglutinative polysynthetic characteristics of this language, such as contraction and incorporation, suggest that the Spanish language was able to adopt the simplest and more closely related Taíno lexicon, while Taíno descendants have tended to keep the more complex and elaborate lexical parts. Lost and found opportunities of linguistic development in these 500 years must be studied seriously by the national and international scientific community.


[1] Tejera, Emilio (ed.). Indigenismos. Santo Domingo, Sociedad Dominicana de Bibliófilos, 1988.
[2] We realize that the present-day meaning or meanings of the prefix may have experienced changes throughout time. Only empirical research could answer this question.
[3] In no way should this search be regarded as exhaustive of polysynthetic Amerindian languages.
[4] In human language, a phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes meaning. Phonemes are not the physical segments themselves, but abstractions of them. In morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning. In spoken language, morphemes are composed of phonemes, the smallest linguistically distinctive units of sound. The concept morpheme differs from the concept word, as many morphemes cannot stand as words on their own. A morpheme is free if it can stand alone, or bound if it is used exclusively alongside a free morpheme. A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics that roughly corresponds to a set of words that are different forms of the same word (Wikipedia 2007).
[5] Polysynthetic languages are highly synthetic languages, i.e. languages in which words are composed of many morphemes. The degree of synthesis refers to the morpheme-to-word ratio. Languages with more than one morpheme per word are synthetic. Polysynthetic languages lie at the extreme end of the synthesis continuum, with a very high number of morphemes per word (at the other extreme are isolating or analytic languages with only one morpheme per word). These highly synthetic languages often have very long words that correspond to complete sentences in less synthetic languages (Wikipedia 2007).
[6] More sophisticated and inclusive dictionaries could reveal a slightly larger percentage of Taíno morphemes adopted by the Spanish language.
[7] The inductive approach does not try to make generalizations, but to advance hypotheses that could guide further research.

About the authors

[1] Dominican social psychologist (M.A.) and epidemiologist (M.P.H.). Professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) from 1976. Since 1987 he has been studying the polysynthetic parameter of Taino language and mythology.
[2] Guabancex Wind & Water Taino Society was founded the 9th of August, 2006, by Lynne Guitar, Fátima Portorreal, Irka Mateo, Geo Ripley and the author of this article in Santo Domingo, and by Jorge Baracutei Estévez , Valerie Nanaturey Vargas, Taino Almestica and José Barreiro in the United States of America.

Against Recolonization: Australian Anthropologists Speak Out

As reported previously in The CAC Review, the government of Australia has taken a severe turn against indigenous rights in Australia, and internationally, having joined other settler states in voting against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The beleaguered discipline of anthropology in Australia, represented by the Australian Anthropological Society (AAS) has, after much debate, produced the following statement directed to the government of Australia:

Statement on recent policy trends in Indigenous affairs

The Australian Anthropology Society registers deep concerns at the policy direction the Australian nation is taking towards its Indigenous citizens. As a group of scholars, many with long-standing and ongoing professional experience of remote as well as rural and urban Aboriginal communities, we offer the following comments:

Australia has refused to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that was many years in the making. The Declaration does not provide an alternative set of laws to those of Australia or of any other nation. What it does do is oblige nation states to support the capacity of Indigenous populations to act. It aims to enhance the capacity of those populations, and individuals within them, to determine their modes of life within the laws and institutions of the states of which they are citizens. We and our Indigenous colleagues and friends cannot help but wonder at Australia’s ungenerous response to the non-binding but uplifting principles contained in the UN Declaration.

Minority populations with different social and cultural histories are a feature of many modern nation-states, and the ability to treat such people honourably is a measure of the maturity and humanity of a nation. Despite the body of work produced by anthropologists, the varied Indigenous societies that have interacted with the radically different European settlers at various stages since 1788 are little understood in their own country. Even the simplest features of the classical Aboriginal traditions — the totemic and moiety divisions, the mutual dependence and reciprocity built into ceremonial and economic arrangements, the multilingualism evident among the wealth of languages — are less well known to educated Australians than is the Indian caste system or the Spanish bullfight. Without knowledge of the normal economic, political and family structures that comprised the everyday life of Indigenous people, there can be little appreciation of the radical destabilisation and restructuring that these societies have had to manage.

