Amerindian Heritage Month was launched yesterday under the theme “Guyana’s first peoples; sustaining a rich cultural environment.”
This year heritage month comes at a trying time for our Amerindian brothers and sisters with respect to their land rights and development within their communities. At the just concluded Annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference the Government came in for stinging criticisms regarding issues relating to the development of Indigenous people in Guyana.
Among the issues that attracted most criticisms was the fact that many of the real issues which are affecting indigenous communities were not properly addressed since Government ministers, unlike what occurred in the past, showed up just to engage the NTC at this very last moment. Toshaos were justified in their criticisms that such behavior questions the sincerity of the Government in addressing their plight.
But even as Guyana celebrates Amerindian Heritage Month 2017, all Guyanese must be conscious that our culture is dynamic and complex. Owing to an interesting unification of six ethnicities, Guyana’s cultural fabric is interwoven with African, East Indian, Portuguese, Chinese, Indigenous and European influences.
Most of today’s international conflicts are driven by differences, including economic and class tensions, and are masked by ethnic and religious differences. Thankfully, Guyana has been spared the atrocities associated with religious and cultural extremism.
One of the main factors which have essentially shielded us is that many in our society have remained open to the viewpoints, thoughts, and experiences of others, and have actively sought to explore and honour those differences.
Over the next month, we will join our indigenous brothers and sisters in celebrating Amerindian Heritage, and will be invited to participate in the many planned activities across the country. We will undoubtedly be exposed to many aspects of the Amerindians’ rich and diverse traditions, most of which we are familiar with; many will be new to us.
In these instances, it is apt that we remain respectful and mindful of our viewpoints, lest we offend. We must at all times guard against the temptation to judge as wrong views that are different from ours. There will be instances when cultural norms of one group may make us uncomfortable. However, we must resist the urge to judge. Instead, we should make a conscious effort to understand the other perspective.
As was pointed out in a previous editorial during the launch of the Amerindian Heritage celebrations 2016, a religious leader was reported to have made several unpleasant remarks which were said to have offended our indigenous community. While the ‘faux pas’ was dismissed as being “a matter of opinion”, it is apposite for our leaders to take note. This is especially directed to our religious leaders, who have a vital role to play in leading the fight for religious and cultural harmony.
It is true that we are entitled to our opinions; it is also true that we should feel comfortable expressing our views, this goes without saying. However, we need to avoid imposing our own values on others. Again, because we live in a plural society, we need to make a conscious effort to understand the perspectives of others.
It goes without saying that our answers to important societal problems will not be identical. Also, our understanding of the causes of existing issues will not have the same frame of reference. But, like most things, the development of our cultural identity, our tolerance and understanding are all ongoing processes. Every opportunity that our society is given to celebrate and unite can be used as a platform where individuals, organisations and groups can become aware of each other and recognise existing commonalities.
During the coming month, scores of events will be held nationwide to celebrate a very important aspect of our culture; let us proceed in the spirit of peace and tolerance.