Decolonizing Indigenous Grounds

By Nichole Bodin, MPA

The Effect of Indigenous National Parks in Modern History 

The Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Center in Utuado is one of the Caribbean's most important Taíno archeological sites.

Artifacts created by Indigenous Peoples are an essential part of any basic archaeological research necessary for sociocultural and historic reattachment. In this modern era, there is incredibly limited information in relation to most Taíno historical aspects and our Indigenous ancestor’s circle of life dated before colonial times. Because of that, material cultural studies of Indigenous heritage are underappreciated. In order to understand the history of Borikén (Puerto Rico), which began over 6,000 years ago, worldwide recognition is needed to diffuse the authentic revelation that the so-called New World had an organized and complex society with an enriched culture. 

During the 1950s, the idea of a Caribbean sociocultural evolution intrigued some American archaeologists like Gordon Childe, Robert Redfield, Julian Stewart, and Leslie White. Their works manifested different and diverse points of view. A great number of North Americans traced sequence units of sociocultural development and they called them archaeological epochs, levels, or stages. A decade later, new studies by Herbert Spencer and Lewis Henry Morgan added advanced dimensions with regard to the understanding of the processes involved. For the past 20 years, some evolution and classification models have been deeply criticized, causing investigators to use alternative terminology. These topics related to artifacts (also called material culture) have to help to define educational and intellectual concepts in fields like visual arts, literature, architecture, urban design, and traditional popular culture. 

But somehow, the pre-colonial or pre-Colombian history of Borikén and the Antilles are still a part of practical connections of production styles that are artistic guesses over artifact interpretation. These interpretations are based on research made without any type of verification concerning their social and practical uses within the archaeological findings. As a result, the historic framework used in National Parks during their conceptualization process should have adopted a greater responsible vision to inform, preserve and interpret a more complete structure of the complexity of the human experience. This would assist in the comprehension of the past in a more coherent and intelligent manner that respects our ancestorial community and their legacy. The majority of the scholastic approaches have only allowed moldable flexibility for archaeological researchers for easy identification of a specific region into supposedly appropriate descriptions based on race interaction, ethnicity, class, and genre (in and between topics) within the broader timeline of Caribbean studies. 

The historic designation of Indigenous National Parks in Borikén falls into the same category with regard to their legitimacy in relation to the jurisdictional lines that this colony suffered at hands of Spain and the USA for hundreds of years. For instance, some of the cultural assessments for historic buildings and sites and their designations don't consider the strong relationship that a National Park has with state-sponsored museum projects. Even though these are two different aspects of historic conservation, parks and museums are bound together and their current status with local community involvement is crucial for their sustainability. 

The area that stands out as the most important restored archaeological site in Puerto Rico is located in the Caguana neighborhood of Utuado, formerly known as Capá, a part of a region of important indigenous archaeological remains. The Caguana Ceremonial Center park consists of 10 restored bateys surrounded by a variety of stones with petroglyphs. It was rediscovered as a part of an archaeological project, with a survey done at the beginning of the XX century that was sponsored by academia and its institutional scholars from the Scientific Survey of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This project was organized by Dr. Franz Boaz. This study was intended to create an inventory site from 1200 AD with different aspects of the recently acquired American colony. Because of that, current ongoing concerns about the possible lack of efforts for investigation, accompanied by the high precipitation conditions that affect the sites located at the mountainous inner center of the Island make preservation efforts deeply overlooked. The progressive deterioration of the remaining material culture found in these areas is an ongoing, unresolved topic. Caguana is an important region because it is considered that it has significant cultural resources that not only could provide clues about the social and political developments, but also it can be eligible for potential recognition within the framework of worldwide historic places. 

On July 25th, 2005, the United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP) and other local Indigenous groups manifested their cultural concerns with disgust regarding the deteriorating condition and management of the park to the administration of the Caguana Ceremonial Center. The Taíno people called this historic action "El Grito de Caguana" and demanded social justice for the restrictions that were imposed at the Center including their policies related to the restrained use of the site during certain hours. This resulted in a peaceful 17-day protest and hunger strike that brought international attention to the conditions that were perpetuated by maintaining colonial dependency on historic antiquity. As the issues of genocide and dominant colonialism emerged during these firm protests, the real question is why these burial grounds aren't protected from certain development damages while the real descendants of the ancestors fight for the proper preservation and protection of the site. The ideal effort for cultural recognition would be a more active public involvement that fights for constant renewal and strong revival for Indigenous parks in Borikén. But what about the restoration of museums and the historic designation that does not involve any acquisition of resources for reexamining history after colonial genocide? What kind of jobs are created in order to continue and remodel an obsolete model created by an alteration of events that needs recovery and systematic healing? 

