A TAINO SPEAKS FROM HER HEART & THE CARIBBEAN HEART OF THE AMERICAS
May 2013 was the second and final year of the Tribal Link Project Access Training of Taino mother & warrior Tai Pelli of Boriken (aka 'Puerto Rico'), held in New York City for the 12th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. It was an honor to have met and gotten to know Tai, shared spiritual adventures with her, also learn from her..and I am proud to call her my Taino sister, and my children to call her their Taino aunt.
I asked her 4 questions about her 2012-2013 Tribal Link experience - as 4 is a sacred number to both our Peoples - and here are the answers to those questions in her own words:
"As we began the vigorous Tribal Link Project Access training, I took the information I was receiving as what was necessary to be able to interact in the United Nations Permanent Forum, a “learning of the ropes” kind of view. It was not until I went to the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus, the very first day after completing the training that first year, that I realized how blessed and how well I had been prepared by the Project Access Training. I saw other Indigenous brothers and sisters come from very remote places addressing issues AND expecting immediate solutions to those issues. I could see their frustration, yet I knew the purpose and function of the Forum, what one could and could not do. I knew about the mechanisms available to many of those issues they were presenting. That in itself was an eye-opening experience.
On that very first day at Project Access, I realized we (Taíno) had not been the only ones declared extinct as the history books written by the colonizers would want all to believe, when in fact we have been resilient people and we are still here! I heard it over and over again, we (many indigenous peoples) had been made the Invisible people throughout the globe. This allowed me to understand even further, the dynamics of oppression and the importance of creating alliances with different Indigenous Communities being challenged by the same issues.
I was always an inquisitive child. I loved spending more time with my grandparents and great-grandmother than with children my age. I would always ask them to tell me stories from when they were young. Having been born in New York City and as a child taken to the island to live on my maternal grandparents farm and sugarcane fields, I was fascinated by everything that surrounded me. I thought “we were rich!” (I understand now we truly were, but it had nothing to do with money!) My great-grandmother always called me “India”, to this day I don’t know if she ever knew my real name. I was the only one who enjoyed spending time with her and she would say to me: “Don’t ever forget we are “indios”!” What seemed like a humiliating moment at age 11 when I was in 7th grade, and while at my History class, became a pivotal moment later in life and at age 17 ½ I began my personal quest. During class, the teacher spoke about all Indians being extinct, she had also mentioned how the French were never able to establish themselves in the island. This information did not make any sense to me! It was the first time I was being faced with my very existence being challenged! So, I asked for permission to speak and was granted it. I stood up and politely stated: “Mrs., not all Indians were killed, because my family is alive. And also, some French did make it to the island, because my dad’s side is French!” The teacher’s response was mean and yes, humiliating, one that subjected me to the cruelty of my peers for some time. Yet, not so much about the Indian part, because many of them already called me “India” or “Taína”. I tried to make sense of it all. I thought about that side of the family, my great-grandmother’s siblings, their children, their children’s children, we were all “indios”! It seemed as if it was ok for me to be called “India” or “Taína”, as long as I did not claim to be one. I have been researching now for 33 and a half years, analyzing, and writing about the subject. I began to do Public Speaking and yet, as time went on, I found myself not limiting my efforts to the struggles of my people and running the curtain on the myth of extinction, but finding myself getting involved in Environmental Issues, and Human Rights Issues. Realizing that life in itself is not long enough for all there is to be learned!
Since childhood, I have had a passion for reading . I read about many historical figures and I knew many had been many things, not just limited themselves to one area of expertise. So, when someone asked me: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always responded: “I will always be an artist! I also want to be a doctor (surgeon) and a lawyer, but not the kind of lawyers that defend criminals, I want to advocate for women and children’s rights!” To those around me, I wanted to be too many things, I was truly a “banana from a different bunch”, as I have come to see myself. In time I understood I could do many things. Interestingly, out of my professions, in which being a doctor is not one of them, it is what I instituted through the Arts that was the most fulfilling to me, I came to the realization through this magnificent Project Access, that I did not have to be that lawyer, after all, in order to advocate for others. That the scope just expanded, that my heart and my very soul soar when I advocate for Justice, Environmental issues, Women, Children, Indigenous and Human Rights! That I was born a communicator, and that I shall dedicate my days to doing what I feel is right in my heart, and there is nothing bigger for me than advocating for the afore-mentioned.
My own sense of empowerment!
The reader should also note that as a direct result of our 2012 Tribal Link shared experience - Tai and I decided to co-found (along with Shirling Simon-Corrie, Irvince Auguiste & Loisette Auguiste, and Roberto Borrero) the non-profit Caribbean Amerindian Development Organization (CADO) the motto of which is 'Dedicated to the Preservation and Promotion of Amerindian Cultural Heritage, and the Hemispheric National Implementation of Internationally recognised Rights of Indigenous Peoples'; CADO is also the only NGO that unites the Taino of the Northern Caribbean - with the Kalinago of the Central Caribbean - and the Lokono of the Southern Caribbean. This historic and unique entity is a child born in the delivery room of Tribal Link & Project Access!
Damon Gerard Corrie
13 Highgate Gardens
Wildey, St. Michael
Tel: (246) 228-0227 Fax: (246) 437-2018
Copyright © 2013 Damon G. Corrie