Basseterre, St. Kitts, July 10, 2015 (SKNIS): The conference hosted by the St. Kitts and Nevis UNESCO National Commission and forming part of the commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Establishment of the UNESCO International Scientific Slave Route Project, has reopened the dialogue on the negro legacy, including the matter of reparations for the descendants of the enslaved.

The two-day conference was held under the theme Beyond Reparations – Strengthening the Slave Route Project in the Caribbean Region and coordinated by the local UNESCO Scientific Slave Route Committee.  There were 24 delegates from the islands of Haiti, Curacao, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Dominica, Suriname, Belize, Grenada and Guadeloupe.

St. Kitts and Nevis Deputy Prime Minister and Minister responsible for UNESCO Honourable Shawn Richards congratulated Conference Key Note Speaker Sir Hilary Beckles on his assuming the post of Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies on May 01, 2015 and for being the current Vice President of the International Task Force for the UNESCO Slave Route Project.

The strategic placement of the First Registry of Slaves of St. Kitts and Nevis at the St. Kitts Marriott Conference venue was said to invoke the spirit of ancestral hope and aspiration.

“With this conference we pay homage to the strength and resilience of our enslaved ancestors, who by their survival, kept the smouldering embers of hope burning so that another generation might yet witness the glorious dawn of liberty,” Minister Richards emphasized noting that the survival of the enslaved through the transatlantic trade and slavery itself, is a legacy of triumph on which the current descendants can draw courage to face today’s challenges.

The Rastafarian community was also recognized as being consistent in creating awareness of the the achievements of negro ancestors.

“It is said that a people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots,” noted Minister Richards, who is also responsible for the education sector.  “Hence we must articulate a philosophy of education that features the promotion of cultural awareness through the teaching of our history and proud African heritage, as one of its main planks.  Our approach to education must have a distinctive cultural orientation based on the unique values, dispositions, world view and spiritual beliefs that define our identity as Caribbean men and women.”

Providing some background Nerys Dockery Chairperson of the local UNESCO Scientific Slave Route Committee informed that the Slave Route Project was launched in 1994 in Ouidah, Benin at the 27th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO.  This was done in order to acknowledge the tragedy of slavery, its barbarism, magnitude and systematic nature.  Locally, the committee was established in 2007 under the chairmanship of Dr. Ken Ballentine.  Mrs. Dockery revealed that activities will be held over the next two years in keeping with the mentioned theme.  One anticipated activity is the erection of a national memorial commemorating the abolition of the trade in Africans, honouring the enslaved ancestors and their legacy of resilience, courage and triumph.

“As the 21st Century advances, the people of African descent in the Caribbean and elsewhere continue to grapple with the social, political, environmental and economic conditions inherited by the historical forces set in motion by slavery, genocide, colonialism and underdevelopment, that mitigate against our every effort to prosper, survive and thrive,” Mrs. Dockery stressed noting that the ill effects of slavery are still alive.

Secretary General of the UNESCO National Commission Antonio Maynard noted that this is one of the reasons that reparations must be on the discussion table and a palpable part of the conference.

His Excellency Ambassador Sam Condor was applauded for being the lead minister in the establishment the UNESCO National Commission in the Federation and providing valuable support while he was the minister responsible for that entity.

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