The following is Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar's statement in recognition of the First Peoples holiday today:
"On behalf of the Opposition, I extend greetings and best wishes to all citizens, on the occasion of this one-off commemorative day to mark the significant contribution and impact of the First Peoples on Trinidad and Tobago.
We often boast in Trinidad and Tobago of our rainbow country, where so many ethnicities, cultures and religions live in harmony – we are a shining example to the global community.
I am of the firm belief that all our peoples should be given equal prominence and no one should be sidelined, and this is why, throughout my career as a politician, I have worked towards ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens of our beloved nation, and I will continue to do so.
As I have seen in years gone by and again over this past week of activities in honour of the First Peoples, I am struck by the vibrant beauty of this community, and their remarkable determination.
The indigenous people have borne tremendous trials and have endured throughout the centuries, and continue to sustain their traditions today.
They have every reason to be proud, and we should, each of us, do our part to preserve and uphold their culture. During the administration which I led, we recognized the importance of this, and we took steps to grant a lease of 25 acres to the First Peoples for the purpose of the establishment of a Model Amerindian Heritage Village and Living Museum.
This initiative has significant potential to support efforts at economic diversification through tourism, in addition to educating our children about the history and cultural traditions of the First Peoples.
It is unclear what has become of this project; whether the current administration is taking any steps to advance this initiative, and I call on the Government to ensure that this becomes a reality for the First Peoples.
The First Peoples are the originators of our country, and we must do more to recognize their role in shaping the society and nation of which we are all proud to call home.
Of course, those who came, under different circumstances, from India, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas, all made indelible contributions to our modern society, and today we uphold their beliefs, traditions and values as well.
We cannot, and must not, allow the culture, heritage and traditions of the indigenous people to be forgotten or dismissed.
I pledge, and the members of the Opposition also commit to working with the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that as we move forward, their concerns and needs are addressed.
There is need to continue the process of dialogue with this segment, and all other sectors of society on what is needed with respect to enhancing our national development.
There is no doubt that the indigenous people in Trinidad and Tobago face unique challenges, however; as a people, we all face economic and financial challenges, as well as the threat of rising crime and its impact on our quality of life.
I reiterate my call for all citizens to come together and work to overcome these challenges and transform Trinidad and Tobago into a brighter, more prosperous nation.
Once again, on behalf of my party and myself, I extend best wishes to the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago on this important occasion."