Saturday, March 05, 2005

Indigenous rights groups recommend changes to draft law provisions

In a Stabroek News report from Guyana, dated Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, it was reported that indigenous rights groups, including the Amerindian Peoples' Association (APA), the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG), the National Amerindian Development Foundation (NADF) and the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous People (GOIP), escalated their efforts to secure revision of some of the controversial new provisions of legislation being proposed. First, Cabinet will consider the proposed legislation, then it will be taken to the national assembly for a vote on its enactment.

In fact, indigenous groups have been most concerned about the powers to be wielded by the Minister for Amerindian Affairs. The Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues, explained the need for her active involvement in the internal affairs of Amerindian communities: "Everyday I meddle because everyday you have complaints coming from the village." In addition, she argued, Amerindian councils have in the past tried to establish rules that were in conflict with the Constitution. One of the points of contention is whether the Minister should approve new Amerindian Council rules, or whether their collective National Toshao's Council should be charged with the approval process. After all, as the Co-President of the Guyana Human Rights Association observed, only if Councils established rules that were in fact in direct violation of the Constitution would the Minister need to be involved--otherwise, there should be no need for approval of all rules.

Under the proposed draft legislation, any rule or amendment to a rule made by a village council would not come into effect unless the council consults the community general meeting and gains two-thirds approval. After that, it must be approved by the Minister and published in the Official Gazette.

Representatives of the various indigenous bodies were also dismayed that the new legislation did not employ the term "indigenous peoples" as was proposed during the first round of consultations almost three years ago. Dr. George Norton told the meeting that the word "Amerindian" is a misnomer as the people are neither Americans nor Indians and he said he found it difficult to accept a title that was based on the misconceptions of past eras. Norton said that "indigenous peoples" apart from being used in the constitution also has a legal meaning, as legally it applies only to those descendants of pre-colonial inhabitants.

Dr. Desrey Fox, a linguist, argued however that also the term "indigenous peoples" was problematic for its part because it seem to deny the birthright of other groups of people born in the country who also have a claim to nativity. Fox's proposed solution was to have the communities use their ancestral names or the term "First People." One might also note that the organizations present at the meeting varied in the use of "Amerindian" or "indigenous peoples" in the very names of their organizations.

Ways of defining and establishing who is "Amerindian" also provoked some debate among the participants at the meeting. The draft proposes that an Amerindian would be defined as any citizen of Guyana who belongs to any of the native or aboriginal peoples of the country or any descendant of such a person.

Yet, some of the indigenous representatives at the meeting argued that definition was too broad. According to the newspaper report, it "could mean that third or fourth generation descendants without the traditional physical features or any connection to a village would be recognised by the law."

Attorney Arif Bulkan, active in the rounds of consultations, worried that a restricted and racial definition of Amerindian would shut out persons who identify with the indigenous way of life, and that it is important to see Amerindian-ness as something more subsantive than visible physical features alone. The APA's Jean La Rose wondered about citizens who did not belong any of the nine recognized nations in the country.

On the subject of research in Amerindian communities, the groups were also concerned about the rigorous criteria for entry into the villages as is set out in the draft, specifically for scientific and other research. The draft proposed that any person wishing to carry out any research must obtain the permission of the village council, the minister and permits required under any other written law. The person would also have to provide the village council or the minister with a full written report of his/her findings, a copy of all recordings made and a copy of any publication containing material derived from the study. The person would also be required to get the permission of the council, the Culture Minister and other agencies before making any commercial use of the research.

What participants questioned again was whether the consent of the Minister was needed, even after a local council had given its permission. Rodrigues said it was a safeguard because in the past persons have posed as tourists to get into communities and then later published reports that the councils themselves disputed.

McCormack, of the Guyana Human Rights Association, felt the criterion was ominous as it left the Minister to interpret what is scientific research while also allowing her to prohibit research that did not meet the government's approval.

For more information, contact:

Fergus MacKay
Three Guyanas and Legal/Human Rights Programme
Forest Peoples Programme
Ph./fax 31-20-419-1746

Lecture on Tainos at Hartford Public Library



By Bobby Gonzalez

Date: March 10th, 2005

Lecture/Slide show
Bobby Gonzalez
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Hartford Public Library, Downtown Hartford
Program Room, Third Floor,
6:30-8:00 p.m.

