Monday, February 26, 2024

First Woman of Maya Descent Elected as Governor – General in the Commonwealth

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H.E. Froyla T’zalam new Governor General of Belize, picture courtesy of Amandala Newspaper.

By Roy Lie Atjam

Belmopan, 26th May 2021.  Froyla T’zalam was sworn in as the first female and third Governor-General of Belize succeeding   Sir Colville Young. H.E. Lady FroylaT’zalamis the newly installed head of state for Belize — the direct representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Lady Froyla T’zalam, an educator, is the first indigenous woman of Maya descent to be named Governor-General in Belize and the Commonwealth.

Prime Minister John Briceño said  T’zalam brings with her more than her masters in rural development and her anthropology degree. She brings more than the total of her work as an academic, her scholarly publications and decades of experience as a community organiser – all of which makes her fully qualified for her new role.

H.E. Tzalam has played a pivotal role in defending and promoting the indigenous Mayan culture and in the development of the African-Maya History Project. The inaugural ceremony had a profound historical significance with the Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana, a Garifuna (Black Caribs) woman, standing side by side with T’zalam (Maya) to administer the oath of allegiance.

Acting Chief Justice, Michelle Arana administers the oath of allegiance to the new Governor General of Belize.

In her congratulatory messages for the new Governor-General Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General, Commonwealth of Nations stated: 

Her Excellency’s background is impressive. Whilst she is a rural development and resource management specialist, her extensive work in enhancing education across the country has been truly remarkable and inspiring. This has been rooted in her strong academic background, which has endowed her with a deep understanding of the communities that make up the Belizean population. On behalf of the Commonwealth, I wish to extend my very best wishes to the new Governor-General as she embarks on this exciting journey and takes on this great responsibility.

The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, SATIIM, issued a release congratulating T’zalam, its former Executive Director, as Belize’s First Mopan Governor-General. The release says that this is a significant moment in the history of our country and the history of the indigenous peoples of Belize. T’zalam first collaborated with SATIIM as a researcher and then back in 2014 became the executive director of the organization. The release ends by saying that T’zalam brings a unique sense of history and intercultural skill to her role as Governor-General and SATIIM expresses sincere gratitude for her service to her people, all Belizeans, and our country.

In her inaugural address to the nation, T’zalam paid tribute to Sir Colville and his wife for their unwavering commitment to Belize for nearly three decades of service. I want to thank the Prime Minister John Briceño and his Cabinet for their trust in me to serve in this high office, she said. I also want to thank the many Belizeans who have expressed their delight and support over social media and personal notes to my appointment. T’zalam told the country that with her new platform, she intends to be a champion not only for the Mayan people but for all citizens of Belize.

Although we were not financially wealthy, we had our values, she said. My parents did not raise us to see ourselves as poor. We had food and shelter. I was surrounded by family with lots of rooms to run around, as well as chores to teach me how to be responsible. She said: these chores imbibed in me an appreciation for the benefits of hard work. While the installation of a Mopan woman as a Governor-General can be seen as a symbolic milestone, it should not be seen as wilfully ignoring our colonial past. Rather, it is a new chapter in Belize’s evolution as a country for all and by all.

The new Governor-General said she intends to carry out the constitutional role of her office with the required diligence. I intend to fully build metaphorical bridges in this country, uniting all of us in the rural areas and the towns. I will use my interest in strengthening local communities to build a nation that can overcome challenges.

H.E. Lady Froyla T’zalam ended by speaking of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still being faced by the world. As all your faces are hidden by a mask, it is a visible sign that we are still in a pandemic. I wish to express heartfelt condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones to the disease. We must continue to be vigilant, concluded the newly appointed Governor-General.

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