Caguana is not the largest ceremonial center, nor the only one to display petroglyphs, but it is undoubtedly unique in the Caribbean. It is located on a small terrace adjacent to the upper reaches of the Tanamá River, in the central-western mountain range, west of Utuado in Borikén. When facing to the South, it borders the igneous-plutonic massifs typical of the area, while to the North it faces unique karst formations with conical tertiary limestone dotted with small details. The 22 petroglyphs of the principal plaza has zoomorphic traits that can symbolize the ancestors of the chiefs and can be related to the sociopolitical activities done there. An in-depth study about the sociocultural aspects of the petroglyphs and artifacts that are at Caguana's museum could reestablish the lost identity of those affected by the everlasting colonialism that has perpetuated through the continuous cultural exploitation that the Caribbean still suffers. 

A way to accomplish real social justice for the victims of slavery, genocide, and racial discrimination in the Caribbean is to create new discussions on Caribbean reparations that approach the problem within the Taíno context due to the ongoing violation of Indigenous rights. How the State responds to its liable responsibility of Indigenous rights matters is more about the obsolete jurisdiction laws of land management. This situation has created a dilemma regarding the genocidal stigma and abusive exploitations, which continue to be committed against Indigenous Peoples by the same States who are alleging to represent them. The concept of national patrimony has to be revisited. The only way that academia can help resolve their ongoing misappropriation within their museum curation is by acknowledging past wrongs with a deeper process that involves ‘cultural reparations’ and community involvement.

Nichole Bodin has a Masters in Caribbean Archelogy from the Center of Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. 


Taíno Confederation joins the opposition to U.S. interference in Mexico’s phaseout of glyphosate and GM corn

Washington, DC (UCTP Taíno News) - Today, 80 U.S. organizations delivered a letter to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and US Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai, opposing the interference by U.S. government officials and agribusiness interests in Mexico’s planned phaseout of glyphosate and genetically modified corn. Signatories to the letter included representatives of Indigenous Peoples, American farmers, workers, consumers, public healths, sustainable agriculture, and other food systems research and advocacy groups. Further, over 6,900 petition signatures from concerned individuals were delivered as well. 

As revealed by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Center for Biological Diversity, under the Trump administration, public officials at USTR and USDA strategized with agrochemical industry representatives from CropLIfe America and Bayer AG (which produces glyphosate) on ways to urge the Mexican government to rescind its policy decisions. After, USTR warned Mexico’s Minister of Economy that Mexico’s action threatened the “strength of our bilateral relationship.” 

The United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP) and the Caribbean Amerindian Development Organization (CADO) were signatories to the letter. UCTP President and CADO Co-President, R. Múkaro Borrero stated, "The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world the importance of food security and food sovereignty at national and local levels. Moving toward a right relationship with food and the Earth should be at the top of our global priorities. Other countries should follow Mexico’s example for the phaseout. If you claim to care about the present and future generations, there is no sane reason to be in opposition." 

The joint letter and petition to USTR and USDA urged that the agencies should respect Mexico’s sovereignty and refrain from interfering with its right to enact its own protective policies. The U.S. groups and individuals echoed concerns from agricultural and civil society organizations in Mexico:

"We reject the pressure from corporations such as Bayer-Monsanto — and their CropLife trade association — which are working in both the United States and Mexico to undermine the presidential decree that phases out the use of glyphosate and transgenic corn," declared Fernando Bejarano, director of Pesticide Action Network in Mexico (RAPAM).

Bejarano went on to explain, “We are part of the No Maize No Country Campaign, a broad coalition of peasant organizations, non-profit NGOs, academics and consumers, which support the presidential decree and fight for food sovereignty with the agroecological transformation of agricultural systems that guarantee the right to produce and consume healthy, nutritious food, free of pesticides and transgenics.”

UCTPTN 04.30.2021


Pueblo Taíno ignorado por el Ministerio de Cultura de la República Dominicana sobre asunto de Repatriación del Semí de Algodón Taíno en Italia

Comunicado de Prensa para difusión inmediata - Pueblo Taíno ignorado por el Ministerio de Cultura de la República Dominicana sobre asunto de Repatriación del Semí de Algodón Taíno en Italia

