Today Guyana joins the rest of the world to observe International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples 2022, themed: ‘The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation & Transmission of Traditional Knowledge’.
On August 9 each year, this worldwide celebration is observed, as this date coincides with the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This Working Group was created to provide an opportunity for Indigenous People to share their experiences and raise their concerns for the attention of the international community. Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai, in her message, said: “Women have a significant role to play in the development of their countries, and we have continued to shatter the glass ceiling in every regard. It is no different for Amerindian women, who have had the starting line pushed back even further, but have managed to shine in every sector. At every level of our country, it is pellucid that Indigenous women are taking up their rightful positions. In the Government, we have several Indigenous female Ministers and Members of Parliament, and at the local level, there continues to be an increase in the number of women taking up leadership roles as Councillors, and even Toshaos. Specifically, with the continued deliberate actions to promote and preserve Indigenous traditional knowledge, the role of Indigenous women as a pillar of their communities cannot be overemphasised.”
If one can recall, at the launching of Amerindian Heritage Month after he was sworn into office, President Irfaan Ali had laid out his administration’s plans and programmes for the development of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples for the next five years.
It was indeed a detailed plan which included several critical components aimed at ensuring that Guyana’s First Peoples are not excluded in any way from the national development agenda.
To its credit, the PPP Government has acknowledged that land is central to Indigenous Peoples’ development, and always treated Amerindian Land Demarcation and Titling as a priority.
Further, it was very encouraging that, since taking office, the PPP Government has restored several development projects which were scrapped by the former APNU/AFC Government. These include: rehiring of the approximately 2000 Community Support Officers (CSOs) who were terminated by the previous APNU/AFC Government when it took office in 2015; reintroducing Community Development Plans (CDPs) to ensure that Amerindians are able to determine the sustainable livelihoods they desire; and returning to the ground-breaking partnership forged through the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and advance the innovative “OPT IN” feature, which allowed villages to benefit directly from the proceeds of carbon-trading services.
In his address, the President had also promised that Amerindians can look forward to improvements in social services such as education, health care, and water. He said that health facilities would be increased, upgraded and better equipped to provide enhanced and more accessible health care across the hinterland. This indeed is badly needed, as many hinterland residents have to travel extremely long distances to access basic medical services.
Many health institutions in the hinterland still do not offer the level of services required by patients, and hence patients are forced to travel to Georgetown at a very high cost.
The same situation exists as it relates to educational opportunities for Amerindian students. Many hinterland schools still do not have a full complement of trained teachers, and are not equipped with IT technology, thereby limiting the student’s ability to achieve their full potential. Amerindian students must be able to have the same access to educational opportunities as others in any part of the country.
That said, we believe there is need for more collaboration between the Government and other development agencies to support and fund community development projects, skills training etc, that would see Amerindians having better access to opportunities to advance their lives.
Also, the relevant Ministries, such as Amerindian Affairs and Labour, along with the responsible NGOs, must step up their efforts to ensure that Amerindians are not exploited in any way.