Professor’s work helps to give the Taino people a voice

By: Gerry Rucchin
January 15, 2019

“For many years, I never talked about it publicly.”

However, her research into the Taino caused Faculty of Education professor Erica Neeganagwedgin to publicly challenge the belief that the Taino were extinct.

Neeganagwedgin is Taino and her research on Taino people has led to keen public interest and she has been invited to talks throughout North America.

The Taino are an Indigenous people whose ancestral lands were impinged on by Christopher Columbus in 1492 approximately 526 years ago in geographical parts of the American continents including Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Greater Antilles.

Although the history books have declared the Taino people extinct, a movement that’s challenging this belief has developed. The movement started because Taino people, such as Neeganagwedgin, began to publicly identify themselves as Taino and rewrite history from their own community and voices.

Through her longstanding research, Neeganagwedgin found historical references which mentioned existing communities and last names past down hundreds of generations with which she was familiar.

“I was literally shaking coming across this information,” she said. “and from that moment I knew I had a responsibility to do my part in acknowledging and honouring my Taino people.

She started at the 6 th Annual International Charles Town Maroons Conference, on Indigenous Peoples and Indigeneity in Jamaica. Neeganagwedgin publicly declared she was Taino while she was presenting a paper on Taino Nation resurgence and self-determination. Her statement made headlines throughout the Caribbean media.

Boldly declaring her identity has also increased interest in Taino peoples. She was invited to give a presentation at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts during its Caribbean Awareness Week, on the history and contemporary experiences of Taino people. She was asked by a professor from Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom to contribute a scholarly paper on the Taino and the Jamaican Association in Montreal has invited her to give a talk on the Taino Indigenous people where government officials from the Caribbean will be invited to hear her speak in the Spring of 2019.

Neeganagwedgin research, as well as the work of other Taino scholars and community members, is changing the narrative about the Taino. They have gone from being considered extinct, a story not written by them to being acknowledged. She’s glad that she’s had an impact on changing the discussion of the history of the Taíno people. 

“It’s about identity. It’s about yourself, your community – being able to claim who you are without someone imposing an identity on you is part of your self-determination.” 

In a very real way, Dr. Neeganagwedgin is contributing to the Taino writing their own history.