The SVG Indian Heritage Foundation was formed at a chance gathering of a few Vincentians of Indian origin at Indian Bay on August 16, 2005 when family members visited the Baptiste home. Present were Lenroy Thomas, Lucel Jenks Thomas, Deniston Bacchus, Denzil Bacchus and members of the Baptiste family including Osley Baptiste, Elvira Baptiste, Anna Insanali and Veda Scully.
Destiny must have brought the group together on that historic occasion as no one had planned to meet there on that eventful day for that purpose. When I brought up the idea of forming an Indian organization, everyone present exploded with the same desire for this to be a reality. The formation of an organization to advance the cause of the East Indians in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) must have been on the hearts of many Indo-Vincentians over the years. Several people may have thought about the idea and considered the advantages of having such an organization formed. I have been told that attempts were made as early as the 1960s by people such as Mr. Donnelly Bacchus and later by Mr. Osley Baptiste to establish an entity with focus on the Indians of SVG.
The formation of the Indo-Vincentian organization in North America must also be given credit for its work in its effort to bring the Indians of SVG together in North America. However, it was only until August 16, 2005 at 6:00 pm that firm actions were taken to establish an organization for the Indians of SVG and those in the Diaspora. The impromptu meeting at Indian Bay later got structured and the name “SVG Indian Heritage Foundation” was proposed. We later had a ‘brain-storming” session where we discussed what should be the purpose of the Foundation. Many ideas were put forward including: the apparent lack of a strong identity of Vincentian children overseas; the history of the Indians in SVG; genealogy; efforts to start Indian Associations in the past; cultural affiliation and exchanges with regional Indian organizations; establishing Indo-Vincentians chapters overseas; the Hindu religion; the exchange of information etc.
One of the most significant ideas that came out of the meeting was that the new organization should place great emphasis on the sharing of pertinent information such as our history and genealogy among Indians both in SVG and in the Diaspora. The meeting agreed to take action to have the name of the new organization registered as a “not-for-profit” entity. It was agreed that the formation of the organization should be published and a suitable venue should be sorted for a general meeting. An advertisement was therefore placed in the Searchlight newspaper, which brought attention to the formation of the group. A few months later I was contacted by the editor of the Searchlight newspaper who wanted to feature the different cultural groups of SVG in the Searchlight issue during the week in which National Heroes Day (March 14) was celebrated. On that occasion therefore an article about the East Indians of SVG was featured in the Searchlight of March 17, 2006 which generated a stir in the minds of the people of SVG and abroad and created a huge response by several members of the Indian community and also initiated wider National discussion. A subsequent article invited the public`s “…ideas, suggestions and contributions”.
Interest was therefore generated in SVG and in the Diaspora and later a lecture was presented by Vincentian Indian historian, Dr. Arnold Thomas at the UWI on June 1, 2006. Additional members of the Indian community became involved and after further outdoor activities at Argyle and informal meetings an official meeting was held at the Pitani Resort, Argyle on July 20, 2006 where the first formal Executive of the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation was elected. The SVGIHF therefore began its task of representing and catering for the needs of the Indo-Vincentian community.
The passing of an Act on March 26, 2007 by the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to recognize June 1st as Indian Arrival Day and October 7 as SVG Indian Heritage Day was one of the most significant accomplishment of the SVGIHF. However, of interest also are the other important events of the Foundation`s early years.
May 26th, 2021
Following is an addition to the above by Lenroy Thomas, which will be included in his book, Stories of our Indian Elders, to be published soon.
The early years of the Foundation were exciting ones where history was created for the Indians of SVG having had legislation passed in Parliament about them in particular. The last legislations which focus on the Indians of SVG would have been more than a hundred years previously. So the generations living at the beginning of the twenty-first century would have never heard the government discussing any topic related to the Indians of SVG, specifically. Mention must be made of some of the persons who were instrumental in propelling the early movement of the Foundation to achieve its successes.