Aboriginal people have been adjusting to their changing social conditions, in some cases for over 200 years but in others within living memory. While a long-term assimilative process may be inevitable and can be constructive and even liberating, a large body of research demonstrates that forcing established social processes into a foreign mould is destructive of individuals, families and cultures. There is no doubt that the insistent pressures and stresses resulting from radical social change, without a respectful and reciprocal relationship with the nation’s authorities, have been responsible for severely destabilising family authority and informal community standards of care and protection for the young and the vulnerable. This breakdown in turn has made it difficult to maintain social control. It is the loss of a coherent community structure that has seen the emergence of some extreme examples of social pathology, which, it must be stressed, are neither typical nor representative of the majority of Indigenous people.

The despair, desperation and destructive violence that mars the social life of a substantial number of Indigenous communities does demand government action. Indeed action is long overdue, but dealing with social dysfunction in a clumsy and ill informed manner is likely to compound the level of disorder and add to estrangement. Anthropologists working in Australia are personally and painfully aware of real and urgent humanitarian needs. Only the most scandalous and shameful of these feature in the media; the chronic conditions that generate them are not so obvious. Effective policy responses require an intelligent understanding and respect for the conditions and the people involved. The language of aggressive assimilationism is not effective in dealing with culturally distinct and historically alienated people. Although initially time consuming, processes of negotiation with respected individuals and relevant organizations are far more effective and thus, in the longer term, more economical. Measures for which Aboriginal people have been pleading for years — more police and law enforcement, better housing, and effective implementation of alcohol prohibitions — should not appear as corrective measures imposed in a military-style operation.

We believe strongly that the governing of vulnerable, marginal and excluded peoples carries an added responsibility as these are people whose voices are often muted in the public arena. Rather than welfare recipients being made the target of punitive measures, there needs to be long term commitment to a stable and holistic program of providing adequate resources for these communities to come to terms with their current conditions of integration with the state’s institutions and processes. A wealthy nation such as Australia surely has the knowledge, the expertise and the resources to provide excellence in education, housing and health for the relatively few residents of remote communities, as well as for other Indigenous Australians. It is crucial that these people are listened to, and thus enabled to take responsibility for the direction of their development into the future.

[Thanks to Dr. Gillian Cowlishaw for circulating this statement]

Professor Gillian Cowlishaw,
President, AAS.
University of Technology, Sydney
Humanities & Social Sciences,
PO Box 123
Broadway, NSW, 2007
Ph. 61 2 9514 2743

Other posts of relevance:

The Binding Symbolic Value of the UN Declaration

Recolonizing Australia...or why Trojan horses never say "sorry"

Canada, the UN, and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Aboriginals in Australia: Still the Worst Off

News from Australia

Massive Protest Planned Against "Columbus Day"

On October 6, 2007, a massive national coalition of groups will descend on Denver, Colorado to protest and call for an end to Columbus Day by the state. Protesters will assemble on the west steps of the state capitol beginning at 8 am on October 6. See:

Transform Columbus Day Alliance

United Native America a national group based in Oklahoma and part of the Transform Columbus Day Alliance will be in Denver with their banners, one states:

"Christopher Columbus The Americas' first Terrorist"

Native Americans refer to the holiday as Columbus-Hitler Day. These two men's action sparked the killing of over one hundred million people each. Columbus is past racist slavery history in the Americas. His holiday should also be past history. Columbus went to hell for his sins against Indian men, women and children.

Mike Graham, Citizen Oklahoma Cherokee Nation

Founder United Native America www.UnitedNativeAmerica.com

17 September 2007

The Binding Symbolic Value of the UN Declaration

Four settler states were clearly unsettled by the passage of what, in formal terms, was a non-binding Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, voted against the document, when the majority of UN member states approved it, says a great deal which many of us will be left to debate for some time. Perhaps it will be little time: opposition parties in Canada and Australia, with a good chance of winning the next elections, have already promised to sign the Declaration once elected, and some of us will be sure to remember their promises. In the meantime, the Declaration is now an international "fact," and no longer a "draft." To be seen to act against the contents of the Declaration will be equated with acting against international public opinion. What stands out is not that "the liberal democracies with the most intense engagements with indigenous issues" voted against the Declaration, as some have said, since many other countries, with larger indigenous populations, and arguably more intense engagements, voted for it. What stands out instead is how settler states are still in the process of trying to settle themselves, how much "engagement" has really been disengagement, distance, friction, and conflict, and how much wishful thinking plays a part in reigning fantasies that, one day, Europe Part 2, will be as embedded in its foreign soil as Original Europe can claim to be on its soil.

