Govt creating barriers to allocation of Indigenous lands – Yvonne Pearson
The APNU/AFC coalition Government is now making it more difficult for Indigenous peoples to obtain lands and land extensions by stipulating that they provide a Village Improvement Plan (VIP) as part of the process in the granting of their rightfully owned properties.
At the launch of Indigenous Heritage Month 2019, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Minister, Sydney Allicock told the gathering that some Indigenous villages in the country have failed to adequately occupy the lands that they possess and utilise them accordingly yet they are applying for more access to lands.
In addition, he declared that a Village Improvement Plan is important in identifying developments that are needed and that this should, instead, be the focus of the Indigenous communities in the country.
However, according to People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Yvonne Pearson, who represents the rights of Indigenous people on the Opposition side in the National Assembly, such a statement goes against the rights of Indigenous peoples that are outlined in the Amerindian Act of 2006.
She pointed out that the Government should not be withholding lands from the Indigenous communities; lands that belong to them, but should seek to honour its obligations to Indigenous folks in the country and abide by the guidelines of the Amerindian Act of 2006.
According to Pearson, at present, the livelihoods and development of Indigenous peoples are being stymied because of policies that the current Government has implemented.
She emphasised that the Indigenous populace depends heavily on farming activities on these lands; therefore, the APNU/AFC Government must facilitate land extensions since they are necessary for Indigenous folks to survive.
Minister Allicock, on Sunday at the launching activity to usher in Indigenous Heritage Month this year, had pointed out that while the issue of land rights is important, the Indigenous peoples need to take into consideration that they are not the only ones who are entitled to such.
“Then there are those [villages] that have outgrown their land space. Let us firstly justify our need for land extension, showing how, and what plans are in place to utilise the additional land…. It is also important that Indigenous peoples understand that all Guyanese have a right to share in the distribution of our resources…”
He stated that Indigenous peoples across the country need to collaborate with others to find “a middle ground” in relation to ownership and rights of lands that belong to the country.
“Our land rights are multifaceted and while it is important that our policymakers understand the value of space for other forms of life to survive…Many villages have been applying for land extension with no clear vision with how the land will be used.
Claims for ancestral lands which our fore-parents used…to hunt, fish and farm now need to be supported by a Village Improvement Plan,” he explained.
Amerindian Act of 2006
The Amerindian Act of 2006 states that a village may apply in writing to the Minister (of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs) for a grant of State lands as an extension to its village lands.
The application should include the name of the village, the number of persons living in that village, the area of land which the village already owns, the reason for application, a description of the area and a resolution passed by two-thirds of the “Village General Meeting” which authorises the Village Council to make the application.
It further states that an application shall be signed by the Toshao, the Secretary, along with two other members of the Village Council.
The application shall be accompanied by a plan showing the existing village lands prepared by a qualified land surveyor on the basis of a survey authorised by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC).
Additionally, according to the Amerindian Act of 2006, the State shall pay for the cost of the survey.
Meanwhile, for the Indigenous communities, they can apply in writing to the subject Minister provided that it has been in existence for over 25 years at the time of application and for the immediately preceding five years, it comprises at least 150 persons among others. However, the Act does not require a Village Improvement Plan for the processing or granting of land extensions to any Indigenous village or community.