There are several persons who shaped the way forward for the organisations holding regular meetings at Mr Osley Baptiste house, Macedonia Rock Hotel, the Helping Hands building in New Montrose, and residences in other areas of St. Vincent. Persons on the several committees in early days included Mr Lenroy Thomas, Mr Denzil Bacchus, Mr Osley Baptiste, Mr Noel Bacchus, Ms Janice Dean, Mr Branson Thomas, Mr Elmore Gaymes, Mrs Cheryl Rodriguez, Mr Junior Bacchus, Mrs Anna Insanali neé Baptiste, Mr Hannif Sutherland, Dr Junior Bacchus and Mrs Glenda Joyette. Appendix IV is a copy of the registration document of the Foundation which shows the members of the first formal committee but there were several others who contributed to the formation of the organisation.
Dr. Arnold Thomas who had done extensive research on the Indians of St. Vincent also played a significant role in sensitising the public with his articles, presentations and liaising with officials from the Governments of SVG and India and with Indian organisations such as GOPIO, the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin and the NCIC, National Council of Indian Culture in Trinidad and Tobago. He, along with Mr. Branson Thomas also supported and propelled the organisation especially in the communities of Calder and Argyle.
The Honourable Rene Baptiste, previous minister of Culture of the government of SVG also played an important role in the Foundation’s relationship with the government and has been supporting it since its launch. She was also the Parliamentarian who moved the motion to have the Act to recognize Indian Arrival Day passed on March 26, 2007. She was at Argyle earlier when the first formal Executive Committee was selected and symbolically presented the Register of Indians to the Foundation. She was also given the privilege of honouring some members of the Foundation with commemorative pins.
Mr Hanif Sutherland who arranged to have these pins made was also the designer of the logo of the Foundation. He also provided the technical services in setting up the first Website of the Foundation in 2006-2007 with Mr Lenroy Thomas and himself as administrators and forum moderators. Mr Lenroy Thomas and others in the diaspora later set up a Facebook group which lasted ten years until a new website was set up with the assistance of Mr Noel Thomas. A new Facebook page and group have since been set up by the website team, managed by Mr Lenroy Thomas, Mr Noel Thomas and Mr Colvin Harry.
The support of Mr Khani Kangal, President of the National Council of Indian Culture in Trinidad and Tobago must also be mentioned. At the first opportunity, he accepted to assist the Foundation. He was there for its launch and took pride in seeing the St. Vincent’s Register of Indians highlighted for the first time. Over the years he was instrumental in sending various cultural groups, dancers and resource personnel to St. Vincent and would be present for important functions of the Foundation.
Over the last sixteen years, the Foundation has made several strides under the leadership of four presidents, namely Mr Elmore Gaymes, Dr Junior Bacchus, Mr Hansby King and Mr Junior Bacchus. In addition to those achievements mentioned above, the Foundation established a formal relationship with the government of India. The Minister of Overseas Affairs of India, Vayalar Ravi visited SVG on the occasion of the celebration of Indian Arrival Day on June 1, 2007. This was a significant event as no Minister of the Indian government had ever visited SVG before. The first Honorary Consul of India to SVG, Mr Junior Bacchus was appointed in 2020, also a first.
The Foundation has hosted other Indian officials in SVG, hosted annual Yoga class, annual Indian Arrival Day, Annual Indian Heritage Day and the first International India Diaspora Conference was held in SVG on June 1-3, 2012. It has also facilitated visits to schools giving cultural presentations. It has conducted negotiations with the government of SVG on behalf of members of the Indian community.
The current Executive Committee of the Foundation is as follows: President, Mr Junior Bacchus; First Vice President, Mr. Dave Baptiste; Secretary and Website Administrator; Mrs Luann Hadaway; Vice President, Culture, Mr Denzil Bacchus; Vice President, Regional Coordinator, Mr Laurel Thomas; Assistant Secretary, Mrs Anna Insanali (Baptiste); Treasurer, Mrs Cheryl Rodriguez; Public Relations Officer and Website Administrator (SVG), Colvin Harry. Overseas Website and Facebook Administrators are Mr Noel Thomas, Mr Lenroy Thomas and Mr Shawn Bullock.
The Foundation was “…formed to represent the interest of the East Indian community of SVG and those in the diaspora. It aims to instil a greater sense of pride in our heritage and culture. It seeks to create opportunities for Indo-Vincentians to learn more about and preserve their history, to create and strengthen relationships and to improve all other aspects of the Indian community.” The Foundation has made monumental progress in the last sixteen years.