Heritage Month provides for reflection on political parties’ attitude to Amerindians

While President Irfaan Ali was outlining ambitious plans to lift Amerindian communities across Guyana to new heights, a veteran PNC politician, one who was among the leaders in the dictatorship between 1964 and 1992, Hamilton Green, decided to castigate Amerindian leaders and others in Guyana who, on one hand, praise the PPP Government for pushing Amerindian development, and, on the other hand, condemn the PNC for always abandoning the Amerindian people. Greene seemed peeved people see the PNC as a political party that worked assiduously to leave the Amerindian people behind.
In a letter published in the media, Green spoke about things the PNC did for the Amerindian people. In his missive, he was able to name only one thing he considered as something worthy of a Government or a political party with more than 30 years of being in government (1964 – 1992 and 2015 – 2020).
He referred to the Burnham Government’s change in the name of the Atkinson International Airport to Timehri International Airport after Independence. He took pains to remind people that, after 1997, the PPP removed the Amerindian name of Timehri, renaming the airport the Cheddi Jagan International Airport at Timehri. He left out the last two words.
If, after serving more than three decades in Government, one of the leaders in that Government, who served as Prime Minister for almost a decade, can name only one accomplishment, and that accomplishment is a name change for an airport, that in itself is a terrible indictment. The facts speak for themselves. The PNC, in control of governments between 1964 and 1992 and again between 2015 and 2020, abandoned the Amerindian people, and for the vast majority of the Amerindian people, they know it, feel it, see it.
But Green’s letter claiming how the PNC transformed the lives of Amerindians by naming the airport in tribute to Amerindian culture appeared in the papers in September, and it did not dawn on him that September is Heritage Month, with Guyana embracing and paying tribute to our Amerindian sisters and brothers, and using this month not only to underline the legacy of Amerindians in the history of Guyana, but to outline how we continue to transform the lives of our First People.
It was President Cheddi Jagan who took the initiative under a PPP Government to name September as Amerindian Heritage Month, and September 10 as a day when the nation, not just the Amerindian people, recognise the contributions of Stephen Campbell, a former MP under the United Force.
As part of Guyana’s Independence, one of the conditions enshrined in the agreement for Britain granting Independence to Guyana was that the sovereign Government would legislate rights for the Amerindian people, including titles to their lands. Green never mentioned that the PNC Government took more than 10 years before enacting that legislation in 1976.
The legislation did, in fact, include provision for titling of Amerindian lands, but by 1992, titling of Amerindian lands was still in the dustbin. It was the PPP Government that expanded the rights of Amerindian people and provided for greater national input by the Amerindian people with a new Amerindian Act. In that new Amerindian Act, land titling was clearly identified as a priority, and under several projects, including the Norway Carbon Credit Program under the Low Carbon Development. By 2015, the PPP Government had titled dozens of Amerindian villages.
Green needs to inform people why his party virtually terminated the titling of Amerindian lands in 2015, and why no titling was done between 2015 and 2020.
Greene must explain why, in 2016, President Granger justified the deferral of Amerindian land titling because he established a land commission to look into the claims by other groups, which, among other things, claimed ancestral land rights and, incredibly, questioned whether Amerindians were the First People, and one PNC MP deemed the Amerindian people greedy.
But it is not only land titling rights that were taken away from Amerindian communities, the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) came to a virtual end under the PNC-led coalition. Under the LCDS, billions were allocated by the PPP Government for the ADF. This was ended by the PNC-led coalition Government.
As part of the collateral damage, almost 2,000 young Amerindians employed as Community Liaison Officers were fired by the Granger-led Government. The PPP Government has begun to re-employ young Amerindians in a resuscitated Community Service Officers Programme. In addition, the ADF Fund has been resuscitated.
New roads, upgraded airstrips, new economic opportunities, better health and education have been brought to Amerindian communities by the PPP Government before 2015, and since August 2020. There are now hundreds of Amerindian teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers and other professionals, and virtually all of them came from programmes developed and implemented by the PPP Government.
New secondary schools, new hospitals, new housing and even industrial estates dot Amerindian communities. Potable water, better transportation, internet and data services are reaching more people. The PPP has reached into every Amerindian community, every Amerindian home, and brought a better living standard for Indigenous sisters and brothers. It is the reason why, by far, the PPP is the most popular and largest political party among Amerindians.