The vote against the Declaration was a serious tactical error: these four states now sorely stand out as colonial, white states, anachronistic entitites in a world where "decolonization" has become part of the international vocabulary. They have also handed the Chinas of the world a powerful argument--that they too flout the will of "the international community," that they too do not recognize the rights of disadvantaged minorities, and that liberal democracy is really little more than kleptocracy. If accepting the Declaration could have been symbolically binding (even if not legally so), then surely rejecting the Declaration will also come at a political cost. Some of us will see to it that it does.

15 September 2007

William Ruiz: Taino Drummer

Readers may be interested in visiting the page of Taino drummer, William Ruiz, at www.williamruiz.com. Based in New York, William Ruiz has been documented for presenting the 12 tongue modern Log drum and Tribal drum set along with various percussion instruments. His Log drum is a modern version of the Taino - Mayahavau and the Afro-Puerto Rican "Cua" of Loiza. It is known by many different Indigenous tribes worldwide by various other names. Ruiz has appeared on CNN, and has been interviewed on radio stations in New York City in connection with this drum performances and efforts to preserve and revive Taino drumming.

14 September 2007

List of Caribbean States Voting for UN Declaration

The following is the complete list of Caribbean nation-states that voted in favour of the United Nations' General Assembly's adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

Antigua and Barbuda
Dominican Republic
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago.

Absent: Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis.

Guyana Votes for New UN Declaration

Guyana backs UN declaration on indigenous rights
STABROEK NEWS, Georgetown, Guyana
Friday, September 14th 2007

Guyana was among 143 UN member states which voted in favour of adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday.

Contacted on Guyana's voting, Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Elisabeth Harper said Guyana voted in favour of the declaration, which had the backing of other Caricom countries.

Two non-governmental organizations with large indigenous peoples membership - the Amerindian People's Association (APA) and the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP) - had called on the government to support the declaration on the occasion of World Indigenous People's Day observed on August 9.

At the time the government had expressed some reservations and urged a redraft of some sections including a definition of who could be considered an indigenous person. The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG) had supported the government's position on a redraft.

Guyana's indigenous people account for some 10 per cent of the population. A Reuters report yesterday said that under negotiation for 20 years, the document says that indigenous people, whose number has been put at 270 million worldwide as understood by the declaration, "have the right to self-determination."

One of its most controversial articles, according to Reuters, states that "indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired." That could potentially put in question most of the land ownership in countries, such as those that opposed the declaration, whose present population is largely descended from settlers who took over territory from previous inhabitants.

A balancing clause inserted at a late stage in the text says nothing in it can authorize or encourage "any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity" of states, Reuters noted.

That was not good enough for the four objectors, notably Canada, where the issue has become a political football. Many of Canada's 1 million aboriginal and Inuit people live in overcrowded, unsanitary housing and suffer high rates of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide.

"The provisions in the declaration on lands, territories and resources are overly broad, unclear, and capable of a wide variety of interpretations," Canada's U.N. Ambassador John McNee told the General Assembly, according to Reuters.

That stance was attacked by Canada's left-leaning opposition New Democrats. "It's very disappointing. I think it's cowardly and very un-Canadian ... we pride ourselves on being advocates for human rights," legislator Jean Crowder told Reuters.

U.S. delegate Robert Hagen said the U.N. Human Rights Council, which prepared the text, had not sought consensus. "This declaration was adopted ... in a splintered vote. This process was unfortunate and extraordinary," he said.

A release from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples issued yesterday said that 143 of the 192-member body voted in favour of the declaration; four voted against; and eleven abstained.

Those voting against were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Those abstaining were Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine.

The declaration, which outlines the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people and outlaws discrimination against them, has been in the making for over 22 years with several drafts written and rewritten.

The declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. These include their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. It emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

A release from the Indigenous Peoples Caucus said the declaration represents a significant recognition of the basic rights and fundamental freedoms of the world's indigenous peoples who belong to more than 5,000 distinct nations and groups around the world. It encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between nation states and indigenous peoples and recognises a wide array of rights specific to indigenous peoples around the globe.

The release noted that indigenous peoples continue to suffer human rights abuses such as forced relocation and assimilation; seizure and exploitation of their lands, territories and natural resources; discrimination and a disproportionate amount of poverty. It said that indigenous languages, cultures and ways of life continue to be threatened without international legal protection.

A UN press release issued after the vote quoted General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour as welcoming the adoption of the declaration.

Sheikha Haya said "The importance of this document for indigenous peoples and, more broadly, for the human rights agenda, cannot be underestimated. By adopting the declaration, we are also taking another major step forward towards the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all."

But she warned that "even with this progress, indigenous people still face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations. They are often dragged into conflicts and land disputes that threaten their way of life and very survival; and, suffer from a lack of access to health care and education."

In a statement released by his spokesperson, Ban described the declaration's adoption as "a historic moment when UN Member States and indigenous peoples have reconciled with their painful histories and are resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all."

He called on governments and civil society to ensure that the declaration's vision becomes a reality by working to integrate indigenous rights into their policies and programmes.

Arbour noted that the declaration has been "a long time coming. But the hard work and perseverance of indigenous peoples and their friends and supporters in the international community have finally borne fruit in the most comprehensive statement to date of indigenous peoples' rights."

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates there are more than 370 million indigenous people in some 70 countries worldwide. Members of the forum said earlier this year that the declaration creates no new rights and does not place indigenous peoples in a special category.

"This declaration is the least that could be approved to give us all instruments recognizing the existence of indigenous people," Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, himself indigenous, told the General Assembly, according to Reuters.

"It is an important step for indigenous people to do away with discrimination, to strengthen the identity, to recognize our right to land and natural resources, to be consulted, to participate in decisions," the minister said.

Most U.S. allies, including Britain and Japan, also voted for the declaration, saying last minute amendments had made it acceptable, given that it did not have the force of international law.


On Thursday, 13 September, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly voted on and approved the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by a vote of 143 in favour against 4 opposed. The Declaration had been amended just before the vote, after more than twenty years of discussions, negotiations, and multiple revisions. The final text of the Declaration can be accessed by clicking here. A copy of the declaration, with last minute amendments highlighted in yellow, can be retrieved by clicking here.

Canada, along with other settler states (the United States, Australia, and New Zealand) has "distinguished" itself internationally for voting against a non-binding document which would not have become law in Canada, a dogged insistence on attacking the symbolic value of a document masking what is probably the Canadian government's support for transnational corporations appropriating indigenous resources worldwide. For more on Canada's failure to live up to its much vaunted claims of being a moral leader in the world, see "Canada votes 'no' as UN native rights declaration passes" in the CBC news. You can also download a video of the news story by clicking here, as well as a video of CBC's interview with Canada's Minister for Indian Affairs. Also on the CBC: "Northern leaders slam Canada's rejection of UN native rights declaration."

According to a list of FAQs produced by the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, these are some of the key details explaining the purpose and value of the Declaration:

UN Declarations are generally not legally binding; however, they represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and reflect the commitment of states to move in certain directions, abiding by certain principles. This is the case for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well. The Declaration is expected to have a major effect on the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide. If adopted, it will establish an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples and will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the over 370 million indigenous people worldwide and assist them in combating discrimination and marginalization.

Seventeen of the forty-five articles of the Declaration deal with indigenous culture and how to protect and promote it, by respecting the direct input of indigenous peoples in decision-making, and allowing for resources, such as those for education in indigenous languages and other areas.
The Declaration confirms the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and recognizes subsistence rights and rights to lands, territories and resources.
The Declaration recognizes that indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress.
Essentially, the Declaration outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples, promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, as well as their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. The text says indigenous peoples have the right to fully enjoy as a collective or as individuals, all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law. Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By that right they can freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. They have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they choose to, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the state.


