Caribbean Indigenous Peoples Unite Against Disney

Anaheim, California (UCTP Taino News) - On Saturday, June 24 2006, the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United (GAHFU), organized a peaceful protest against Walt Disney Pictures´ new release “Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man´s Chest”, for its erroneous portrayal of Caribbean Indigenous Peoples as savage cannibals. The protest, the first of a planned series of actions, was supported by the United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP) and took place at the entrance of the Disneyland theme park.

Both the GAHFU and the UCTP called for an international Boycott of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and all Disney products until “Disney recognizes the injustice and the multi-generational trauma this type of imagery has and continues to inflict upon Caribbean indigenous communities, especially youth.”

The boycott is endorsed by Chief Charles Williams of the Kalinago Carib Nation of Dominica, the Guyanese Organization of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), the Santa Rosa Carib Community of Trinidad, the Joboshirima Arawak Community of Venezuela, and the Eagle Clan Arawaks (Guyana & Barbados) among others.

The Disney film was shot on island locations such as Saint Vincent and Dominica. Earlier “Pirates” protests production began when plans of the derogatory depiction of “Caribs” became public in early 2005. Charles Williams, Chief of the Kalinago Carib Nation of Dominica, led the public opposition of the film, which succeeded in luring local Caribs to appear as “cannibal” characters at a reported $10 an hour. The Government of Dominica, apparently seeking to boost tourism rather than lobby for historical accuracy, supported the stereotyping of the Caribs. The tourism minister of Dominica publicly defended the proposed film as only a ''work of fiction.''

At the protest in California, UCTP representative John Hu’acan Vidal stated “It is not surprising that some Carib people took part in the film considering the economic situation in Carib Territory”. He continued by observing that “people need to feed their families”.

Upon hearing of the film’s content, indigenous community representatives from Trinidad, Saint Vincent, Belize, and Puerto Rico also vehemently opposed the derogatory portrayal of Indigenous Peoples. The UCTP issued an official resolution in solidarity with the Carib Peoples and submitted the resolution to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Naniki Reyes Ocasio, founder of the Caney Quinto Mundo, a respected indigenous Taíno organization in Puerto Rico stated "Being portrayed as cannibal is serious; it is racist, denigrating and dehumanizing for our people." Reyes Ocasio also noted that this type of stereotyping is not just an issue of political correctness but one that violates the basic human rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture used the 'cannibal label' in an attempt to inflame the public and turn public opinion against us during our recent protest against the destruction of our sacred places on the island." Reyes Ocasio continued "Being identified as a cannibal promotes hatred and is serious misunderstanding of our sacred funerary practice of keeping ancestral remains in gourds. We cannot and must not lose sight of the fact that the myth of cannibalism was used by the colonizers to portray our Peoples as savage, to justify our enslavement, to commit genocide and take away our lands. It is still being used to demonize us, justify discrimination, institutionalize colonialism, assault our dignity and deny us our basic human, constitutional and international rights.”

Sadly, the racist portrayal of Caribbean Indigenous Peoples was deliberate on the part of Walt Disney Pictures, as Chief Williams confirms meeting with Disney representatives who visited his island homeland early in the production. At this meeting in Dominica, the Chief was denied the opportunity to review the scenes in question. Further, the Chief requested a disclaimer for the film, which at the least would remind audiences that this was a fictional portrayal and not a reality of Caribbean Indigenous Peoples. This suggestion was also dismissed by Disney.

During the production, in what seems a retaliatory action for Chief Williams stand against the film, an unsuccessful effort to remove the outspoken Chief from his elected position was attempted via a series of ‘no confidence’ votes and a standing order by the Government to dissolve the Carib Council. These attempts did not succeed and Dominica’s Attorney General issued a radio apology declaring a wrongful action on behalf of the Government.

Back at Disneyland, Hu’acan explains “All Indigenous Peoples of the world need to shout the truth of our cultures loud enough to drown out the sounds of the children leaving this movie, pointing to us and saying look Mom, there is one of those cannibals’.”

UCTPTN 06.03.2006

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