‒ pro­tect­ing the rights of our Amerindian peo­ple to an eth­nic iden­tity

Weekend Mirror - - EDITORIAL - By Nor­man Whit­taker M.P

The

hu­man rights and fun­da­men­tal free­dom of our Amerindian peo­ple are pro­tected through the re­vised Con­sti­tu­tion of 2003 and other Leg­is­la­tion and Statu­tory mea­sures. In fact, the Con­sti­tu­tion specif­i­cally makes pro­vi­sions for the Amerindian peo­ple.

Ar­ti­cle 35 of our Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides that “the State hon­ors and re­spects the di­verse cul­tural strains which en­rich the so­ci­ety”;

Ar­ti­cle 149G of t he Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides that “Indige­nous peo­ples shall have the right to the pro­tec­tion, preser­va­tion and pro­mul­ga­tion of their lan­guages, cul­tural her­itage and way of life”; while Sec­tion 212S makes pro­vi­sion for the es­tab­lish­ment of “the Indige­nous Peo­ples’ Com­mis­sion,” which shall pro­vide the “mech­a­nisms to en­hance the sta­tus of indige­nous peo­ples and re­spond to their le­git­i­mate de­mands and needs”.

Com­pare the ap­par­ent non- bind­ing Dec­la­ra­tion on the rights of the world’s Indige­nous peo­ples with our bind­ing Leg­is­la­tion as re­flected in:

(i) Our Con­sti­tu­tion

(ii) Our Min­ing Act of 1989 which pro­vides, in­ter alia, that “all lands oc­cu­pied or used by Amerindian Com­mu­ni­ties and all land nec­es­sary for the quiet en­joy­ment by the Amerindi­ans of any Amerindian Set­tle­ment shall be deemed to be law­fully oc­cu­pied by them”

(iii) The EPA Act of 1996, which pro­vides that “the con­cerned Min­is­ter in mak­ing reg­u­la­tions un­der this Act shall take into con­sid­er­a­tion the rights of Indige­nous Vil­lages and Com­mu­ni­ties.”

(iv) The 2009 Forests Act, which makes pro­vi­sions for “the pro­tec­tion of tra­di­tional rights of Amerindi­ans to forested areas out­side of their ti­tled land and

( v) The 2006 Amerindian Act, which pro­vides for “the recog­ni­tion and pro­tec­tion of the col­lec­tive rights of Amerindian Vil­lages and Com­mu­ni­ties, the grant­ing of land to Amerindian Vil­lages and Com­mu­ni­ties and the pro­mo­tion of good gov­er­nance within Vil­lages and Com­mu­ni­ties” through elected Vil­lage Coun­cils . These leg­isla­tive up­grade all form part of the PPP/C’s suc­cess story in the Amerindian Vil­lages and Com­mu­ni­ties.

More than these de­vel­op­ments, the PPP/C Govern­ment did com­mit ex­ten­sive re­sources and did per­se­vere with much suc­cess in its ef­forts to bring about pos­i­tive changes and im­prove­ments in the lives of our peo­ple; in­clud­ing our Amerindian pop­u­la­tion.

In­deed, the PPP/C Govern­ment of the post-Oc­to­ber 1992 era did work with our Amerindian peo­ple to bring im­proved so­cial ser­vices and phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and, in the process, cre­ate for them wider choices in re­spect of the goods and ser­vices viz; qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and pri­mary health care that were avail­able to them.

It is as a re­sult of the com­mit­ment and per­sis­tent work of the PPP/C Govern­ment that many Amerindi­ans be­came qual­i­fied/ trained teach­ers, head­teach­ers, ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cers, doc­tors, medex, den­tex, nurses, health work­ers, agri­cul­ture of­fi­cers, en­gi­neers, po­lice and army of­fi­cers, Min­is­ters of Govern­ment etc.