27 de abril de 2021 - La Confederación Unida del Pueblo Taíno, junto a varias Organizaciones representativas del Pueblo Taíno interesadas en colaborar con el proceso de Repatriación Internacional del Sagrado Semí de Algodón ubicado en Italia nos dirigimos a la Ministra de Cultura de la República Dominicana, la Sra. Carmen Heredia Vda. de Guerrero en comunicación por escrito y enviada a través de correo electrónico el día 23 de febrero de este año.
Se esperó un tiempo razonable, y sin embargo no recibimos respuesta de nadie de dicha oficina ni a través del mensaje que se le había enviado por Twitter a la Sra. Ministra.
“...Afirmando además que todas las doctrinas, políticas y prácticas basadas en la superioridad de determinados pueblos o individuos o que la propugnan aduciendo razones de origen nacional o diferencias raciales, religiosas, étnicas o culturales son racistas, científicamente falsas, jurídicamente inválidas, moralmente condenables y socialmente injustas, Reafirmando que, en el ejercicio de sus derechos, los pueblos indígenas deben estar libres de toda forma de discriminación, Preocupada por el hecho de que los pueblos indígenas han sufrido injusticias históricas como resultado, entre otras cosas, de la colonización y de haber sido desposeídos de sus tierras, territorios y recursos, lo que les ha impedido ejercer, en particular, su derecho al desarrollo de conformidad con sus propias necesidades e intereses,
Reconociendo la urgente necesidad de respetar y promover los derechos intrínsecos de los pueblos indígenas, que derivan de sus estructuras políticas, económicas y sociales y de sus culturas, ….”
- Preámbulo de la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas
El 23 de marzo de 2021, considerándolo ya un tiempo más que razonable para contestarnos, volvimos a tratar de comunicarnos por teléfono y explicamos el motivo de nuestra comunicación y ahora con la preocupación de que nadie nos había respondido. Se nos indicó que el correo electrónico había sido pasado al Sr. Octavio Mejía, Director de Gabinete. El caballero aparentemente se encontraba de reunión y se le dejó recado para que se comunicara con nosotros. Se nos indicó que tan pronto saliera de su reunión se haría entrega del recado y que podíamos esperar su llamada esa tarde o al día siguiente. Nunca recibimos dicha llamada.
Hoy 27 de abril de 2021, volvimos a llamar y fuimos atendidos por recepción, expresamos nuevamente el asunto, la recepcionista tomó nuestros datos y razón de llamada para pasar el mensaje, y también nos hizo transferencia a la oficina de la Ministra. No hubo nadie que respondiera, ni oportunidad para dejar mensaje grabado.
Nuestra comunidad Taíno lleva ya más de dos meses tratando de establecer un diálogo con la Oficina de la Ministra de Cultura de la República Dominicana para tratar un tema de extrema importancia para nuestro Pueblo y de un proceso al cual tenemos derecho de acuerdo a la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas y la cual el mismo estado miembro, la República Dominicana, presentó junto a otros estados miembros ante la Asamblea General de la ONU, y endosó.
Recurrimos por esta razón a la prensa con el único deseo de traer enfoque a los derechos del Pueblo Indígena Taíno y para integrarnos en un esfuerzo colaborativo y como partícipes del proceso de repatriación internacional que incluya los mecanismos internacionales disponibles a los Pueblos Indígenas como lo pudiera ser el Mecanismo de Expertos sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas de las Naciones Unidas, entre otros.

Para mayor información favor de comunicarse con Tai Pelli, Oficial de Relaciones Internacionales y Derechos Humanos de la Confederación Unida del Pueblo Taíno,
taipelli21@gmail.com ó (321)444-1386.


Volcano eruptions in St. Vincent Creating a Humanitarian Crisis

Ash coats a hillside on St. Vincent on April 11, 2021. (Photo by UWI-Seismic Research Centre, Prof. Robertson)

St. Vincent and the Grenadines (UCTP Taino News) - La Soufrière, a volcano on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent began a series of intense eruptions last Friday. For close to a week, subsequent eruptions have covered the island in volcanic ash. Super-heated gas and lava flows have gushed down the mountainside. Thousands of residents in the affected “Red Zone” area are now displaced or have been evacuated. A humanitarian crisis is now emerging as islanders are left without clean water and electricity. Several news sources are reporting that government officials fear the situation will also exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are the times we need to be ready to support our relatives” stated Irvince Auguiste, a co-President of the Caribbean Amerindian Development Organization (CADO). Auguiste is a member of the Kalinago (Carib) Nation of Dominica and a former Chief of the territory. He continued by stating “CADO and the United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP) will be collaborating on a relief effort for the Indigenous Kalinago community and others in St. Vincent.”

The dome of the volcano was completely destroyed during the periodic eruptions. Reports estimate that more than 460 million cubic tons of earth and rock have jettisoned into the atmosphere from the eruptions. The wind is carrying the volcanic ash to St. Vincent’s island neighbors such as Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Lucia. Eruptions and seismic activity are expected to continue over the next few days.

UCTPTN 04/15/2021


Dr. Erica Mercado Moore Join appointed UCTP Liaison Officer in South Dakota

South Dakota (UCTP Taíno News) - The United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP) has appointed Erica Mercado Moore as a UCTP Liaison Officer in the State of South Dakota. Dr. Moore is a community member of Iukaieke Guainía and South Dakota State University's American Indian Student Center Director. She began her work at SDSU in July 2019 after spending four years as the chief academic officer at the Lower Brule Community College.

"We are very excited to welcome Dr. Moore as part of our leadership community. Her passion and experience in supporting American Indian students in higher education will greatly assist the Confederation in its work at the local, national, and international level," stated R. Múkaro Borrero, President of the United Confederation of Taíno People. 

Moore earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Maryland University College and a master’s degree in history from the American Military University. She completed her doctorate from Northcentral University in 2016.

UCTPTN 03/03/2021