2017 National Toshaos Conference
National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) Chairman Joel Fredericks has announced that issues surrounding mining and matters concerning the livelihoods of Indigenous persons will come into focus at this year’s six-day meeting. Fredericks made these
comments during an interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI) ahead of the NTC meeting, which is slated to be held from August 22 to 27, 2017 in Georgetown.
On Wednesday, Fredericks was quoted by the DPI as saying that the Conference will be able to address serious issues faced by the Indigenous peoples. He also indicated that the majority of the minor issues were addressed at the regional level, at the Regional Toshaos Conferences, which were held countrywide. Fredericks also noted that this year’s Conference would place much emphasis on “bigger issues like the land and the mining and we can spend more time and give more space for people to address those issues”.
It was explained that Indigenous leaders from more than 200 communities across the country would gather in the capital city, where they would deliberate on issues affecting their livelihoods. According to the DPI, the six-day event will also provide Ministers with a chance to outline their immediate and long-term plans for Indigenous peoples’ development.
One of the hot-button matters expected to take centre stage at the 2017 NTC Conference relates to the Chenapau, Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), miners who were briefly detained by ranks attached to the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) for illegal mining in the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) in May of this year. In early June, Government had dropped charges against the 20 miners in what was
described as “a show of good faith”, after the NTC had called for their release.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon had reminded that the area was part of the protected areas system of Guyana, and stressed that mining was not permitted under the law. He then highlighted that any further mining would see the perpetrators being arrested.
However, residents of Chenapau felt that mining in the area was a matter of their livelihood and protested the heavy military presence in their community. Conversely, Protected Areas Commission (PAC) Board Member Raquel Thomas-Caesar described the heavy military presence in the KNP as a “temporary operation” that was conducted to deal with alleged mining in the reserve.
In a social media post, Thomas-Caesar had said, “…we don’t want the world to know we are going in as they would run away…there is mining in the park and there is a monitoring operation for a period (not permanent)…everyone knows this is a very sensitive issue for Chenapau Village and for the Government, and we all need to sit together as I have told Chenapau Village Council and work this out. Issues are sorted when people work together.
This KNP has had a difficult history and there are some key issues to address.”
Nevertheless, the NTC had called on President David Granger to examine the dynamics of the alleged illegal mining in Chenapau more closely, in order to amicably resolve the issue.
At that time, the NTC reasoned that the matter should not have been viewed and assessed only from a humanitarian perspective, but also for the very survival of the Patamona peoples of the upper Potaro region.
The NTC, on June 2, further described the arrest of Indigenous people as an infringement on their human rights, which denied them the ability to survive by traditional means and criminalising their activities.
A subsequent fact-finding mission into the Joint Services operation in the KNP took a drastic turn when a Capitol News cameraman Rudy Morris and Chenapau resident Anthony Melville were arrested by Army ranks. On June 12, it was reported that Morris and Melville were both taken into custody at the Muri Muri Landing in Region Eight. They were released shortly afterwards but the move was condemned by many Indigenous stakeholders groups, including the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and the media fraternity.