Several Indigenous communities are demanding that unresolved land issues be settled before any demarcation of the territories under the Amerindian Land Titling project.
Leaders of several indigenous villages last week met with officials of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, who told them that their communities have been identified for demarcation under the US$10.7 million Amerindian Land Titling project and they needed to say whether they would accept the exercise. However, during the meeting, the leaders said that they needed to consult with their communities before making a decision, according to accounts related to Stabroek News by two village representatives who were present at the meeting.
Leaders from Baramita in Region 1, Paramakatoi and Chenapau in Region 8, Arau, Kaikan and Chinoweng in Region 7, and Konashen in Region 9 were present at the meeting, Stabroek News was told.
Toshao of Chinoweng Davin John told Stabroek News that he got a message via radio that a meeting was scheduled with Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai on August 7 on village issues. The group of leaders, he said, met instead with Advisor to the Minister Yvonne Pearson and a few other ministry officials. He said that they were told that their communities were eligible for demarcation and they needed to say whether they would accept the exercise. John recounted that the leaders said that they have to consult with their communities and several said that they had issues of concern.
In Chinoweng’s case, John said, they wanted their application for land extension to be addressed before demarcation. The village received its land title in 1991. John explained that the village’s titled land is mainly savannah and the majority of the village’s 500 people conduct their traditional activities such as farming outside of the titled land, in the forest. He said that in 2012, they submitted their latest application for an extension of their land but have not received a response to date.
According to John, they were told that the issue of demarcation had to be addressed before extensions are looked at. He, however, said that villagers fear that mining blocks would be handed out to miners before their application for extension is considered and they could end up in a situation like Isseneru, where miners with blocks on the village’s titled land have been allowed to operate on the village’s land without the residents’ consent by virtue of a successful court action. He also noted that several other communities have had their land area reduced after the demarcation exercise.
John related that Pearson told them that they had to indicate their acceptance or non-acceptance of demarcation but they told her that they have to consult with their people. “My village is not accepting demarcation without proper information,” John said.
He insisted that the village wants its application for land extension to be addressed before it agrees to demarcation. He also said that villagers were fearful because miners have come into the area and there is also a large mining company conducting exploration work there.
Meanwhile, a representative of the Chenapau village council told Stabroek News that when they were summoned to the meeting, no proper information was communicated so they could not relate the issue to villagers. He, however, noted that the village, which is 30 miles away from the Kaieteur Falls, wants several issues to be resolved before demarcation. Currently, he said, villagers feel “imprisoned” because they feel that they will not be allowed go out of the demarcated area to engage in their traditional activities.
He explained that although they have been told that they can continue their traditional activities within the Kaieteur National Park, they feel that they are being “monitored.” It has been indirectly communicated to them that they are not supposed to do anything there because it is a national park, he said. “Our community members feel more confined to the area,” the village representative said. “We are not free… to do our traditional activities… they are monitoring us.” He said that the people of Chenapau want to be able to continue their traditional activities freely.
He pointed out too that they have heard that some communities that accepted demarcation have had their land “sliced” and they do not want this to happen at Chenapau. The village received its land title in 1972.
The village representative pointed out too that half of the 500-strong population of Chenapau live outside of the titled area and have been doing so for a number of years. He said that they have been told that they cannot get an extension of the land without demarcation. He noted that the village has not asked for demarcation and wants its concerns to be addressed first.
Further, he said, between Chenapau and Paramakatoi, there is an area of land that they want legal control of. He explained that there is potential for logging and mining in the area and they are afraid that miners and loggers will get blocks and they will be further encircled while the environment and wild animals they hunt would be affected.
He said that they plan to come up with proposals and discuss these with the Ministry and the National Parks Commission.
The Amerindian Land Titling project is funded by payments earned through Guyana’s forest protection partnership with Norway. It is being implemented by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and overseen by the United Nations Development Programme.