For over a decade, a miner has been operating on their titled land without their consent and despite numerous complaints to the authorities, no action has been taken, the Toshao of the Amerindian village of Chinese Landing said yesterday.
In a ‘open letter’ to President Bharrat Jagdeo, which was also published as an ad in yesterday’s Stabroek News, Toshao of the North-West District community Theophilus Fernandes asked the intervention of the President “in a matter we consider to be blatant violation of our rights as indigenous people”. He said that the mining rights have since been transferred to foreign mining companies and requested assistance to “remove the exploitative conditions that have been forced upon us.”
Attempts to contact Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ officials yesterday on the issue were unsuccessful as persons there said the relevant officials were not around at the time. Fernandes expressed disgust at the situation, saying that the medium scale miner had been repeatedly granted renewal of a mining licence to mine at Chinese Landing without a proper arrangement being put in place with the community. He said that they do not want the mining permit to be renewed again.
According to the letter, over the past 15 years the community’s dream of securing its lands and resources which would have been to the benefit of its people and generations to follow was short –lived after a mining concession operated by a private individual was granted rights to half of their land. The village received title to its traditional lands in 1991, however the miner was granted rights via an auction by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to operate within four medium scale mining blocks through a bidding process.
This transaction took place without the knowledge and consent of the residents and village council, Fernandes said. “Since that year, the life of the people of Chinese Landing has been one of exploitation, intimidation, abuse and total contempt brought about by the miner and some associated with him,” he said.
Fernandes said that in 1998, then Toshao Hubert Roberts and a village councillor had signed an agreement with the miner in question and subsequently in 1999 another agreement was signed with the company which reportedly received the blessings of then Amerindian Affairs Minister Vibert De Souza. Fernandes said that the village council was not in agreement with pact as it was “totally in favour of the miner”. It was noted too that numerous complaints were made with the Amerindian Affairs Ministry.
The agreement came to an end in 2003, following which then Amerindian Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues wrote to the Prime Minister advising him of the council’s position on the issue. The GGMC nevertheless granted a renewal of the permit to the miner and Rodrigues, in February 2007, subsequently penned another correspondence to the Prime Minister in which she stated that, while the permit may have escaped the passing of the Amerindian Act in 2006, the GGMC was aware of provisions made within the legislation. She added, “Further, it is total disrespect for the Chinese Landing community and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs,” she had said, according to the letter.
Fernandes said that the miner in question has since sold rights to the mining block within the Amerindian reservation to Canadian mining company Strata Gold, then subsequently Victoria Gold and Takara Mining who now holds the mining rights. But this newspaper was told that these were mere changes in the names of the expatriate company. “All of these transactions took place without our knowledge and consent and we have not received any benefits,” the village chief said.
He said that in September 2009, the Village Council travelled to Georgetown to express their concern to Minster of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai and were shocked when she rebuffed them and told them Amerindians had no mining rights.
Late last year, representatives of the village council told Stabroek News during a visit to the Moruca sub-region that the community had been at wits end over the land issue and they expressed frustration at the manner in which their views were handled by the authorities.
“For the past 15 years during which the miner has been issued permits to use our titled lands by the GGMC against our wishes and in violation of our rights, the Chinese Landing community has received very little benefits from the mining operations that have exploited the mineral resources which are found in our lands. In the meantime, we have remained poor, most of us are illiterate and we face growing social problems,” Fernandes said. “Despite the many difficulties that we face, we are determined to improve the conditions under which we live, for ourselves and our children. However, we can only develop our community if we obtain help to remove the exploitative conditions that have been forced upon us,” he added.
Amerindian People’s Association Programme Manager, Jean La Rose told Stabroek News yesterday that the Chinese Landing issue “is just a microcosm of issues affecting indigenous communities.” Relevant agencies such as the Amerindian Affairs Ministry “do not acknowledge that there are problems affecting Amerindian communities,” she said.
La Rose said that the village council had “no one else to turn to” since every effort made by the Village Council to solve the issue had failed.
She said that officials of the government had met with the village council to discuss the conflict but nevertheless it was decided by the relevant mining bodies within the government that “they would go ahead with the company in the area and mine.” The Chinese Landing village council had approached the Office of the Prime Minister in this regard as the Prime Minister who holds the portfolio of Minister of Mining should have addressed the issue, but according to La Rose the community “was left on its own.”
Stabroek News was told that at the last National Toshaos Conference held at the International Convention Centre at Liliendaal last November, the council had met privately with the authorities to discuss the issue and representations were even made to the President on the issue at the meeting. La Rose noted that, “we (the APA) were told that nothing ever came out of those discussions.”
She expressed disgust at the situation faced by the village council in question, saying that “this should not have been the case” with the village forced to seek redress from the government via the media.
La Rose said that over the years, conflicts arising out of miners being granted permission to operate within communities governed by village councils have been put to the authorities but with no result. She said that APA had spoken to the GGMC as well as the Amerindian Affairs Ministry on similar issues and she listed the communities of Campbelltown in Region 8 close to Mahdia as well as Arau and Issano in the Region 7 area as villages which have been facing similar problems as Chinese Landing.