Vice Chairman of the National Toshao Council Lenox Shuman said that the Indigenous peoples are
continuously being faced with discrimination and neglect, and called on the Government to urgently address the situation.
He stated that Indigenous people have the right to be protected by the State, noting that there are indications of letdown.
“Under Article 149, it states that the State has an obligation to protect the Indigenous Peoples and their cultural way of life. If any Government truly looks at Indigenous peoples and how the article applies…they would see that we are still not being taught in our own language,” he emphasised.
He opined that Guyana has to move from a “paternalistic model” that currently exists into something that gives the Indigenous peoples more autonomy.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has lambasted the government for what it said is its blatant neglect of the Indigenous peoples of Guyana.
The party’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira had stated that while the PPP/C Government cannot boast of reducing poverty to zero during its tenure, it was able to do appreciably enough to advance the lives of persons living in the hinterland.
She declared when the Party left office in 2015, there was water; lights; and every village had a nursery and primary school.
She said the PPP would be willing to fully support any venture the Government would take to improve the lives of Amerindians.
However, Member of Parliament and former Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai said since the coalition government took office 2015, there has been little progress in the lives of Amerindians, particularly for the youth.
She spoke of the termination and cessation of several beneficial projects for Indigenous students and questioned the reason behind government’s move to do this.
Her comments come on the heels of probes from the media on whether the PPP was pleased with the way it left the Indigenous peoples before the elections, and if it should be criticising the current Administration for its move to distribute shoes to Amerindian students.
However, she contended that the Indigenous people did not escape the discrimination and “witch-hunting” after Government took office.
“We could point to the dismantling of the land titling unit and the dismissal of the Project Coordinator, Associate, and the CDP Project Coordinator… We saw the discrimination against the youth, the dismantling of the Young Entrepreneurship Programme which was replaced with a less effective programme, HEYS.”
Shuman stated that land titling programme is a vital step toward Indigenous peoples’ development: “If we cannot get land then we cannot get security. We have to remember that these people existed for centuries. According to international laws we are the owners of these lands yet the State fails to recognise the land titling programme even though it is drafted within the legal framework of Guyana (and) needs to be addressed in how we define ownership.”
He further indicated that the law needs to be re-examined in how they define ownership.
The Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) Project seeks to enable Amerindians to secure their lands and natural resources with a view towards sustainable social and economic development. It is expected that titling of communities will strengthen land tenure security and the expansion of the asset base, enabling improved long-term planning for their future development.
Shuman also stated that the Toshaos and councillors are given a meagre stipend of $30,000 to look after the affairs of their communities. However, he stated that the money is small and does not help in assisting them to provide for their families. He explained that their post requires spending sometimes all day tending to the affairs of the communities, leaving them with no time to provide for their families.
Thus he stated that the ministry cannot demand accountability if the leaders are suffering. “If you cannot pay someone anything just having them volunteer all the time then what kind of accountability do you expect from them. They could simply walk away the job.”
He stated that many councillors would quit their jobs because they want to “go and earn for their families.” Therefore the discrimination and neglect of the people are one of the reasons why the Amerindians are eagerly anticipating the revision of the Act:
“That is why we are looking forward to the revision of the Amerindian Act as a very vital part of addressing Indigenous people’s rights and moving forward if we cannot address it then we would see the continuous destruction of Amerindians and eventually lead to extinction. We are being dispossessed of our lands and eventually it would be our culture.”