Caribbean Indige­nous Peo­ples call for “a seat at the ta­ble”

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

The Caribbean’s indige­nous peo­ple have urged that they be given a seat at the po­lit­i­cal ta­ble so as to safe­guard their rights to their an­ces­tral lands and re­sources, as they wrapped up an his­toric Univer­sity of the West Indies con­fer­ence of indige­nous peo­ples over the Labour Day week­end.

The call for po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for the mi­nor­ity first peo­ples of the re­gion is one of a slew of rec­om­men­da­tions on health, ed­u­ca­tion, gen­der, sus­tain­able liveli­hoods, land rights and ac­cess to jus­tice, drafted af­ter three days of de­lib­er­a­tions by the lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of indige­nous peo­ples from six CARICOM na­tions. Host coun­try Belize is home to more than 50,000 Maya and Gar­i­funa peo­ples, roughly one-tenth of the pop­u­la­tion.

The con­fer­ence, or­gan­ised by UWI IM­PACT Jus­tice, a Cana­dian-funded project to im­prove ac­cess to jus­tice in the Caribbean, has been hailed as a rare, unique and his­toric gath­er­ing of the re­gion’s indige­nous peo­ples and a recog­ni­tion of the need to re­dress cen­turies of degra­da­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion. “The Indige­nous peo­ple have very lit­tle rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the lev­els of gov­ern­ment be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal party sys­tem that ex­ists in most of the Caribbean and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, and be­cause the indige­nous peo­ples are a mi­nor­ity in those coun­tries we find that the po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion is al­most not there,” stated Louis Pa­trick Hill, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Do­minica’s Kali­nago chief.

The con­fer­ence pro­posed that New Zealand’s model of rep­re­sen­ta­tion for its indige­nous Mori peo­ple, which re­serves seats for rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Mori in par­lia­ment, be adopted. The con­fer­ence also called for a for­mal con­sul­ta­tive process which gives voice to indige­nous peo­ples’ rights and con­cerns in the clash with gov­ern­ments over ex­ploita­tion of their lands. At the level of in­ter­na­tional law, there was a call for CARICOM gov­ern­ments to rat­ify Ar­ti­cle 169 of the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ILO), con­sid­ered the most im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional law guar­an­tee­ing the rights of indige­nous peo­ples. The 1989 con­ven­tion de­pends on a high num­ber of states rat­i­fy­ing it to give it greater power. Do­minica,

which rat­i­fied the con­ven­tion in 2002 is to date the only CARICOM mem­ber state to do so.

One of the work­ing groups formed dur­ing the con­fer­ence to make rec­om­men­da­tions for fol­low-up ac­tion on so­cial pol­icy also iden­ti­fied a litany of set­backs, de­pri­va­tions and dis­crim­i­na­tion that has led to a fur­ther marginal­i­sa­tion of indige­nous peo­ple.

It cited a loss of oral his­tory, the ab­sence of a writ­ten his­tory and an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem marked ei­ther by lim­ited ac­cess or ir­rel­e­vance to indige­nous peo­ple.

The con­fer­ence rec­om­mended that pro­pos­als be ad­dressed di­rectly to the CARICOM Coun­cil of Min­is­ters of Ed­u­ca­tion for an im­proved cur­ricu­lum.

Cristina Coc of the Toledo Al­cades As­so­ci­a­tion, a group of Mayan tra­di­tional lead­ers in south­ern Belize, made an emo­tional ap­peal for recog­ni­tion and re­spect for the first peo­ples of the re­gion.

The UWI con­fer­ence was no­table for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of two jus­tices of the Caribbean Court of Jus­tice, Adrian Saun­ders and Ja­cob Witt. Last year, the CCJ up­held the land rights of the Mayans of south­ern Belize.

The meet­ing was also at­tended by the high­est rank­ing Amerindian in the Guyana gov­ern­ment, Vice Pres­i­dent Syd­ney Al­lic­ock, along with At­tor­ney Gen­eral Basil Williams and Indige­nous Peo­ples’ Af­fairs Min­is­ter Va­lerie Gar­rido-Lowe. They were joined by a host of aca­demics and ex­perts in law, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion and ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy from the Caribbean, Canada and the United States.

Jus­tice Adrian Saun­ders of the Caribbean Court of Jus­tice (CCJ). Last year, the court up­held Maya land rights in Belize in a land­mark or­der.

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