13 September 2007

UN Draft Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights

For more information on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as recent press releases, news, and upcoming events, see:


UN General Assembly to take action on Indigenous Declaration

General Assembly to Take Action on Declaration on Indigenous Rights

WHEN: Thursday 13 September, 10:00am (NOTE: Session starts at 10:00am, Declaration is Item 6 on the Agenda)

WHERE: General Assembly Hall, UN Headquarters, First Avenue & 46th Street


§ After more than two decades of fruitful dialogue at the United Nations among Member States, with extraordinary participation of indigenous peoples from around the world, the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2006. It was then forwarded to the General Assembly, which in December 2006 deferred consideration of the Declaration to allow further consultations during its 61st Session.

§ These consultations have now come to fruition and the Assembly is expected to adopt the Declaration on Thursday 13 September.

§ The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment, language and others. It outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic, social and cultural development. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and Indigenous Peoples.

§ To view a recent press conference by indigenous leaders (Thursday 6 September) regarding the adoption of the Declaration, see http://www.un.org/webcast/pc2007.htm
To read the summary transcript of the press conference, see http://www.un.org//News/briefings/docs/
To view the UN news story, see http://www.un.org/apps/news/

MEDIA ARRANGEMENTS: Journalists without UN accreditation who wish to attend the event should follow the instructions for obtaining accreditation at www.un.org/media/accreditation. All journalists, once accredited, who wish to film within the General Assembly Hall must report to the Office of Media Accreditation and Liaison, Room S-250A in the UN Secretariat building beforehand and an officer will escort them to the media booths.

The General Assembly session will be webcast live on www.un.org/webcast

05 September 2007

Vodou Child

Vodou Child
Haitian religious rites in the unlikeliest of places: a Long Island suburb
by Tamara Lush
September 4th, 2007

Chantal Louis is a 42-year-old Haitian immigrant who lives in suburban Hempstead in Nassau County. She's a mother of three, a computer technician, and flashes a megawatt smile. She lives in a white, two-story, colonial home graced by dainty lace curtains in the windows and a white wicker chair on the porch. The home, which is worth $420,000, sits on a tidy, oak-tree-lined street.

Lately, she's been a bit depressed—her eldest daughter is heading off to college, and Chantal is wondering what her own future holds. Most women at her age and station in life would pop a Prozac or take a yoga class. Instead, she turned to a 36-year-old vodou priest named Erol Josué.

So one night in July, Josué traveled from his home in Miami to New York, where he gathered a half-dozen or so other vodou practitioners—including a paralegal, an accountant, and a hospital worker. All were well-heeled Haitian- Americans—the kind of people who might work next to you in an office or perhaps coach your kid in a baseball league. Their mission: appeal to the spirits to remedy Louis's ennui.

For seven hours, starting at about 10 p.m., they spoke in tongues, danced, spilled high-octane rum onto a machete, lit the blade on fire, and held it aloft. The next day, they would bless a chicken, kill it, then eat the flesh as thanksgiving to the spirits.

Though vodou got its start in West Africa, then spread into the mountains of Haiti, and later to the slums of Miami and New York, it has increasingly made its way into well-appointed homes like Chantal's. And who better to bring it than Josué, a world traveler, choreographer, and artist who released his first CD of vodou-tinged global-beat tunes, Régléman, to critical acclaim this summer.

"Wherever I go, I go with Haiti, because my way of life is vodou—my music, my dance, I go with that because it is in my heart," he says. "My heart is Haiti. I live the Haitian life every day."

Erol's stepfather was a well-known vodou priest (called a houngan), and so were his mother and grandmother. "When you come from a vodou family, you're a very different child," says Carol d'Lynch, a Miami priestess originally from Haiti. She knew Erol during his boyhood. "As a vodou child, you know your responsibility, you know what is important, you know the things coming in life."

For Haitians, vodou is not just the stuff of dolls with pins stuck in their eyes or zombies wandering in the forest. The centuries-old religion has permeated Haiti for generations, after it was carried by slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean starting in the 1700s. On the island of Hispaniola, which includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic, those transplanted Africans mingled with the Taino Indians, who were also persecuted by European occupiers. Vodou evolved from the three cultures and played a huge role in Haiti's liberation from France. In 1751, a houngan named François Mackandal organized other slaves to raid sugar and coffee plantations. The French burned him at the stake. Another former slave and vodou practitioner replaced him at the helm of the liberation movement: Toussaint L'Ouverture , whose efforts helped Haiti win its independence in 1804.