This illustrated lecture by nationally renowned poet, performer and storyteller Bobby Gonzalez presents the history, art, religion, and everyday life of the Taino.

These are the Native Peoples of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Based in New York City, Bobby Gonzalez is the author of “Song of the American Holocaust: Native Poetry from the South Bronx Reservation”, a collection of verse where he reflects upon five centuries of physical, cultural and spiritual genocide ongoing in the Native communities of Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Banwari Trace, Trinidad: The Oldest Archaeological Site in the West Indies


The archaeological site of Banwari Trace was recently featured in World Monument Watch 2004, an internationally acclaimed magazine that showcases the world’s 100 most endangered sites. The following article is designed to raise public awareness to an important vestige of Trinidad and Tobago’s cultural heritage.

Dated to about 5000 B.C. (years Before Christ) or 7000 B.P (years Before Present), the archaeological site at Banwari Trace in southwestern Trinidad is the oldest pre-Columbian site in the West Indies (Rouse and Allaire 1978). Archaeological research of the site has also shed light on the patterns of migration of Archaic (pre-ceramic) peoples from mainland South America to the Lesser Antilles via Trinidad between 5000 and 2000 B.C. (see Davis 1993) as well provided rich insights into the lifeways of one of the earliest pre-Columbian settlers in the Caribbean. In addition, Banwari Trace has yielded human remains of Trinidad’s oldest resident.

Banwari Trace’s Antiquity

In addressing what constitutes the Archaic, R. Christopher Goodwin (1978) recognized three different perspectives: first, the Archaic as an age defined by the absence of pottery and the presence of ground stone and/or shell; second, the Archaic as a developmental stage characterized by the marine-oriented subsistence that followed a terrestrial hunting-based economy (Keegan 1994). Myriad Archaic sites have been identified throughout the West Indies, for example, in St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Antigua, along the north and south coasts of Haiti and in the river valleys and along the coast of Dominican Republic and Cuba (Keegan 1994; Rouse 1992). Besides Banwari Trace, several other Archaic sites have been identified in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, Poonah Road, Ortoire, St. John, Chip Chip Hill and Milford. However of all the Archaic-age sites in the West Indies, Banwari Trace is the oldest, with radiocarbon dates indicating a chronology of approximately 7000 B.P.

Radiocarbon chronology suggests that the first period of Archaic occupation at the Banwari Trace site spanned from approximately 7200 to 6100 B.P., (Strata 1 and II or Early Banwari Trace), whereas the second episode of midden accumulation (Stratum III or Late Banwari Trace) probably lasted from 6100 B.P. until 5500 BP (Boomert 2000). The antiquity of the Banwari Trace site is further evidenced by the presence of only freshwater shells in the lower layers, dating from the time before Trinidad was separated from the mainland by the postglacial rise in sea level (Rouse 1992).

Banwari Trace and Patterns of Archaic Migration into the Caribbean

Banwari Trace’s antiquity holds much significance for understanding the migratory patterns of Archaic peoples from South America into the Caribbean region. Given that related Archaic cultures have been found on the adjacent mainland of South America, extending for an indefinite distance on either side of the Orinoco Delta in northeast South America (Rouse and Cruxent 1963: 58-59), it is commonly assumed that this was the place of origin of those Archaic peoples who migrated from South America to the West Indies. As the oldest Archaic site in the West Indies, Banwari Trace clearly indicates that southwest Trinidad was one of the first migratory “stops” for northward-bound Archaic settlers who eventually colonised several islands in the Caribbean archipelago.

