What then is the significance of this first conference on West Indian affairs? Frankly the conference never produced “solutions” because it was never intended to do so. The problems which we as a people face and the questions which must be asked are complex and involved and it would be naive to expect a two-day conference to produce entirely relevant solutions and answers. What the conference produced was a breakthrough in consciousness. It forced those attending and undoubtedly will encourage those who read the published proceedings (these are expected to be available early next year) to look in upon themselves in an attempt to see the stuff they are made of. It was if you like, a concerted effort to see whether an image which has been imposed largely from outside bears any resemblance to the reality of our situation. Are our societies as integrated as we always say for outside consumption? Can the West Indian create in an essentially peculiar way or must he imitate? Is the economic organisation which we have today necessary and suitable in our circumstances? And is our slogan-ridden political system meaningful?
These were some of the questions asked and it is irrelevant at this stage to inquire whether the answers given were the “correct” ones. What to my mind is of fundamental import is that they were asked at all and the process of doing so revealed that there are more West Indians than is generally believed who have the mental dynamism to search. And it is this search which is so important to a people who are bent on discovering themselves. Thus, in the main, the conference did not address itself to the politicians or the “leaders” of West Indian life, but to the people of the West Indies who are so often cynically disregarded by elements within and without the society.
Shall we compare this conference then to the Bandung conference of some ten years ago when the Afro-Asian peoples themselves began the road which was to lead them to a confrontation with the fundamental question of who they were and where they stood vis-a-vis themselves and others? I need not be told that the parallel does not fit exactly but then I am not interested at the moment in a tight fit. What I am saying here is that such a new level of consciousness was reached at this conference that, like the people at Bandung, West Indians felt that they were creating.
It is not of course an accident that this conference was held at this time and that it coincided with the publication of New World. The almost permanent restlessness of spirit that grips so much of the people of the world is abroad in the West Indies today. This spirit is manifest in all the territories of the Caribbean even if we allow for differences in intensity. It is a spirit which will end in our looking at the underpinnings of our society to see whether they are relevant and worthwhile. We are slowly accelerating the pace of the challenges directed at the assumptions which have in the main been hitherto accepted blindly as the guide-lines of our destiny. If you like, we are changing and nothing short of a fundamental transformation will satisfy our needs and hopes. The involvement and commitment are growing and the conference is merely a result of this unfolding process.
A report of the conference would not however be complete without a note on the people who participated and those who worked to make it possible. One should also mention the financial sources which made the sessions possible. On the latter question, the conference was run on the funds supplied mainly by Canadian firms which have financial and other interests in the West Indies. They responded to our appeal and this helped to set the machinery in motion.
The theme of the conference was “Shaping the future of the West Indies”. It was an ambitious choice and there has been no regret for the ambition. The West Indies and its peoples were discussed in terms of their race and culture, their economics and politics. Frances Henry of McGill University and Mervyn Alleyne of the University of the West Indies discussed “Race and Culture in the West Indies”; Dr. Hugh Walker, a West Indian employed by the provincial government of Manitoba and Bernard Yankey of the University of Wisconsin spoke on “Economic change and West Indian development” and Locksley Edmondson of the University of Waterloo and Alvin Johnson of McGill dealt with ”Politics and change in the West Indies.”
Members of the organising committee included Anthony Hill, Roosevelt Douglas, Claude Bruney, Ann Cools, Robert Hill, Ivanhoe Morrison, Raymond Ferguson and Alvin Johnson.