In the years that followed, vodou became a mystical, powerful tool of the government and a cultural touchstone for the masses. Haitian immigrants brought it with them to the United States. For the young Erol, vodou meant family, nature, and love. "It was the best thing in my life," he recalls.

Though a large percentage of Haitians, like Erol's family, practiced vodou in the '70s and '80s, it was still officially discouraged by the government and the Catholic Church. Because Erol's family wanted him to receive a decent education, they sent him to Frére Justin L'Herisson, a Catholic school in Haiti named after the man who wrote the country's national anthem—but his mom and dad forbade him from talking about the vodou practiced at home. "I would have gotten kicked out had they known," he says.

Like Erol, Chantal grew up in Haiti. Unlike Erol, she didn't discover her vodou roots until she had emigrated to the United States in her twenties, had children, and began to question her existence. "I needed something to hold onto," she says. She met Erol in New York at a friend's ceremony and felt a connection to him. Chantal rarely hosts ceremonies; this is only her second since she began practicing vodou.

By 10 p.m., the small group is ready. There are six women in their forties, all dressed in white, including Florence Jean-Joseph, a paralegal at a law firm and a voudou priestess herself. There's also Huguette, who works in a hospital, and one man other than Erol: 39-year-old Ernest Jourdain, an accountant from Fort Lauderdale. He's a friend of Erol's who happened to be visiting the New York area on the night of the ceremony. Jourdain is the only person not dressed in white; he's wearing a lime-green Izod shirt and jeans.

Josué, who is tired after a delayed plane flight from Miami, is dressed in a silky white shirt and white pants. He steadies himself and begins the liturgy. He closes his eyes and sings, his voice rising into a rhythmic chant. The sound is directed to the people in the room, but the lyrics are meant for the spirits. Huguette shakes a brightly painted gourd and Florence sings and the women clap and sway in time with Erol's voice. Ernest sits on a white plastic chair in the back of the room, following the music and praying softly to himself.

One by one, Erol and the others greet the spirits. Each supernatural being receives a similar ritual: a song, an offering (usually of rum or some other liquid), a lit candle. Everyone kneels on the floor at least once during the greeting.

Occasionally, Erol dances with one or two of the women—he dances the most with Florence, whom he calls his "spiritual sister." It's a sensual dance, but not sexy. The rituals are nothing like Hollywood's version of vodou—no pentagrams, animal sacrifices, skeletons, or zombies in sight. There's actually a lot of laughter and easygoing banter during the ceremony; it's a loose atmosphere, with people getting up, walking out, using the bathroom, or sipping water throughout.

Chantal is the most moved by the ceremony and the prayer. At around midnight, she cries as she sings. Her tears and words turn to high-pitched babble—she is speaking in tongues. She faints into the arms of Florence Jean-Joseph and Huguette. Erol gently, yet quickly, walks over to help ease Chantal onto the floor and then covers her with a white sheet. Florence sprays perfume into the air. The room now smells like roses, sweat, and fried fish. Chantal rises, then staggers into a small room off the main basement area, where she flops down on a bed for 15 minutes, exhausted. At around 1 a.m., Chantal is back before the altar. Another spirit possesses her—it's Damballah, the snake god. At first, Chantal careens around the room, as if drunk, out of control. Then she falls to the floor, writhing, belly down, contorting her body and rolling her eyes back into her skull. She hisses in time with Erol's chanting. After a few minutes, Chantal rolls over on her back and faints. Erol again covers her, tenderly. When she comes to about a minute later, she gets up and walks out of the room, groggy, as if rising from a deep sleep. When Chantal walks in a few moments later, she asks if anyone wants coffee, and if so, would they like cream or sugar.

At 4:30 a.m., Erol ties a red scarf on his head, a striking contrast to his all-white outfit and caramel-colored skin. He is singing loud, summoning Ogou, the warrior god who also represents politics and magic. It is believed that he gave power to the slaves in Haiti when they rebelled against the French government in 1804, and bestowed power again when Aristide took over in 1994. Ogou likes weapons and chaos.