The Peo­ple’s Pro­gres­sive Party, through a con­sul­ta­tive process, and by pro­vid­ing the re­quired re­sources, was able to en­act leg­is­la­tion, for­mu­late poli­cies and pro­grammes, and fa­cil­i­tate ac­tiv­i­ties to give recog­ni­tion and pro­tec­tion of the rights of our Amerindian peo­ple, in­clud­ing their rights to the lands they own and oc­cupy.

We granted Amerindian Vil­lages, pro­vided the Vil­lages met the qual­i­fy­ing re­quire­ments as per the 2006 Amerindian Act, Cer­tifi­cates of Ti­tles to their lands. We de­mar­cated their lands and, where re­quested and once the cri­te­ria for ex­ten­sion of their lands were met, granted them such ex­ten­sions.

When we demit­ted of­fice in May 2015, 98 of their vil­lages had re­ceived Grants of Ti­tle to their lands, and the process of con­sul­ta­tion aimed at meet­ing and dis­cussing with ad­di­tional com­mu­ni­ties that had met the qual­i­fy­ing re­quire­ments for Titling was a work in progress.

The chal­lenges ahead for fur­ther devel­op­ment of our Amerindian peo­ple

One of the big­gest chal­lenges for the PPP/C dur­ing its term of of­fice was to strike a bal­ance be­tween so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment and the pro­tec­tion of the rights of Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to their eth­nic iden­tity. In this re­gard, we were able to ex­am­ine var­i­ous op­tions and de­velop spe­cific poli­cies and pro­grammes with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of our Amerindian peo­ple and their rep- re­sen­ta­tives in or­der to meet spe­cific needs and ad­dress par­tic­u­lar con­cerns and so build the nec­es­sary con­di­tions for more devel­op­ment to take place in the vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties.

We in­tro­duced in many of the vil­lages trans­for­ma­tive ac­tiv­i­ties aimed at trans­form­ing the vil­lage econ­omy, and in the process en­sur­ing food se­cu­rity and the cre­ation of job op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­come for vil­lagers. These in­cluded the Na­tional Hin­ter­land Se­cure Liveli­hood Project, which the PPP/C Govern­ment launched in a num­ber of vil­lages in Re­gions One and Nine in 2009 and which fo­cused on the pro­duc­tion of honey, cas­sava, ginger, pineap­ple, pas­sion fruit, aqua­cul­ture and crab pro­duc­tion.

In this re­gard, we as­sisted the vil­lages to form Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tions for each project and for the pur­pose of mon­i­tor­ing, mar­ket­ing and sus­tain­ing the projects.

An­other of the PPP/ C Govern­ment’s ini­tia­tive was the Pres­i­den­tial Grant, which we started in 2007 with G$150M tar­get­ing 140 Amerindian vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties.

This project was in­tended to trans­form the econ­omy of the Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties and en­hance the liveli­hood of its peo­ple.

By May 2015, over 150 Amerindian vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties were ben­e­fit­ting from the project to the ex­tent of G$160M. Most of the projects iden­ti­fied by the vil­lages were in­come gen­er­at­ing projects and in­cluded agri­cul­ture, trans­porta­tion and tourism.

The PPP/C Govern­ment did fo­cus on pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able liv­ing and food se­cu­rity and re­duc­ing poverty in Amerindian com­mu­ni­ties by in­ten­si­fy­ing in­come gen­er­at­ing projects in those com­mu­ni­ties.

Two years into its present term in Of­fice, the APNU+ AFC Govern­ment merely talks of the rights of Indige­nous Peo­ple, but is do­ing very lit­tle to help sat­isfy these rights.

The PPP/ C ploughed to the con­trary, the PPP/C Govern­ment ploughed re­sources and worked with our Amerindi­ans to en­sure a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion, de­cent health care, a di­ver­si­fied vil­lage econ­omy with op­por­tu­ni­ties for job cre­ation and a brighter fu­ture for them­selves and Guyana.

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