Amerindian land rights under threat

A United Nations publication on the state of the world’s Indigenous peoples reveals that all over the world first peoples continue to suffer from disproportionally high rates of poverty, health problems, crime and human rights abuses.
According to the UN study, Indigenous peoples make up around 370 million of the world’s population – some five per cent. However, according to the survey, they constitute around one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people. The report states, inter alia: “Every day, Indigenous communities all over the world face issues of violence and brutality, continuing assimilation policies, dispossession of land, marginalisation, forced removal or relocation, denial of land rights, impacts of large-scale development, abuses by military forces and a host of other abuses.”
The report also draws a dismal picture of the fate of Indigenous peoples worldwide. It stated, “… statistics illustrate the gravity of the situation in both developed and developing countries. Poor nutrition, limited access to care, lack of resources crucial to maintaining health and well-being, and contamination of natural resources are all contributing factors to the terrible state of Indigenous health worldwide.” The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples report was authored by seven independent experts and produced by the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
However, the social demographics for Guyana’s hinterland communities and Indigenous peoples changed with the advent of the PPP/C Administration.
While the first peoples of this country comprise approximately 9.1 per cent of the population, they currently own in excess of 14.1 per cent of the land, including the forest resources within their titled lands. This is their bounden right because they are the traditional keepers and guardians of the rainforests, for which Guyana was bountifully rewarded through the Norway pact. Amerindians also received protected rights by way of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and when the PPP/C Administration passed the Amerindian Act 6 of 2006.
In fairness to the previous Administration, it made great strides during its tenure in office to protect Amerindians’ rights to their land.
The unprecedented granting of titles and demarcation grants was full proof of a sincere and firm commitment by the previous Government towards protecting the land rights of the Indigenous peoples of Guyana.
It would, however, seem that the current coalition Government has diverted from its many pre-election promises to the Amerindians and has demonstrated no political will to execute a comprehensive developmental agenda for this country’s first peoples. Its promises seem to be constricted to political statements that are often empty and, at best, rhetorical.
Relative to Amerindian development, the very basic principles of consultation, participation and authority to govern and administer their affairs were the foundations of the previous Government’s strategy for development that have already been tested during its tenure, and that have put the Amerindian way of life many notches higher than what it was during the PNC era.
However, in a letter penned by Amerindian representative Alister Charlie, he expressed fear that his people were now in danger of returning to the ethos of yesteryear, when the Indigenous peoples were alluded to and treated in a derogatory way.
While the previous Government (now in Opposition) remained steadfast in its resolve and commitment to uplift the present malaise of Guyana’s Amerindians, whose rights and welfare had often taken the backseat, the current coalition Administration seems to be taking the Amerindian community down a retrograde path through the establishment of a land rights commission that is programmed to address African and Amerindian land rights together.
The rights to land, territory, and resources are well entrenched in the Amerindian Act of 2006.
Amerindian Villages have the right to independently set their respective rules that are not contrary to existing law. The Amerindian Act of 2006 and the Constitution of Guyana clearly stipulate the participation and involvement of Indigenous peoples in policy formulation. The Act has been enacted through massive consultation with the village leaders and villagers.
The issues on titling as have been documented in the Amerindian Lands Commission Report of 1969 are respected by the State and Amerindians as well. Efforts in bridging gaps between the said report and the present land titling systems had been in constant review by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MOAA) and the Amerindian leaders and villagers.
On Sunday, more than 800 Amerindians, from more than 13 villages in Region One (Barima/Waini), unanimously passed a motion that condemns the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) by President David Granger to “examine all issues and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling”. This is the latest in the committed efforts by the Amerindian people to reject the Government’s ploy to set up a land CoI.