Wednesday, October 11, 2017


I read somewhere that this week marks 525 years since Columbus first set foot in the Americas. That this feat undoubtedly changed the course of world history is unquestionable. However, until very recently it was regarded as a great feat and something to be proud of, while completely ignoring the dark side of European conquest: the whole scale obliteration of the indigenous peoples of North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean by the Europeans through genocide, enslavement and disease.

When I was a boy, and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Columbus was a hero; the 'discoverer' of the 'New World'. The Spanish conquistadores having destroyed the First Peoples' culture and religion turned the few survivors into servile labourers and obedient Catholics. That is why Pope Francis (the first Latin American Pope) in 2015 asked for their forgiveness for the sins that the Catholic Church had either visited upon them or aided and abetted in inflicting upon them.

But that is also why I believe that kudos should be given to the Government of Trinidad & Tobago for recognizing the First People of our twin island Republic in declaring Friday 13th October, 2017 'First Peoples' Day' and making it a public holiday. Indeed, if I had a criticism of the Government's move in this regard it would be a very minor one: that the holiday should not be a 'one-off' holiday but should be every year. We could easily replace it with almost any one of our many other public holidays (Corpus Christi springs to mind). But the recognition of the contribution of the First People to our history, for me at least, is a big thing. And although I have been harshly critical of some of the things that this present Government has done, I have always believed that when somebody does something that is right, that good deed ought to be acknowledged, and I do so now.

The declaration of a public holiday in honour of the First People is most fitting in remembering our past and honouring their place in it, as well as their place in our present and our future.

P.S. Full disclosure: my great grandmother on my father's side was one half Arawak. It has always been a source of great pride to me that this means that one-sixteenth of the blood running through my veins comes from ancestors who were here from the very beginning.

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