Dominica’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vince Henderson, hailed a local organization for celebrating the island’s first people.
Prior to the European settlers’ arrival in the late 1400s, the Kalinagos were the first inhabitants. They now constitute about 2.5 per cent of the population and live on their own reserve. A self-reliant people who survived mainly by fishing, hunting and farming, they spoke their own language and worshipped their ancestors’ spirits.
Celebrating the Kalinagos: Dominica’s Indigenous People, was the theme of the recent Madame Wob Dwiyet Canada’s (MWDC) annual cultural pageant in Scarborough.
Henderson said the Kalinagos are an integral part of the Dominican society.
“They have moved from people placed on a reservation to people who are truly integrated into Dominican society where they too can have some benefits and opportunities as Dominicans,” said Henderson who is also his country’s permanent representative at the UN. “Every now and again at the UN, the rights of indigenous people come up in discussions and I am constrained to participate because I feel that our indigenous people don’t have any issues as far as their rights are concerned.”
Henderson noted that the Dominican government has invested in educational opportunities for youths in the Kalinagos territory in recent years.
“During my time as Minister of Education, we were able to secure several scholarships and there was a special offer made by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the children of that territory so they could have an opportunity to get an education,” he said. “We have come a far way, but we still have a long way to go. We can’t stop working until we ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
A former secondary school deputy principal and Dominica government minister for nearly a decade, Henderson urged nationals in Canada and the rest of the Diaspora with special skills to consider making a contribution to their birth country.
“After 35 years, Dominica has reached a point where it’s ready to take off,” he said. “We have invested heavily in our people and infrastructure. Never forget that it’s Dominica that made you and we all owe the country a debt of that gratitude.”
Dominica celebrates its 35th independence anniversary on November 3.
The highlight of last Sunday’s celebration was the Wob Dwiyet pageant.
The Wob Dwiyet is a style of ladies dress that emerged in the French West Indies towards the end of the 18th century and its design is believed to have originated in southern France where women at the time wore a similar outfit. The dress, considered a significant aspect of Dominica’s colonial heritage that is usually worn on special occasions, comprises a long petticoat made of cotton or satin and decorated with rows of lace ribbon, a full length outer dress with a trail and narrow sleeves that extend to the wrists, a scarf and a folded headpiece that’s decorated to suit the wearer’s taste.