Trinidad's First Peoples say the indigenous name of airport should not be changed

The Piarco airport terminal in Trinidad, taken on September 20, 2010, by Wikimedia Commons user Saltprune416; used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

At a diaspora event attended by Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Keith Rowley during his recent trip to New York City, he responded to a suggestion that Trinidad's Piarco International Airport could possibly be renamed in honour of the country's first prime minister, Eric Williams.

“I would love to consider very seriously — and have the Cabinet consider — the naming of our airport the Eric Williams airport,” he told the crowd. At the same time, Rowley reminded the audience that Williams himself never wanted any national monuments or buildings in his name and said that his family, when contacted about the matter in the past, “would view any attempt to do otherwise as politicising his memory”.

The whole idea, however, has left the public rather divided. Some see it as a great step in acknowledging Williams's role as the father of the nation, while others think it unnecessary, including, most notably, the San­ta Rosa First Peo­ples Com­mu­ni­ty — the country's only remaining group of indigenous islanders.

Members of the Er­ic Williams Memo­r­i­al Com­mit­tee were elated at the possibility of the name change: Chairman Regi­nald Vi­dale told the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian:

It’s long in com­ing I would say, it is wor­thy of a great son of the soil, a great con­trib­u­tor to this coun­try, to our in­de­pen­dence and a great con­trib­u­tor to our re­pub­li­can­ism.

But the San­ta Rosa First Peo­ples Com­mu­ni­ty has stated that the name “Piarco” is one of the very few indigenous names given to areas of the country, which has survived colonisation and lasted past the country's independence from Great Britain. While acknowledging that Williams deserves credit for his contributions, the group noted that there already is a financial complex, plaza and science complex named after him.

They also emphasised the importance of keeping names like “Piarco” alive, as they mark the forgotten languages of the indigenous people:

This sug­ges­tion of re­nam­ing the air­port through eras­ing a name in an orig­i­nal lan­guage of the First Peo­ples would fur­ther erode the First Peo­ples her­itage and lega­cy which our com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­ues to strug­gle to pre­serve.

The country's First Peoples have not typically given the level of acknowledgment many feel they deserve, but they are not the only ones against the move. Many social media users have voiced their concerns about changing the name, which they see as unnecessary use of government funds and time:

Netizen Reshma spoke out on Twitter:

Others brought up the renaming of other local sites, such as King George V Park, which was changed to Nelson Mandela Park in 2014 and met with mixed reviews. To this day, many citizens still refer to the park by its original name:

For many, it seems, the worry is that the change will require a lot of time, money and effort for a government that could be dealing with other more pressing national issues, such as escalating crime.

In any case, the whole idea may well be a moot point: No matter how much members of the Trinbagonian diaspora may feel that renaming the airport would be a fitting tribute to Williams, nothing will be moved for the Cabinet's consideration unless his family agrees — and they seem quite happy with leaving things as they are.

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