Immediately after taking office last year, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai conducted a brief review of the work done by the then Indigenous Peoples’ Ministry over the five years of APNU/AFC rule as it relates to land titling and other development-related issues for Indigenous Peoples.
What was found was not surprising when compared to the other sectors of development under the then APNU/AFC administration. Like in other sectors, there was no real effort being made to embark on projects which would have resulted in seeing real development in communities.
For example, based on media reports at the time, the Minister discovered that the designated unit that was supposed to fast-track the Amerindian land titling project produced little to no results, while exhausting large sums of money. As a result, communities are still waiting for these titles to be issued.
In essence, there is little outcome to show for the work done within the last five years in relation to the land titling issue. It was reported that, for almost one year, the project had been put on pause, as the Amerindian Land Titling Board did not facilitate any meetings to discuss or move forward with their plans.
The new Government had to return to the process and bring the project back on track, as Amerindians have been waiting for years to have their lands demarcated and titled. The Amerindian Land Titling process was facilitated by the Amerindian Act of 2006, which catered for land titling and extensions. This led to the establishment of the Amerindian Land Titling Project, which commenced in 2013 and was scheduled to end in 2016. This was a US$10.7 million project.
It is clear that there was an absence of a proper vision by the previous Coalition Government as it relates to Amerindian development. Prior to 2015, there were several crucial, development-related projects which were started under the PPP/C Government which were either put on hold or disbanded altogether.
In addition to land titling and demarcation, there were quite a few other initiatives aimed at improving and reviving village economies, improving healthcare delivery, improving access to education, providing electricity through the distribution of solar panels etc.
For example, the National Secure Livelihood Programme which was carried out in collaboration with Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) International was a fine example of how the Government and NGOs can collaborate in ensuring improvements in the living standards of Amerindians. This project was aimed at addressing the challenges of economic development in Amerindian villages and hinterland communities. The initiative was not only meant to expand production of the locally-grown produce, but also processing of value-added products.
Additionally, there was the Presidential Grant Initiative, which was a monetary award allocated to Amerindian communities to help them establish income- generating projects to advance their growth and development.
It is quite unfortunate that the then Coalition Government did not see it fit to continue some of these projects, even though they were proven to be successful, and funding was allocated to see their completion. Fortunately, these were restored by the Irfaan Ali-lead administration after taking office in August 2020.
There is certainly need for more collaboration between the Government and other development agencies to support and fund similar community development projects, which would see Amerindians enjoying a better quality of life. Poverty in these areas could only be tackled if persons are empowered to change their situations.
Also, the relevant Ministries, such as Amerindian Affairs and Labour, along with the responsible NGOs, must step up their efforts to ensure that Amerindians are not exploited in any way. Over the years, there have been several complaints that these persons are being forced to work in terrible conditions, sometimes even being abused by their employers.
The Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) also has a role to play in seeing the development of Amerindian communities. This constitutional body was created to promote and protect the rights of Indigenous People, raise awareness of their contributions and the problems they face, and make recommendations on economic and educational policies to further their interests.
Happy Amerindian Heritage Month.