With land rights in limbo, Kurutuku being destroyed by mining – Toshao

Residents of the Region Seven community of Kuru-tuku are concerned that the authorities seem not to be acting on their application for land extension and say mining operations on land they consider as their own are damaging the environment.

“We had applied for these areas and mining is going on. A decision has not been made so it seems like by the time a decision is made the whole area is going to be dug out with pits and the environment damage. That is the area we are going to get,” said toshao of the village, Solomon Lewis. In an interview with Stabroek News, he said that mining operations are damaging a creek which some villagers use for domestic purposes. He expressed surprise that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) had allocated the lands since they had encountered similar problems before and they had stopped miners.

Kurutuku is found in the Upper Cuyuni and is home to 154 persons from the Carib Amerindian tribe. Lewis said that they had received a land title in 1991 which recognised only a small portion of the land the villagers considered their own. He was surprised last year when at the National Toshaos Conference, he received another title for the same piece of land but the land the village had applied for was not included, he said.

Solomon Lewis

Lewis said that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MOAA) several times and upon advice from an official from the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, in 2009 they applied for lands that are on both banks of the Cuyuni to be included as their titled land. He said that they reapplied for the same land in August last year since they did not get any response to the first application.

Later, he said, after meeting with Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, the village council applied for another piece of land as a community mining reserve.

But, Lewis said, last June, a Brazilian miner entered the area to work. Upon being questioned, the miner produced documents that showed that a “Steve Edwards” has been granted mining concessions within the same land, the Village Council had applied for as an extension of the village and he had given the miner permission to work in one of the mining blocks.
The toshao said on June 27, he met with Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai, the then land officer at the Ministry and now Minister of Local Govern-ment, Norman Whittaker, Hinds and an official from the GGMC to deal with the mining concession issue. He said that Hinds committed to sending information through the MOAA with regards to the decision taken within seven days after July 1. To date, they have not received a decision, Lewis said.

He said that to date, 30 dredges are working in the area as well as six excavators. At least two operations are working day and night, he said. “These activities are being allowed by the GGMC while we are waiting for the decision from the Prime Minister regarding our applications,” he observed.

Lewis said that at the recent NTC meeting, he raised the issue but was not allowed to finish because Sukhai said that personnel from the Ministry and the GGMC were sent to the area to deal with the issue, in addition to Hinds looking into it. Later on July 28, at a dinner for toshaos at State House, the minister said that they will discuss the matter with Hinds the next day but the meeting never happened, Lewis said.

On the last day of the conference, Lewis said, the toshaos who did not get a chance to speak were told to put their problems in writing and have them submitted to President Bharrat Jagdeo, who promised to deal with the issues. Despite attempts to get feedback from the MOAA, he was unsuccessful, Lewis said.

He said that he had requested the cessation of mining on the area that was being applied for but to date has not received any response as to if or when the issues with mining and extension would be resolved. Lewis said that families depend on the area for fishing, hunting and farming. Three creeks are used for domestic purposes as well since they have been informed for some time now that the Cuyuni River is too polluted for use, he said.

He expressed concern at the time it is taking for the issue to be resolved. “It seems as though we are not getting anywhere or it seems very doubtful because those very areas that we know to be our land (has been) granted as concessions for miners,” he said. “This is my concern because although no decision is being made by the Prime Minister, how come miners (are) still given the go-ahead to work in these areas.”

Lewis said that the Wapay Creek, used by some villagers, is now heavily polluted by the mining activities upstream. He expressed surprise that the GGMC had granted permission after they had shut operations in the past for pollution. (Gaulbert Sutherland)

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