Indigenous community’s integral role in national development

Next week, Guyana will be bringing the curtains down on the celebration of Amerindian Heritage Month 2021.
According to the United Nations data, there are more than 370 million Indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. However, they make up less than five per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7000 languages, and represent 5000 different cultures.
Indigenous peoples’ rights, and more specifically their right to education, have, over the past 25 years, become an important component of international law and policy, after being neglected for many decades. This importance was driven not only by nation states at the domestic, regional and international levels, but by Indigenous peoples themselves.
Indigenous peoples’ right to education is protected by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which in Article 14 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
In Guyana, rights of Indigenous peoples are protected by the Amerindian Act of 2006, which clearly states it is “an Act to provide for the recognition and protection of the collective rights of Amerindians, the granting of land to Amerindians, and the promotion of good governance within Amerindian Villages and Communities”.
Particularly, Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations. According to the UN, in the Latin America and Caribbean Region, on average, 85 per cent of Indigenous children attend secondary education, but only 40 per cent complete that level of education.
Locally, advocacy for improved education has been a loud trajectory and has yielded much fruit. The Hinterland Scholarship Programme (HSP) affords academic opportunities at both the secondary and tertiary levels, and has taken centre stage in the revitalisation of Amerindian education. This programme allows for the integration of hinterland students into the wider Guyanese society, and provides students with quality secondary and technical education not accessible in their communities. According to Government statistics, more than 1000 Indigenous students have benefited from this scholarship, which costs millions and which has produced doctors, nurses, Medexes, engineers, teachers, and agriculturalists, among other professionals.
At a regional level in Guyana, much to the credit of the PPP/C Administration, both present and past, primary and secondary schools exist in all administrative regions.
Laudable also is the fact that the Indigenous community has played an integral role in national development at the levels of national decision-making bodies, village councils, community-based organisations, and also international agencies. Impressively, at the highest decision-making forum – the National Assembly – sit a number of Indigenous persons. Notably, while Indigenous peoples in many countries have been dispossessed and continue to struggle for rights to lands and resources, Guyana’s national laws allow for granting of legal titles to lands, land demarcation, and extensions to strengthen tenure security. Importantly, in Guyana, the Indigenous population privately owns more than 14 per cent of the country’s land mass.
There is no doubt that the Indigenous peoples all over the world continue to struggle for equality and respect for their rights. With respect to the education of our Indigenous peoples, barriers such as discriminatory attitudes and stigmatisation of Indigenous identity in some instances still very much do exist. It is these barriers which must be broken, and this can be done by more awareness of the rich cultures of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.