The Physical Environment of Banwari Trace

The Banwari Trace deposit is to be found on the southern edge of the Oropuche Lagoon in southwest Trinidad, just west of the Coora River. The site occupies the top of a Miocene hillock, originally covered with deciduous seasonal forest, which rises above the swamp. Rouse (1992) classifies all of the Archaic sites in the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico, including Banwari trace, as belonging to the Ortoiroid Series, which gets its name from the type site of Ortoire in Trinidad (Keegan 1994). Harris, who dug a 2 x 2-m section (Excavation A) and an adjoining 2 x 1-m section (Excavation B), excavated Banwari Trace in the centre of the midden in 1969/1970 and 1971 respectively. The observed change in shell-collecting habits of the Banwari Trace people closely reflects the alteration in the natural environment, which took place in the Oropuche Lagoon area during the period of midden formation. It can be assumed that the Amerindians collected the majority of shellfish deposited in the immediate surroundings of the site. If so, the habitat preferences of the dominant shell species at Banwari Trace further suggest that the Oropuche Lagoon changed from a freshwater or slightly brackish lagoon to marine mangrove swamp at about 6200/6100 BP.

The Material Culture of Banwari Trace

The Banwari Trace material culture shows a highly distinctive cultural assemblage, typically consisting of artifacts made of stones and bones. Objects associated with hunting and fishing include bone projectile points, most likely used for tipping arrows and fish spears, beveled peccary teeth used as fishhooks, and bipointed pencil hooks of bone which were intended to be attached in the middle to a fishing-line. A variety of ground stone tools were manufactured for the processing of especially vegetable foods, including blunt or pointed conical pestles, large grinding stones and round to oval manos. The plant foods processed at the Banwari sites are unknown, but they may have included edible roots, palm starch and seeds (Boomert 2000).

The midden has also yielded a large variety of small, irregular chips and cores manufactured of quartz, flint, chert and other rock materials by percussion flaking. They include flake scrapers, cutters, burins, small knives, blades and piercers which were probably utilized for a multitude of purposes, e.g. the cutting of meat, scaling of fish, prying open of shells, scraping of skins, finishing of arrow shafts, and the processing of vegetable fibres for the making of basketry.

Banwari Man – Trinidad’s Oldest Resident

In November 1969, the Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society discovered the remains of a human skeleton at Banwari Trace. Lying on its left-hand side, in a typical Amerindian “crouched” burial position along a northwest axis (Harris 1978), Banwari Man (as it is now commonly called) was found 20-cm below the surface. Only two items were associated with the burial, a round pebble by the skull and needlepoint by the hip. Banwari Man was apparently interred in a shell midden and subsequently covered by shell refuse. Based on its stratigraphic location in the site’s archaeological deposits, the burial can be dated to the period shortly before the end of occupation, approximately 3,400 BC or 5,400 years old. Hailed as the oldest resident of Trinidad (Harris 1978), Banwari Man is an important icon of Trinidad’s early antiquity.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

In Memoriam: Hilary Frederick, past Chief of the Dominica Caribs

Hilary Frederick, former Chief of the Dominica Carib Territory, passed away on Wednesday, 03 November, 2004,in the Roseau Hospital from pneumonia and complications arising from tuberculosis.

An obituary was prepared by Arthur Einhorn, an American anthropologist who had sponsored Hilary Frederick during his schooling in the United States. The obituary reads as follows:

"Hilary Belgrave Frederick, 45, Born ca 1961 - d November 3, 2004 in Roseau General Hospital, Dominica, W.I. of TB infection and complications from pneumonia. A former Elected Chief of Dominica's Carib people during three separate terms, and both a Senator and Representative in Dominica's House of Assembly at various times; he also was over the years a delegate to several international conferences on indigenous peoples held in Europe, Asia, Central and South America and the United States.

"Born and raised in the Carib Territory on Dominica's windward east coast, he came to the United States at the request of his parents, as a student in 1973, via the efforts of Arthur Einhorn and Judge George R. Davis (Ret.), of Lowville, Lewis County, New York. Enrolled in Lowville Academy, he lived with the family of Richard Watkins, and later with the Einhorn family, graduating in 1977. During his tenure in the United States he participated in sports, worked on a farm and on vacations went camping and also visited various Iroquois Reserves in New York State. His favorite TV program was 'Colombo', whom he always mimicked as a joke. While here he also envisioned the cultural revitalization of his people.

