'Time come ohh'
Indigenous leaders demand meeting with Government, police to settle sovereignty issueSunday, September 12, 2021
BY KIMBERLY HIBBERT
THE Yamaye Council of Indigenous Leaders (YCOIL) is mounting pressure on the Government to meet with them and settle the long-running issue of Maroon sovereignty which sparked controversy last month after residents of Accompong in St Elizabeth confronted police who had gone there reportedly to destroy a ganja farm.
The YCOIL, formerly known as the Maroon Secretariat, is a collective of diverse leaders who represent indigenous communities in Jamaica. It comprises the Maroon Indigenous Women's Circle, Moore Town Maroons, Scott's Hall Maroons, Charles Town Maroons, and Yamaye Guani (Jamaica Hummingbird) Taino People of Jamaica. While there is no current Accompong representative on the YCOIL, they have a seat on the secretariat, and the council speaks as a collective.
Colonel Wallace Sterling of the Moore Town Maroons, in a Zoom meeting with the Jamaica Observer, said it is long overdue that the Government has audience with YCOIL to settle the issue.
“Time come ohh, time come ohh. Time fi wi siddung and have wi discussion. One of the major concerns is looking at what the Maroons have been doing over the many years since the treaty was signed between the colonial powers of the day and the Maroons, and clarifying the issue of sovereignty,” Colonel Sterling said.
“What was the position taken by them and the position taken by the Maroons? There was nothing said or done over the last 280 plus years to change that position [and], even if attempts were made, none of these things were ever followed through. We know that when an agreement is made between two or more parties, if there is any revocation, any breaking of that agreement, it has to be done by the parties involved,” Col Sterling argued.
“There was not an issue in the first instance when the treaty was signed. There were attempts to aggregate sections of it, but it never happened. What we are saying is, to clarify any difficulty or misunderstanding, we [should] best have a sit-down with the Government of Jamaica, as an indigenous people and deal with the issues that might confront the Government. Let the Government see what we have an issue with. We would have our own discussion with them, and with plotting the course in going forward, because it seems to me like the word sovereignty is where the problem lies,” Colonel Sterling told the Sunday Observer.
He said that the treaty gave autonomy to the Maroon communities, except in the case of murder. Additionally, Maroons have the understanding that they are sovereign people.
“In times gone by, if there was something to be done in the Maroon communities, the Government would ask and acknowledge the rights of the community based upon the treaty signed. If there was a murder or killing in the community, then the community should turn over the person to the police. Every Maroon, in their head, understands and knows that they are sovereign people. We have our own space, and we are not saying we are going to go out there to violate the laws of Jamaica — that is far from what we think. We are not thinking we should go out there and have confrontation with the Government of Jamaica — that is far from what we would want to see happen. What we want to have happen is due respect shown by all parties,” he insisted.
Last month National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang poured cold water on talk that the Maroons have sovereignty, saying there was no such thing as “Maroon land”. He was responding to a video showing Accompong Maroons and their chief Richard Currie chasing a policeman off lands in Accompong.
Chang received backlash from Currie, who took to social media platform Instagram declaring he was a bloodline descendant of the island's first people and would never stop honouring the ways of his ancestors and the lands they have possessed.
Currie also expressed disappointment in Chang's statements and claimed that ignorance is not an excuse, while reminding the Government that former United Kingdom High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad had reaffirmed the treaty signed nearly three centuries ago at the annual Maroon Festival in January 2018.
Colonel Sterling, too, said he was puzzled by Chang's utterances, as history will show that when Jamaica became independent, and the question of the treaty with the Maroons and the colonial government of the day was asked in the British Parliament, and as far as he could recollect, the answer given was that everything will be honoured by the Government of Jamaica.
“Since Independence until now, as far as I am concerned, all the treaties that are relevant to today's society are basically observed. [So] for someone in Government circles to say they don't know about Maroon having lands, that doesn't make much sense to us. As far as we are concerned, we have our lands and our lands are going to be our lands,” the Moore Town Maroons' leader said.
Regarding concerns of illegal cultivation of ganja in Maroon communities, Colonel Sterling said the only thing the treaty prohibited Maroons from growing was sugar cane, as it was the crop of the day, and the intention was that their foreparents should not enrich themselves.
Sterling, however, said ganja is another crop that was created by God and, while the excess use of it might cause problems, excess use of other crops not seen as illegal can also have ill effects on the body. He also said that ganja cultivation needs to be part of the discussions that need to take place.
“The excess use of sugar cane over the many centuries caused more ill effect on people; tobacco caused more ill effect; rum causes ill effect. Even though the Government has decriminalised ganja to a certain extent, these problems are the burning issues we need to sit down and sort out very carefully. While others are making millions and billions from the growing of marijuana, we here in Jamaica aren't making that. If it is that the grass roots people who have been growing it over the years are being boxed and fenced out, it will bring trouble. Meeting with the Government, sitting down with the Government, having open and frank discussion as to the way forward in dealing with these issues is what we are asking for,” Sterling said.
He added: “After 280 plus years we [have] never had that sit-down. There is nothing wrong with having that sit down now and draw the lines; define where we are and how we will be treating with each other going forward.”
Kasike/Chief Kalaan Kaiman (Robert Pairman) of the Yamaye Guani Taino People said the need for the discussion is to also declare the rights of indigenous people.
“You have your rights in your house and nobody can tell you what you can do in your house, or put things in your house. They have to ask permission before they come into your house, and it is likewise for our communities,” Kaiman said.
“There were established understandings that existed prior, and this is just our community coming together as a collective to state that these things have always been and will continue to be,” he argued.
“It's about acknowledging the indigenous rights of the Maroon and Taino people on this island and moving forward with whatever retention we have and whatever rights and privileges we have in the 21st century. It is no different from our Kalinago relatives in Dominica, or our Garifuna relatives in Belize, who are also considered by some as afro-indigenous people. We have our languages, we have our culture, and we have things we would like to safeguard or protect. There is a semblance of difference between us and the majority of Jamaica, but it's not something to separate us. It is like a salad. We have different things, but when we come together, we get a beautiful, healthy meal that can benefit the collective, as indigenous people have always been advocates for human rights,” he added.
Marcia Douglas, chief of the Charles Town Maroons, also asked that the police be present at the meeting to settle differences with the community.
“The police need to be taught more history on Maroon and indigenous communities. They come and there is no respect to acknowledge the colonel. I've been pepper-sprayed by them, and we even went to court. Whenever we have a discussion, meet with us, too, and learn our customs...you can't serve and protect if you don't know about our history. How do you look at things, what are your views on things? We want to know,” Douglas said.
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