Head of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) Yvonne Pearson yesterday said that the body continues to look out for the interest of the indigenous peoples, while denying that it is being used to fulfil a government agenda.
“We’re not subjects or tools of the government…we are always speaking in the best interest of our people,” she told a news conference at the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, along with Toshaos of regions One, Nine and Five. “We will not allow ourselves to be used…by media or any other,” she added, saying that “someone needs to apologise to us” for the misconceptions.
Her statements came a day after several toshaos criticised the recently concluded National Toshaos Conference, which they said was used to coerce support for the administration, while ignoring important issues like land rights. Pearson’s performance as head of the NTC was also the subject of criticism.
She emphasised yesterday that the NTC is not an NGO. “People expect the Council to perform a miracle,” she said, adding that while some toshaos want the council to be independent from the government, “independence comes as you grow older. Of course we would like to be independent, but we are not there yet.”
Pearson said too that she wants the public to know that the council is working on its independence, and added that “the only financial support we get is from the government through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.”
Speaking on the issue of some toshaos being denied the opportunity to speak on issues of concern at the conference, Pearson stated, “That’s not quite true. Some of those very toshaos spoke at the conference. They had the opportunity to speak…Maybe some spoke too long and so they robbed the others….”
She further noted that on Friday, the last day of the five-day meeting, the very toshaos who complained of being robbed of the opportunity to air their communities’ concerns were offered the chance to put them down in writing for the Minister of Amerindian Affairs and the President. “In 2010 lots of commitments were made. This year there were not that many issues,” she said.
Pearson suggested that one week may have been too short a time for all the issues to be aired, while adding that it “all hinges on financial support.”
On the subject of the land issues mentioned by the unsatisfied toshaos, she stated that “Land issues are not settled overnight. They are always there.” She further noted that 13 more villages will now be allocated land titles and she encouraged the villages to send in their applications for land extensions if they so desire.
Meanwhile, Pearson also denied trying to intimidate toshaos who were reluctant to support a resolution on the fast-tracking of the release of LCDS funds by reading aloud their names at the Conference. According to her, there were two copies of the document, one being for the president and one for council’s uses, and she was “just trying to see if the names were on one (copy) and not on the other.”
Pearson expressed her hope that the toshaos who refused to sign would take a copy of it back to their villages and “read it to the people” and point out the areas that they were not in agreement with.
Among those who signalled their support for the conference and the government for its help yesterday were Deryck John, toshao of Moraikobe; Ernest Sam, toshao of Mabaruma, William Peters, toshao of Itaback, and Herbie Campbell, toshao of Sebai. They all said that the meeting was a success.
According to John, most toshaos were going home happy, after having had the chance to have their issues addressed. Sam also stated that his community’s concern was raised and was fully addressed by President Bharrat Jagdeo. He also noted that there were 176 toshaos at the conference, which made it very hard for everyone’s concerns to be heard within the five-day span allotted for the meeting. His main concern, he said, was the lack of transportation in his area in case of emergency. When he raised the issue, he was promised that he would be able to return to the community with the needed transport. Sam also mentioned that he had asked for some tools and heavy duty machinery to assist the community, which was also promised.
Campbell in turn noted that this it was his first term in office and he was very satisfied so far. According to him, the President had been of great help to Sebai in the areas of the solar panel system, the water projects, and the school feeding programme.
Addressing the toshaos who have refused to sign the conference resolution, he said, “You can’t please everyone.
‘Even Father God can’t do that.” He urged the toshaos and the various communities to “look back at what the present regime/administration has done and be very grateful” and he added that “what the President has promised us, he put into action.”
The National Toshaos Meeting was held from July 25 to July 29 at the Inter-national Conference Centre at Liliendaal.