DANGRIGA, Stann Creek District, Mon. May 24, 2021– On Sunday, the National Garifuna Council (NGC) held its 36th annual convention, at which the work of the council over two years was addressed, since it was not possible for the NGC to host the event last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two of the central features of the convention were the election of the council’s new officers and a keynote speech from a proud Garinagu lecturer from Punta Gorda, Mr. John Nunez. After the results of the elections were tallied, the NGC named its new president, Andrew “Mick” Castillo, who will be joined by Sandra Miranda- George, the council’s outgoing president, as 1st vice president; Beatrice Mariano as 2nd vice president; Sheena Zuniga as secretary; Darnelle Sterling as assistant secretary; Cynthia Castillo as treasurer, and Senator Erica Jang as assistant treasurer.
Despite stepping down as the council’s president, Miranda-George pledged to remain an active part of the council’s future activities. Prior to the elections on Sunday, she had said, “As 1st vice president, if successful, I can still be of assistance and push some of the things that have been there or to take [existing] projects on as my pet projects and have the president deal with other issues… It’s somebody else’s turn to go on, but I don’t mind being of assistance.” Thus, Miranda-George, as the council’s newly elected 1st vice president, intends to continue working on the projects that she had previously overseen.
When interviewed, Miranda-George highlighted what she considers to be major challenges facing the Garifuna community. She said, “Over the past year, there has always been one that would come most years that we still haven’t been able to properly address. It is one on the vocational and technical education specifically geared to Garifuna youth. And the reason it has not, we have not been able to fully address it, is that we don’t have an institution that is solely for Garifuna youth. But what we have done is encourage them to attend VoTech in their communities, in their districts.”
Another recurring issue for the National Garifuna Council is the fear of their language being lost. Miranda- George stated that this has been discussed at almost every convention. The group has made some progress in having the language taught online, but the community believes greater interventions must be made to cater for Garinagu communities countrywide. Miranda-George mentioned that the council is currently collaborating with the Minister of Education on getting teachers trained in linguistics so that they can assist in teaching Garifuna next year, which marks the beginning of the Decade of Indigenous Languages.
Another fundamental goal of the council is the empowerment of the Garifuna people. The group has called for greater interventions for economic development. Sandra Miranda-George stated, “[One of their ongoing projects] is on food security for Garinagu. And through that food security, we are also saying it is not only for the pot, but the excess can be sold and we are also looking at processing, food processing that you can do other things like with the cassava and that could eventually be exported or even sold at home.” She further highlighted the gender inclusiveness that the council wishes to promote. She noted that throughout Garinagu history, males generally prepared the land, but it was the women
who would plant crops and partake in agriculture.
Recalling her term as NGC president, Miranda-George commented on how great the overwhelming support and involvement of the smaller Garifuna communities was. She said, “It makes you feel like you’re making some progress; you are reaching out. We are going a long way, because if you will recall, years ago there was this mixed feeling about a Garifuna organization. And when you see the level of involvement now, then you say, well, we’ve really reached this far.” The outgoing president and incoming 1st vice president thanked the communities for their 36 years of service to the NGC.