A report from Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday.
WIFE, mother, community activist, stick-fighting enthusiast, Arimian, Queen of the Santa Rosa First Peoples.
These are just some of the roles — inhabited with gusto — by the late Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar, 66, who died last week. As she is today commemorated in Arima, we join the nation in mourning her passing and call on those left behind to continue her work of advancing recognition of the First Peoples.
Cassar was inaugurated Carib Queen in August 2011. She had succeeded Valentina Medina who had died in April that year.
“We expected to have Mrs Cassar with us for a very long time,” said Arima Mayor Lisa Morris-Julien last week when news of Cassar’s death broke. “She was loved by everyone, by her neighbours, by the entire community.”
While Cassar has left us too soon, her legacy will endure. She worked, at times quietly, at other times very publicly, to further the cause of the First Peoples. For instance, she represented the Santa Rosa First Peoples at the Third Indigenous Leaders’ Summit of the Americas in Panama City in April 2009.
In December of that year, she participated in a seminar on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Caribbean in Port of Spain. Earlier this year she led a delegation in a courtesy call on President Paula Mae-Weekes.
“She had always wholeheartedly embraced her indigenous identity and sought to encourage others to also take pride in their heritage,” the President said this week in tribute.
Cassar was the first queen to hold a secular job. She was born in Malabar to a half-Carib mother. Her maternal great-great-grandparents were of full Carib ancestry.
She joined the public service in 1971 and served in ministries with responsibility for education, community development, culture, sports, health and, finally, at the Judiciary.
She also served as a cultural activist for more than 30 years, as a member of the National Carnival Commission’s Regional Carnival Committee with responsibility for coordinating stickfighting competitions.
It was Cassar’s dream to establish an Amerindian village in Blanchisseuse and the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community was granted 100 acres from the State towards this venture. She also lived to see the grant of a historic one-off holiday on October 13 last year.
Arima has had six Carib Queens. The list includes Delores MacDavid nee Medrano (1875-1908), Maria Fuentes Werges Ojea (1908-1962), Edith Martinez nee Werges (1962-1987), Justa Werges (1988-2000), Valentina “Mavis” Medina (2000-2011) and Cassar nee Pile (2011-2018). The First Peoples will have a serious task ahead when it comes to designating a successor.