What criteria are used to determine the size of Amerindian grants?

Dear Editor,

Please permit me to respond to a letter by the Minister of Amerindian Affairs captioned “Consultations were held and agreements reached with every Amerindian community which received an Absolute Land Grant (07.09/14) in reply to an AFC press statement. I find it most revealing that the Minister in attempting to set the record straight at the same time accused the AFC of “making wild statements”. This led to some incredible revelations regarding her and her government’s modus operandi of issuing land titles to Amerindian communities.

It is shocking to learn of the reasons used to deny Indigenous peoples and communities the full right to their traditional lands and resources. Can the Minister explain why “it is impossible to grant a community (Isseneru) of less than 350 persons an area of 1000 square miles of land?” Did not the present government grant approximately 2000 square miles to the Wai Wais whose population is about 200? Yet, the Minister takes pride in her handiwork that the community of Isseneru which considers 1000 square miles as their traditional lands must accept a miserly “160 square miles (nearly the size of Barbados)” or a mere 16 percent of what they believe to be theirs. Are Amerindian communities to now accept that the criterion that the Minister and government use to grant titles is whether the land in question has some relation to the size of Barbados?

The AFC holds strongly to the view that land title procedures should be designed to regularize pre-existing rights of indigenous peoples and communities. Therefore, if the procedure is to be equitable the law must recognize and specify rights that could form the basis for delimitation, demarcation and titling of indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources. Intrinsic in all this must be recognition and protection of indigenous peoples’ communal property rights that arise from and are grounded in traditional ownership systems including indigenous peoples’ customary laws.

The AFC urges the government to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) arising from its concluding observations on Guyana in 2006, in particular CERD’s call for Guyana “to recognize and protect the rights of all indigenous communities to own, develop and control the lands which they traditionally occupy, including water and subsoil resources, and to safeguard their right to use lands not exclusively used by them, to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence.”

Idle boasts of a procedure to deal with land claims in the Amerindian Act of 2006 is not enough. All that is provided for in the Act is an unfair procedure for applying for title or extension of title that results in a decision determined solely and – in the absence of enumerated criteria in the form of rights – arbitrarily by the Minister of Amerindian Affairs. These are the trappings of a “dictator” to use your term.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Cheong

Editor’s note:

We are sending a copy of this letter to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs Caroline Rodrigues for any comments she may wish to make.

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