“[…] Warao Queen Donna Bermudez Bovel and Chairman of Partners for First People’s Development Roger Belix described statements [from Chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community] as traitorous.
“Tracy Assing the granddaughter of 5th SRFPC Queen Valentina Medina posted, ‘Not my Chief’ adding: ‘The powers that be keep entertaining these self-appointed princes and chiefs applying band aids to the gaping, festering wound at the heart of our discontent’…”
The following response to Santa Rosa First Peoples Chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez’s condemnation of efforts to remove monuments to Christopher Columbus was submitted to Wired868 by Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP) directors Shabaka Kambon and Dr Claudius Fergus:
On 18 June, Chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community (SRFPC) repeated his condemnation of international efforts to remove reverential monuments to Christopher Columbus saying: “it does not make sense, not for us at Santa Rosa and for right thinking people.”
In his statements, broadcast on the TV6 News, he also dismissed the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project as ‘these cross Rhodes people… or whoever is advocating for the removal of Columbus’—deliberately misleading the public into thinking that he had no knowledge of the Project, its protagonists or its objectives and its commitment to indigenous people.
Bharath-Hernandez’s comments have potential regional and international repercussions and have not gone down well in the local indigenous community.
Warao Queen Donna Bermudez Bovel and Chairman of Partners for First People’s Development Roger Belix described the statements as traitorous. Tracy Assing the granddaughter of 5th SRFPC Queen Valentina Medina posted, ‘Not my Chief’ adding: “The powers that be keep entertaining these self-appointed princes and chiefs applying band aids to the gaping, festering wound at the heart of our discontent.”
The CRFP always patient and respectful, must now set the record straight.
In May 2017, over one month before our public launch, directors Shabaka Kambon and Claudius Fergus met with Chief Bharath-Hernandez, Queen Jennifer Cassar and other elders of the SRFPC. Plans for the national campaign were discussed including those for a monument to celebrate three hundred years of indigenous resistance—instead of Columbus, the architect of native genocide.
At the end of the meeting Queen Cassar spoke for the majority of elders saying she was: ‘300% behind the project’.
Despite being the lone dissenting voice on the day, Bharath-Hernandez agreed to represent the community at CRFP’s national launch at NALIS on 21 June, participating in a smoke ceremony with Warao Elders to symbolically exorcise the spirit of Columbus from the square and make it ready to honour indigenous ancestors.
Over the next year, the CRFP would be engrossed in a successful campaign to remove the name of another colonial criminal, Alfred Milner, from a hall of residence at the UWI’s St Augustine Campus.
By the time the organisations attention returned to the #ColumbusMustFall campaign the national community was mourning the loss of Queen Jennifer Cassar (19 July 2018).
In the wake of her passing, Bharath-Hernandez became more strident in his criticism of the project, trivialising everything with his now infamous jibe that we would not have clothes to wear if it weren’t for Columbus.
Shockingly he repeated this on 12 October 2018, at the 526 commemoration of Columbus’ invasion and brutal occupation of the Caribbean in front of representatives of indigenous peoples from across the region prompting a heated and embarrassing public exchange with CRFP director Shabaka Kambon and the Warao Queen Donna Bermudez Bovel.
The CRFP did not give up on him. One month later on 16 November 2018, a meeting was organised which included the Chair of the National Reparations Committee of Trinidad and Tobago Aiyegoro Ome to explore ways to link the #ColumbusMustFall campaign to reparations for indigenous peoples.
By this time, the CRFP had developed a more comprehensive set of proposals to support indigenous development through collaboration with other indigenous groups. Paramount among these was a joint program of action to end the false and demeaning misrepresentation of indigenous people in the now debunked Columbus hero myth still taught in the nation’s primary and secondary schools.
Chief Bharath-Hernandez endorsed the ideas, acknowledged that Columbus’ crimes were indefensible and even agreed not to push back against the removal of the statue; but said, he would not collaborate with the CRFP unless there were clear, tangible benefits for SRFPC, backed by firm commitments from the government.
Chief Bharath-Hernandez was so intoxicated by ‘tangible benefits’ that he failed to discern the intangible benefits represented by the CRFP’s proposals such as respect, recognition and restoration of historical memory and has subsequently gone on to repeat arguments developed in the United States to protect racist monuments to the confederacy.
The CRFP can no longer allow Bharath-Hernandez to purposely mislead the nation about what has transpired or to pretend that indigenous people do not have a stake in the unfolding global revolt against white supremacy and its racist iconography, especially now that they are actively tearing these monuments down.