A group of Caribbean indigenous nations gathered for special ceremonies and
events in late May during the 4th United Nations Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues, held in New York City. The indigenous movement in the
Caribbean represents one of the lesser-known currents of Native cultural
and political resurgence. This spring at the United Nations, the various
delegations of Caribbean indigenous peoples coalesced in interesting and
For the first time in many years, Caribbean indigenous representatives were
able to meet, share food and culture, and get down to the hard work of U.N.
resolutions, interventions and document reaffirmation that marks much of
international work. The Taino Nation of the Antilles, with primary bases in
Puerto Rico and New York City, organized events for Caribbean delegates. It
fund-raised the costs of one delegate from Dominica and coordinated
presentations. Roberto Borrero, a Taino who serves on the NGO committee of
the Indigenous Permanent Forum, also helped fund delegates to the event and
has been active in hemispheric organizing. An Indigenous Peoples Caucus of
the Greater Caribbean has been formed.
Carib cultural activist Prosper Paris, among others, joined the U.N.
events. Prosper is from the Carib Territory in the north coast of the small
Caribbean island of Dominica. He was one of several presenters on a panel
on Indigenous Education and Cultural Survival organized by the Taino
Nation. This writer chaired the panel, held at the customary indigenous
gathering place in New York City: the United Nations Church Center at 777
United Nations Plaza, where several dozen Taino, Carib, Arawak, Guajiro and
other indigenous peoples gathered.
The notable event, ably organized by Vanessa Pastrana, Inarunikia, among
other volunteers from the Taino Nation, featured a dance presentation from
young Taino people and recitations in the Taino language that are the
product of a vigorous reconstruction and relearning of the insular Arawak
language by members of that nation since the 1980s.
"From Cuba, in the mountains of the Sierra, from Dominican Republic, from
our own Boriken [Puerto Rico], we have met relatives, holding on to our
identity and retaking our indigenous roots," said Cacique Cibanakan, of the
Taino Nation. "Our hearts pound with excitement that our people are coming
Indigenous delegates from all over the world arrive in New York City every
spring for the now-permanent U.N. forum on Indigenous peoples' issues.
There are always dozens if not hundreds of important and fascinating
stories - both positive and negative - on the conditions of tribal peoples
and on the always tortuous and troubled trajectory in the world of highly
exploitative industries, with their rapacious hunger for indigenous lands
and natural resources.
In too many cases, the political contentions of land and resources are
accompanied by attacks on Native leaders and political and social
structures. Quechua and Aymara from Bolivia and Ecuador, Kuna from Panama,
Maya from Guatemala, northern Canadian Cree leaders, Lakota treaty chiefs
and Haudenosaunee traditionalists from the United States and Saami from
Norway, among many others, sustained a necessary dialogue on human rights
and development through the work of U.N. gatherings.
In New York representing the Arawak community at Joboshirima in Venezuela,
Chief Reginaldo Fredericks found a not-so-distant relative in Daniel
Rivera, Wakonax, one of the active leaders in the Taino movement in Puerto
Rico and the diaspora. The Arawak chief, who is Onishido Clan and lives
mostly in the rain forest, was very happy to meet Taino relatives.
Among the messages carried by Fredericks from his people is the need to
preserve and restore indigenous language. He commended the Taino language
recovery program, developed by the nation's elder language advocate, Jose
Laboy, Boriquex, and offered to help bring together the Arawak (Lokono)
peoples wherever possible. "It is wonderful we are more and more
recognizing each other; we have a lot to offer each other," Rivera, who
made an intervention at the United Nations on behalf of Caribbean Indian
Of the many currents of indigenous movement across the Western Hemisphere,
the Caribbean is the most hidden and marginalized. As communities, clans
and nations coalesce, however, encounters such as the one at the United
Nations in New York, provide common ground for exchange and mutual
education. The shared cultural history is fascinating.
Fredericks narrated stories of his people to the Taino Nation elder, which
tell of six original Lokono (later Arawak) nations, which the chief called
"clans." Of the six "clans," three are unaccounted for while Taino is in
the process of vigorous cultural and social recovery.
According to Fredericks, the ancient Lokono tribes or clans were called
Oralido, Cariafudo, Onishido "rain people," Gimragi, Way'u, and the "good
people" from the great islands (Taino). Today, "as far as we know," the
chief reported, only Onishido and Way'u survive on the mainland. The chief
was most intrigued that hundreds and perhaps thousands of Taino descendants
from the islands of the Greater Antilles are reaffirming themselves. The
chief pointed to his headdress, which shows six feathers, symbolizing the
six tribes or clans of the Lokono. "The good island people, the Taino, are
one of the six feathers," Fredericks reminded the other Caribbean
From La Guajira, Colombia, Karmen Ramirez represented the Way'u Morerat
ORJUWAT organization. She pointed out not only her Native Way'u nation, but
also four tribes from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as Arawaks who originate
with the Way'u of the Guajira Peninsula. It was another instance of people
from common ancestors and linked contemporary identities meeting and
recognizing each other as a result of an indigenous international movement.
The Way'u, who also reside in neighboring Venezuela, are one of those
peoples hurtfully divided by an international border.
Caribbean indigenous delegates, in the shadows for decades if not
centuries, put their statements into the record at the annual U.N. event.
The Caribbean indigenous caucus signaled the following major goal: "That
the collective rights of the indigenous peoples of the Greater Caribbean to
lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge be enshrined in
the Constitution of all Greater Caribbean countries and in other states
where indigenous peoples exist."