Amerindians urged to exercise rights of culture protection and preservation


“As Indigenous peoples we have the responsibility to maintain the rich cultural heritage passed on to us by our fore parents. They left us our prayers, our dances, our music, our languages and so many more”.
Those were the words of Amerindian’s People’s Association (APA) Representative, Michael McGarrell in his charge to the gathering at the ceremonial launch of Indigenous Heritage Month 2017 at the Sophia Exhibition Center in Georgetown on Friday evening.
Hailing from the remote riverain village of Chenapou in the Potaro River, Region-Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) and being of Amerindian descent himself, the young activist related to the struggles of the younger generation in their fight for equal rights as the rest of the younger Guyanese generation, many having difficulty in accepting their ancestral identity.
“(They) must believe that there is pride in being who we are and where we come from, and that it is their responsibility to accept that they are the keepers of our knowledge, customs and traditions for the generation that will come after them”, McGarrell said.
However this cannot be realised without the critical role of the elder generation who are proactive in transferring critical traditional knowledge to their offspring without breaking the cycle, to ensure that they are not lost.
While the hefty responsibility lies in the hands of the state to ensure that the Indigenous heritage and are protected, it was reiterated that Indigenous peoples must be consulted and enabled to actively participate in the process of identification, evaluation, interpretation, preservation and development of the cultural and natural heritage of the first peoples in compliance with Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of “Free Prior and Informed Consent” (FPIC).
With this year marking the 10th Anniversary of the UNDRIP, two out of which Guyana is signed and bound by, McGarrell made reference to Article 11 (1) which affords Indigenous peoples the right to practice and revitalize their traditions and customs, while Article 25 of the declaration grants the right of maintaining and strengthening spiritual relationship with traditionally owned and occupied territories in upholding their responsibilities to their future generations.
While many do not, and may never understand the importance of land to Indigenous peoples not only confined to Guyana, but rather on a global scale – land is a vital part of Indigenous peoples culture which was highlighted in a presentation to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015, as lamented by the speaker.
“it must be noted that for Indigenous peoples, cultural and natural values are inseparably interwoven and should be managed and protected in a holistic manner… In Guyana, the lands, rivers and mountains are our homes and these have kept our culture alive and thriving.
That we are close with these features are evidenced in the names we have given them, some of which have been mispronounced by those who came after us. Kayik Tuwuk (you will know that this is Kaieteur) is one of the more of the famous places we have named and this place must go back to being called the way our Patamona ancestors did even before it was first sighted by a non-Indigenous person”, the APA representative suggested.
Amerindian Heritage Month 2017, is geared at celebrating Guyana’s first peoples by reflecting on their contributions; and to protect, pursue and promote Indigenous culture while trying to recapture lost traditions.