Several Toshaos from the Upper Mazaruni have said that the resolution on the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) coming out of the recently concluded National Toshaos Conference (NTC) was drafted without their knowledge and are objecting to its contents.
At their request, Stabroek News recently spoke with the leaders of Chinoweing, Jawalla, Kako, Phillipai, Kamarang/Warawatta, Kaikan, Arau, Paruima, who said that they refused to sign the document since they were not in agreement with its contents.
The resolution also affirmed support from the Amerindian communities for the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degrada-tion (REDD+) initiative and said that the NTC is the sole authority to represent Amerindian interests to the Government of Guyana.
The leaders said that on the final day of the conference, copies of the resolution were passed around for their signatures while it was being read by Yvonne Pearson, Chairperson of the National Toshaos Council (NTC). They said that was the first time they saw the document. One Toshao among them said regrettably he signed it because he saw the other leaders doing that.
The group opined that Toshaos present at the conference affixed their signatures without fully understanding what they were signing.
They believe that they should have been consulted in the drafting process so that their views could have been accurately reflected. This action, they opined, was a contravention of their rights to free, prior and informed consent.
Mario Hastings, Kako Toshao, said that when he asked a senior official about the lack of consultation, she said that “there wasn’t enough time since everyone was busy” and therefore she typed it. “That wasn’t a good excuse,” he said, adding that even an Executive Member of the NTC did not even know what the contents of the document were until it was given to him at the conference.
He also said that one of the clauses of the resolution, which states that the NTC is the sole authority to represent their interests to the government, is unfair.
He believes that this stipulation was a deliberate move to deter engagement with NGOs. “We have freedom to associate with whom we want to, you must not tell us how we must associate with,” he added. “Consultation is not giving information, you need to listen to us,” Hastings advised. The leaders held that although the NTC represents Amerindian interests, they do not have the right to make decisions without informing them.
On the LCDS AND REDD+, they said that they do not understand the conditions of the agreement entered into between Guyana and Norway. “If people who close to TV, internet and newspapers don’t know, what about us? We far away,” Hastings added. The Toshaos said that they would like more details on the agreement between the governments so that they can fully assess the likely impact on their way of life.
One of the affirmations of the document is “full support for the reduced emissions for deforestation and degradation (REDD+) initiative.” The leaders strongly disagree with this. They contend that they were not adequately consulted therefore it is erroneous to say that “everybody is informed.”
“Consultation is a long process,” said John Andries of Paruima, “it is not dissemination of information, rather engaging the other party.” He added that the practice has been one where when persons visit the communities, they term it consulting. While some persons have remained silent on issues which affect them, Andries said that this did not necessarily show their consent rather their lack of information.
One Toshao opined that the conference was simply a political campaign and a way of trying to project an image to the World Bank that Amerindians are knowledgeable and in full agreement with the LCDS.
Others indicated that while some leaders were able to speak about their problems, others were not given an opportunity, while others had their presentation time cut short. Norma Thomas of Kamarang/Warawatta said that when she raised the issue of a new secondary school to help with the overcrowding at the Waramadong Secondary School, she was given no reply. She said she saw a similar occurrence with other leaders whose issues were not addressed.
Meanwhile Andries said that the Toshaos from the Upper Mazaruni have been labelled as problematic. He said this is not the case, since Guyanese have different problems and they refuse to sit by and not do anything about the issues which affect them. “If they are content, that’s their problem. If we are not, then that’s our problem.” He said the conference was held to ventilate issues and all should have been listened to, regardless of issues.
Andries, who is also an Executive Member of the NTC, said that if the leaders were consulted on the drafting of the document then the ensuing confusion and opposition could have been avoided. Andries said not knowing about the resolution put him in a tough position since his fellow Toshaos expected him to have knowledge of what was going on with the NTC.
The Government Informa-tion Agency said that out of the 171 Amerindian representatives at the meeting, 166 signed the resolution.
On the issue of demarcation, he said that persons involved in the process do know or understand the geography of Amerindian land. “They are drawing lines from their desks.” He gave the example of Jawalla, whose line of demarcation left their land sliced.
From his observations, he said that the demarcation process has been accommodating of mining concessions while it is the communities which ultimately suffer. “We will demarcate our land regardless of the challenges,” the Toshao vowed.
Thomas added that Amerindians should be the ones involved in the demarcation process since they know their lands the best. “Imagine when they get it wrong they want us to apply for extension to our own land,” Andries said.
He said that over the years, the number of cutter-head dredges in the Upper Mazaruni has increased. While communities have been involved in mining as well, he said that the difference was that they were not encroaching on anyone else’s land in the process.
The leaders felt that the issues which affect them differ by community and location.
There are some communities which have been paid greater attention by the government and therefore their lives are better than those who receive less. “If you want to see the situation of the communities, then you have to visit,” one leader said.
Another said that while the President has often said that the situation of Amerindians here is better than in other countries, he does not believe that it should be boasted about and used to make Amerindians feel obligated. “This is what they should be doing; it is their obligation to the indigenous peoples,” he said.
The leaders contended that they should be fully informed and consulted about issues which will affect their communities. “You can’t take two communities and use it as a model for the whole country.”