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The status of an indigenous person

Dear Sir,

Somewhere around 1998 at a lecture by a person whose name escapes me, I was introduced to a curious fact. The recent comments about birthrights or nativity, made by the minister Michael Fahy, for me has brought the lecture’s issue foursquare.

First, I acknowledge that politics at the moment is red-hot and any comment made by a politician on either side can be taken outside its intended meaning.

Quite aside from the issue of naturalisation and pathways towards PRCs and immigration status, there is another status of being termed an indigenous person, which has never been formerly approached.

It may seem strange given that when we hear of that term, we think of aboriginal people and those people in countries whose history in many cases is unwritten and hard to trace.

The United Nations did some work on this issue and for its own purposes came up with a definition of an indigenous person. Essentially by their standard, indigenous simply means “first people of any country”. In that regard, the first generations of Bermuda colonisation and their offspring actually fit the criterion of the UN as indigenous persons.

It is important for people to know and celebrate their origins, and the UN has mandated a special fund drawn from its member nations that contribute towards the protection and wellbeing of indigenous people worldwide. We as a country have not embarked on the exercise of determining those who would aptly fit the criterion of indigenous Bermudian. It would be an easy exercise, in my opinion, to draw a line in the sand, after which the title of indigenous would not apply.

Given the nature of Bermuda’s colonisation, which is reasonably recorded, 150 years would translate to five generations and that should bring a closing date of somewhere around 1770 or thereabouts for persons to trace their ancestry.

It should be a reasonable consideration, given that somewhere around 1675 a moratorium with an outright ban with a punishment attached was established as a law preventing the further importation of African or Native American slaves. It is not until 1857 and 1880 that any major waves of immigrant populations are introduced to the existing gene pool; they ostensibly being Portuguese and West Indian. With that rationale, it was nearly 200 years of inbreeding that produced the indigenous stock of Bermudians.

This item of establishing our status as indigenous is a matter that a government or concerned group that values our heritage needs to embark upon.

Mr Fahy may indeed hold the ministry that could initiate this discussion and perhaps there will become a value for being born a Bermudian.