In front of the altar, the woman named Huguette sits on the floor, her arms floppy and her legs stretched out in front of her like a Raggedy Ann doll. She's dressed all in white, her satiny skirt billowing around her ample hips, with a white scarf tied around her head. Her face is soaked with sweat and her eyes are half-closed, in a trance. She holds an avocado in her hands. She takes a giant, sloppy bite of the fruit, skin and all.

Chantal, her eyes round and unfocused, slowly steps to the altar. She takes hold of the machete that has been sitting on the offering table. Erol removes the red scarf from his head and ties it around the knife's handle. He sways and sings, his voice rising above the low hum of the others who are having their own private conversations with the spirit. Erol summons Ogou in Creole and Chantal steps to the altar. Still clutching the machete, she takes a bottle of Barbancourt rum with the other hand and pours half of it over her head, then carefully kneels down. Setting the machete on the floor over two rocks, she pours the rum on the two-inch-wide blade and reaches toward the altar for a pack of matches. Chantal strikes one, then ignites the alcohol-soaked blade; there's a soft blue flicker. She chants, and the words get louder as she jumps up and tries to stamp out the flame with her bare feet. In one motion, Chantal stands up, grabbing the machete by the handle and brandishing it above her head. She screams, angry, her eyes wide and clear.

Chantal's 18-year-old daughter, a slip of a girl with her mother's wide smile who is soon going to college in upstate New York, appears at the doorway to watch. She had been sitting in front of the widescreen upstairs in the family room but heard the noise and wandered down. Dressed like a typical teenager—she's in a pink Baby Phat tank top and tiny shorts—the girl looks like a time traveler, strangely modern compared to the women in long, billowing skirts. Chantal screams, loud, and the room suddenly feels uncomfortably small and crowded. The other five women stand before the altar, swaying in unison and singing. They don't pay attention to Chantal or the machete that she's clutching in both hands.

The other women in the room push the daughter forward, in front of her mother holding the machete. Chantal takes the blade and touches her daughter, gently, on each shoulder, almost as if she's knighting the girl. Chantal looks deep into her daughter's eyes while chanting in Creole.

It's almost 5 a.m., and Erol has also been seized by Ogou, but Ogou the dealmaker, the politician, the organizer. His face is confident, masculine, hard—so different from the tender, almost maternal look that he had when he was helping Chantal a few hours earlier. Then he slips out of the spell.

He gulps a mouthful of rum and blows it around the room in a large, misty spray. He walks over to Chantal, swigs some rum, and sprays some on her. She is holding the machete in front of her, its blade inches from her face. Without a word, Erol calmly takes the machete from her hand and passes it to a woman standing nearby. He embraces Chantal, and she, too, slips out of the trance. The room is quiet. There is more singing—in soft voices now—and a few candles are lit. The ceremony is over. Erol is physically drained. The spirits have come and gone.

It is 5:30 a.m. The oak-tree-lined street in Hempstead is beginning to stir; lights illuminate windows and people in suits walk to the cars parked in their driveways to begin their commute to work.

Erol and the others from the basement go outside and stand on the lawn. Erol jokes and chats softly with Florence, while Huguette and the other women shake the fabric of their skirts and cool off in the

03 September 2007

El Salvador...does this sound familiar?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Denying indigenous roots

From the Latinamerica Press

“We must grow up with the idea that having indigenous roots or being indigenous is something to be proud of,” said Maya priest Gustavo Pineda, a member of the Council of Maya Priests of Western El Salvador, during a ceremony marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Aug. 9.

“Since the [Spanish] Conquest, there has been a complete denial of all indigenous cultural expression,” he added. “There is no law that recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and Decree 107 of the International Labor Organization that refers to respect for ancestral peoples has still not been put into effect.”

For his part, Amado de Jesús Ramos, coordinator of the Pasos del Jaguar Indigenous Association complains that El Salvador lacks a census of indigenous communities.

“For years, as a result of so much persecution, our grandmothers and grandfathers have lived in the shadows, while some young people are ashamed of their roots,” he said.

Pineda and Ramos participated in the First Nauat Culture Festival where ancient rituals were held such as honoring the four cardinal points, the four natural elements and the four colors of corn.