Plenty Canada’s Caribbean project, Cuba Indigeneity — Values and Knowledge, is based in the remote mountain and coastal region of eastern Cuba, the Oriente. It partners with a significant population of Taino-guajiro (rural) Indigenous kinship families under the leadership of a traditional cacique (chief), women elders, and a new generation of leaders. This population of people with Indigenous heritage has been marginalised from contemporary history, even considered extinct in many national histories. In fact, it has been ‘hiding in plain sight,’ and it is now re-emerging and reconnecting as an extended Native community of related families.
Since 1995, quietly and persistently, Francisco (Panchito) Ramírez, elder of this core community of Cuban Indigenous people, at Caridad de los Indios, Guantanamo Province, has led his people to reweave the families, to unite once again, as they had lived before dispersing throughout the mountain valleys and migrating to towns and cities in the past fifty years. His own elder cacique had told him, “We were as a Great Family; the problem of one was the problem of all.”
The Gran Familia today consists of some twenty multi-homestead localities or communities (caserios). As a trunk of Native families, it has conducted a family count (cuenta familiar), which has so far listed some fifteen thousand people. Among the main leaders of the Native reweaving of families and communities, Idalis Ramírez Ramírez, daughter of the cacique, and her main helper, Solaine Castillo Ramírez and others, joined their various skills to the task.
This group has manifested the cacique’s orientation to help him reconnect the Cuban Indigenous people of the eastern mountains.
Through work led by myself, Jose Barreiro, Taino writer-activist, and Alejandro Hartmann, Cuban historian, we have partnered with the cacique over two decades to gather the elders and younger leaders and generate cultural and historical research through public events. This intense work fed a series of regional gatherings on the Indigenous Legacies of the Caribbean and led to increasing recognition for the Indigenous people of Cuba.
The Gran Familia people, marginalised through most of the 20th century, are in a serious process of self-actualization. The main objective of our project is to assist this self-actualization. Recognising the traditional values and knowledge of the communities, we support their enhanced visibility and community enhancement objectives. This project helps empower the Native descendant families in the eastern Cuba mountains to renew their ties, ceremonial and agricultural traditions, and identity through grass-roots activism.
We also celebrate the emergence of next generation leadership and support and advantage the emergence of women's leadership as primary in the networking or reweaving of Native family community homesteads and enterprises. The women lead in the coordination of the people from the many communities and work to reverse the cultural dissolution caused by the dispersals of trunk families from their home geography that began in the late 20th century, resulting in the diminishment of indigenous Gran Familia identity and traditional knowledge.
The Cuba Indigeneity project challenged the official historical dictum of extinction and has helped achieve a good measure of national and international recognition for Cuban indigeneity, as represented by the tribal trunk guided by Cacique Panchito since he inherited the title of cacique in the mid 1970s. Over years of patient work, we have linked and dialogued with important Cuban institutions, such as Casa de las Americas, the National Historians and Conservators Network, and the Foundation for Nature and Humanity, to encourage their understanding and support for the cacique’s dream of recognition of Cuban indigeneity.
Signalling a culture and identity movement among Cuban indigenous communities, this timely initiative supports cultural and educational gatherings, projects in documentation, intergenerational transfer of traditional knowledge, and the development of agro-ecological production opportunities.
— Jose Barreiro, Taino Project Manager