"On his return home, following graduation from Lowville Academy, he was elected Chief in the first upcoming election. It was a trying time for him to hold office. In 1979 Hurricane David devastated the island, forcing him to travel to the United States to seek emergency aid (Lowville contributed one ton of donated supplies), from the OAS in Washington, DCand other funding agencies. This disaster was followed by a revolution during 1980, which ousted then Prime Minister Patrick R. John, and succeeded by an interim government in which Chief Frederick participated. Later elections brought in Mary Eugenia Charles as PM; the 'Iron Lady' of the West Indies who encouraged President Reagan to invade Grenada.

"A film was produced in 1981 by Philip T. Teuscher of Westport, CT, which featured Chief Frederick's efforts to lead his people and revive their culture. It was the first ethnographic film ever attempted about the life of the Carib Indians in Dominica; a people who met Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. The film was aired on PBS at one time.

"Influenced greatly by Indian affairs in the United States and Canada, Chief Frederick promoted a political philosophy of active confrontation for change in government policies while raising his people's awareness of their cultural heritage; a posturing that spread to other islands with indigenous peoples and which some scholars labeled as Caribism. Since leaving public office Chief Frederick took up traditional Carib farming.

"Hilary's father, the late Andrew Frederick who died in 1999, had been an activist earlier on, communicating with the Indian Defense League of America in Sanborn, New York, headed by the late Tuscarora leader, Clinton Rickard.

"Three children, his mother, and several brothers and sisters survive Chief Frederick. A State Funeral is planned in Dominica."--Arthur Einhorn

Hilary Frederick was honoured with a full state funeral, attended by the Prime Minister, the President, Cabinet Members, and their respective families.

I was privileged to meet and interview then Chief Frederick in September of 1998 on a research trip to Dominica. Along with friends and family, I wish him eternal repose.

Taino and Native American DNA Testing

Over the past few weeks a number of agencies have contacted one or more editors of the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink ( with news and details concerning DNA testing services for those interested in verifying or documenting their Taino or other Amerindian biological parentage.

CAVEAT: As the author of this post, I have been reticent about forwarding this information, for fear of seeming to endorse these services or of inadvertently encouraging readers to hire the services of these agencies, at considerable cost. I am doing neither, nor am I condemning these agencies. What I would caution against is the notion that biological parentage and cultural heritage are in any way one and the same--the existence of one does not prove the existence of the other, even if the linkages between the two can be highly suggestive in some cases. Otherwise, put simply, cultural meanings and practices do not neatly map onto genetic patterns.
Having said that, two of the agencies which have contacted us were:

1. FamilyTree DNA at
2. GeneTree DNA Testing Center: Native American DNA Verification Testing at

In the case of the first agency, Dra. Ana Oquendo Pabón, MD, FAAFP, wrote to us explaining: "In our DNA Project, we have 81 members and are steadily growing at a pace not seen in other groups at FTDNA (FamilyTree DNA). Of these members, 40+ have tested the mitochondrial HVR1 region and many have also tested the HVR2 region. Several more are pending. As would be expected, fully 61-65% % of our testeees are Haplogroup A (majority), Haplogroup C, with one Haplogroup D further attesting to our Taíno Heritage. The fascinating aspect of this study is not only that they are of indigenous roots but that so many have exact haplotype sequences. In other words, people who have joined our group who did not know one another have the EXACT haplotype sequence and therefore share the same ancient maternal Taíno mother. It is our plan to develop special pages re the mitochondrial results of our Project. No names of members will be used, only an ID number. Quite a few of our members have also had a test called a DNAPrint (an ancestral DNA test). The Native American % ranges from as low as 5% to as high as 45%."

Doctor Pabón is also involved in the "Puerto Rican DNA Geographic Project" which you can read more about at This is part of a broader series of projects titled "The Hispanic DNA Surname and Geographic
Projects", which can be found at, and might be of course to those of Cuban and Puerto Rican backgrounds, as well as those from New Mexico. For further information, see

In the case of the second agency, Terry Carmichael, Vice President for Marketing and Sales at Sorenson Genomics, explained in an e-mail that the company, "is providing DNA genotyping services to African Americans and Native American Indians which allows them to trace their roots back to a region in Africa or assess a Native American tribal affiliation." Sorenson's business units include GeneTree, mentioned above, at, as well as Relative Genetics at

Again, this information is simply being relayed, and no endorsement or recommendation is to be inferred from this posting.