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Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.

BOBIE-LEE DIXON

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Trinidad and Tobago’s First Peoples are known for their long history in conservation and agriculture and the minding of crops such as corn, cassava, cocoa and avocado.

However, in a bid to mesh their ancient skills with responsible practices of the modern agricultural world, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies St Augustine, Rose-Marie Belle-Antoine, yesterday suggested that the emerging cannabis and marijuana industry could be a viable option for them.

Belle-Antoine made the comment during a virtual symposium titled: Our First Peoples: Leading us Toward Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Communities, which was a collaborative event between the Law Faculty and the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community.

“We have already decriminalised and about to pass legislation for an industry in cannabis,” Belle-Antoine reasoned.

Belle-Antoine, who is the chair of the Caricom Marijuana Commission, said one of the concerns raised in the commission’s report was the need to ensure that traditional farmers or the ‘small man’ had a stake in the emerging cannabis industry and is given the assistance to do so, which she believes might be an important opportunity for First Peoples.

But she noted that for this to be a reality, First Peoples would need land security. She pointed to St Vincent and the Grenadines models where 200 acres of land have been put aside for traditional farmers who are linked to the medical cannabis industry within a legal framework.

Speaking to the issue of reparation, Belle-Antoine said the 25 acres of land released years ago to the First Peoples was appreciated but there was the need for much more, especially in these perilous times when societies must return to mother earth.

She said the First Peoples use of land resulted in a guardianship of T&T heritage for the benefit of everyone.

She said she believes First Peoples could partner with the state and even the private sector to engage in meaningful large scale green projects.

But even as Belle-Antoine advocated for more lands and resources for First Peoples, she noted she was conscious of other indigenous people in the region, who fought hard and won rights and were once again being threatened with modern challenges – a different kind of plunder.

“Today, indigenous people in our region are still being displaced, some are being murdered, especially when being confronted with the aggressive pursuit of extractive industries at all cost when forgotten land suddenly becomes valuable,” Belle-Antoine said.

She referenced the burning of life-giving forests in Brazil and said life-giving water resources were being stolen all across the region, while sacred land was being targeted for superficial touristic exploits. She said these threats were rising in Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

Belle-Antoine said she did not doubt the same could happen in T&T once the country’s First Peoples begin to successfully pursue a sustainable green development plan, as there would be predators who covet the ‘green gold.’

“The state, NGOs, all of us will have to protect these communities. We would need to be champions for them,” Belle-Antoine said.