NTC cites political interference in Amerindian communities
By Samuel Sukhnandan
As the National Toshaos Council (NTC) conference got underway on Monday at the Cyril Potter College of Education, several burning issues affecting Amerindian communities were brought to the fore from the onset, some of which included the alleged political interference in Indigenous communities and the need for strengthening of the NTC – the largest organisation representing this particular ethnic group.
Vice President and Indigenous People’s Affairs Minister, Sydney Allicock stated in his address at the opening of the annual conference that the NTC leadership appears to be weak and disjointed and urged leaders to work towards strengthening this institution. Allicock said however that leadership among villages and communities seems to be much stronger than that of the NTC executive.
“I detect the need for a stronger, more unified approach to decision-making at the level of the executive. I urge that we recognise the need for deepening the process of consultation on some critical issues between that body and the wider leadership of the NTC – this means you,” the Minister stated.
Allicock questioned whether leaders that form the NTC have been consulted on issues affecting their respective villages and whether they know what happens after the executive of the NTC makes a decision on a particular matter. On that note, the Minister said a lot more focus needs to be placed on creating positive changes in the many Amerindian villages that spread across Guyana.
According to him, too much negativity is often peddled in forums like that conference. He said while it’s important to highlight challenges that face these Amerindians villages, it would also be good to suggest sound development plans that could help with bettering the livelihoods of the people of the villages.
Meanwhile, NTC Chairman Joel Fredericks told the delegation at the conference that there is political interference, in the execution of programmes and policies in Amerindian communities, such as the establishment of towns. This includes areas such as: Lethem, in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo); Bartica in Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni); and Mahdia, in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).
“We need to have consultation, Mr President; all of these without the Indigenous participation through FPIC (Free Prior and Informed Consent). This is troubling and needs redress mechanism,” he posited, while calling for the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Commission.
Fredericks said apart from this issue, the most reoccurring issue affecting Amerindian villages until now is land rights. While acknowledging that these issues can only be addressed over a long period of time, the NTC Chairman said more work is needed in this area.
The NTC Chairman also urged leaders to work together to resolve the issue of the Amerindian Act. He said, “Let us work together instead of back and forth, pulling and tugging. We need to attack the issues and change our mindset of attacking personalities.”
Land titling and demarcation, and amendments to the Amerindian Act of 2006 are two of the topics that will be up for discussion at this year’s NTC Conference.
Land demarcation of Indigenous settlements, especially with regard to mining activity, has long been a contentious issue among leaders of these communities.
Many Indigenous leaders and organisations have voiced concerns over the imposition of mining activity on their lands to Government and the public over the years.