Today we commence celebrations with the Akawaios, Arecunas, Arawaks, Caribs, Patamonas, Wai-Wais, Waraos and Wapishanas…all of you who form a valuable part of the rich heritage of our homeland. Your cultures are complex and diverse. The Indigenous cultures of Guyana are the oldest living cultural history in Guyana, they go back at least from the 1800s.
Indigenous communities keep their cultural heritage alive by passing their knowledge, arts, ceremonies and performances from one generation to another; speaking and teaching languages, protecting cultural materials, sacred and significant sites and objects. For Indigenous Guyanese, the land is the core of all spirituality, and this relationship and the spirit of ‘country’ are central to the issues that are important to Indigenous people today.
The Indigenous peoples hold a rich diversity of living heritage, including practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills that continue to be relevant and provide meaning in everyday life. The practise and transmission of this heritage contribute to the ongoing vitality, strength and wellbeing of communities.
The protection of Amerindian rights, the preservation of their culture and their political, economic and social empowerment will always be central pillars of the PPP/Civic Government’s policies. This Government will ensure that Amerindians are not left behind in the transformative developments which will sweep our country into a modern future over the next few years. Indigenous people, like every other ethnic group that makes up our diverse society, are guaranteed equitable benefits from national development under the PPP/C Administration.
The theme this year: “Maintaining Our Traditional Integrity, Celebrating our Cultural Identity”, is fitting in the context of the challenges presently facing our country. This theme emphasises the key role which cultural assets, including Indigenous knowledge, traditions and customs and lifestyles, can play in ensuring a safe environment as members of the marginalised Indigenous groups voice their desire to revitalise their culture and let others know about their history, heritage and customs.
“We cannot let our Indigenous culture die.” Our Government will work hand-in-hand with all the Indigenous groups to revitalise their culture through development. Their hard work is evident in the various communities, where local partners bring many initiatives to life with comprehensive skill-building, empowerment, and entrepreneurship projects.
The ultimate goal is to generate greater economic opportunities by equipping the Indigenous Peoples with the necessary skills to develop and market their own products, and building a narrative around their story, traditions and products. They are trying in every way to gain skills in English language, customer service, business administration and marketing.
They showcase their progress towards bringing their artisanal products, cuisine and cultural traditions to life, including facilitating sessions to identify commonalities – parts of their identities that link them to one another.
Finding meaning and shared identity in the word “Indigenous” simply translates to ‘Native’, the Indigenous represents the power to revitalise a rich human identity and build bridges between humans of different walks of life.
We commemorate Amerindian Heritage Month 2021 in unusual circumstances. While the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to temper our country and this year’s observances, we will not allow COVID-19 to cripple our ability to honour and celebrate with our Amerindian brothers and sisters.
As we confront the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, traditional practices will form part of the arsenal of measures intended to stem the spread of the virus. However, it is imperative that we follow all necessary guidelines and protect ourselves. While there are many threats still to be tackled in our villages, as in many other parts of Guyana, the foremost threat at present is that posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, our Government remains resolute in ensuring the safety of Indigenous communities and every other community.
It is sad to say that, during five years of the APNU-AFC coalition, there was an unfortunate regression in Indigenous people’s development, which has been immediately reversed by the PPP/C Government, unlocking a new era of rapid transformation for the hinterland communities, and our Indigenous Economic and social empowerment is now non-political and non-negotiable.
There has been a greater participation by villages in Government projects, and increased representation of Amerindians on Government Boards; The Amerindian Act will be revised and strengthened in consultation with local leaders, to reflect your evolving needs; Food production will be expanded, and food processing will be increased to bolster hinterland food security;
Skills training relevant to the oil and gas sector will include Amerindians, and business facilitation mechanisms will be enacted to allow Indigenous communities to tap into the opportunities created by the local content policy;
Our Indigenous peoples can look forward to improvements in social services, health services with many upgraded and better equipped to provide enhanced and more accessible health care across the hinterlands.
Our Indigenous children can look forward to a higher quality education, including through the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT), the provision of more and better-trained teachers, and the award of scholarships.
The hinterland water infrastructure and the electrification programme will be expanded through the use of alternative energy technologies such as Solar and Hydro power.
Our PPP/C Government knows that land is central to Indigenous Peoples’ development. That is why PPP/C Administrations made Amerindian Land Demarcation and Titling an absolute priority. The PPP/Civic Government wanted to ensure that Indigenous peoples are not deprived of their rights to the lands which they occupy, utilise, and to which they are entitled.
You will remember all the benefits for your empowerment, which were so heartlessly snatched away, are once more restored:
The Community Development Plans (CDPs) were reintroduced to ensure that our Indigenous People are able to have the sustainable livelihoods that you all desire.
Our Government has rehired those 2,000 Community Service Officers (CSOs) who were dismissed by the Coalition Government. Today you, the Indigenous People, have a Government that honours your heritage and sacrifices, and will do everything in its power to help you realise your dreams and aspirations.
The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories, and to acknowledge the important contributions of native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes; to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges native people have faced; and to know the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.