A blogger on your online version of your publication asked me what my plans are for Amerindians in Guyana. I think that is a fair question and I will attempt to answer that person.
First I will assume that I am the President of Guyana, and therefore have the authority to implement what is below. I will also assume that I have the funds from LCDS in the coffers of this country. These funds will not be used to give hand-outs to communities. These funds will be used to lift the Amerindian communities to a place where they can be on par with other Guyanese.
Secondly, my association with Amerindians and their cultures did not begin in the Rupununi when I came here 20 years ago. My first contact with Amerindians began way back in 1969 when my parents moved to Best Village on the West Coast of Demerara. Many Amerindians used to be patients at the Best Hospital, now the West Demerara Regional Hospital. That institution specialized in the treatment of tuberculosis, an ailment that was prevalent in Amerindian communities.
As early as then, three years after independence, the PNC showed its commitment to the well-being of Guyana’s first citizens, even when Cheddi Jagan called them the “children of the forest.” The PNC as early as then instituted the Hinterland Scholarship, which benefited hundreds, if not thousands of brilliant, young men and women.
I remember in preparation for Carifesta 1972, the PNC brought Wai Wai citizens to Georgetown to build the Umana Yana. I remember hundreds of curious coastlanders used to flock to the worksite to get a glimpse of these exotically dressed tribesmen.
When I became a Christian in 1974, the church that I attended had fellowships in Mabaruma, Wauna and Yarakita in the North West District. I used to fellowship with Amerindians. What a heavenly time we had. Their music was like nothing I heard in the churches in Georgetown.
When I got married in 1982, guess what? Yes you got it right, Amerindians were at my wedding. I joined the army in 1983 and one of my first postings was to Mabaruma. There I rekindled the friendships from a previous time and I got along just fine. During my two stints at Mabaruma, I fulfilled most of my stated missions with the help of Amerindians. I lived among them, I ate what they ate, I slept in their hammocks, and paddled their canoes. Up to now, some people from Mabaruma still call me ‘buckman.’ Incidentally, that was also my nickname when I attended UG years later. I am no stranger to the Amerindian cultures.
Having said that, it is my firm belief that the salvation of the Amerindians is in education. Education will build their capacity and present many opportunities for them. Presently, Amerindians do things from practices handed down to them through generations. In this modern world, those methods need updating if they are to remain competitive, and if they are to become mainstream citizens of this country.
Amerindians farm on a subsistence basis. The time is right now for them to get involved in large-scale farming. Education will teach them how to do so. For instance, in the savannahs, there are large tracts of land available for farming. Since we are talking conservation, it may be wise now to develop the technology to do savannah farming. The Israelis made successful farms out of otherwise barren lands. Maybe we can import that technology here.
Since we are talking food security, the lands can be used. Of course, the Amerindians will be taught management so they will be their own managers, technicians, they will do their own marketing and accounting. In other words, modernize their way of life for their sustenance and survival, both culturally and economically. Hundreds of jobs will be opened up and they would not have to migrate to foreign lands and be taken advantage of.
In the field of education, who is best equipped to start and continue this revolution? The Amerindians themselves. They must be trained to administer their own schools. As it stands now, many schools in these areas do not have adequately trained staff. With the economic boom, there will be an incentive for trained persons to return and remain in their communities. This will also extend to the other sectors as well, namely health and agriculture. We do not want to export our services since we will need all of our talents to dig Guyana out of the cesspit we have dug for ourselves.
Another area for consideration is agro-processing. We know that a lot of fruits are wasted when they are in season. We can develop the technology to preserve these fruits so that we can have them in and out of season. We can export the preserved fruits to the coastland and beyond. This will generate jobs and income for the communities.
The Rupununi is largely a cattle rearing country. Some communities can get involved in this activity with the pre-requisite support from the government agencies. This will supplement their diet and garner a lot of funds for those communities. Some communities can get involved in chicken rearing. This will capture the local market and the imports from Brazil will be minimized. Again, it is money in the ‘kitty.’
Amerindians should get involved in trades as well. These skills will be used to develop their respective communities, and by extension, the region. Presently, most of these skills are being imported, resulting in the exportation of capital that is so badly needed in these areas for development.
There are lots of economic activities that these first people can get involved in, but first, we have to give them, collectively, the capacity. We also have to dispel the belief that Amerindians are not business-like. Come to the Rupununi and you will see what a falsehood that is. Space really has limited my ability to expound on other areas. We can explore cultural tourism and expand eco-tourism. Craft has a huge potential to make big dollars on the international market. Mining is another huge earner. Minerals, except oil, found on Amerindian lands should belong to them and they must be given the capacity to manage such businesses. The gold should be sold to the Gold Board at international rates. Banks should be made to give concessionary loans to enable the integration process.
Finally, before any move is made, widespread consultation with all communities must be done. These measures will impact in some negative ways, but mostly positive ways on the lives of these people, so they must be the ones to chart the way forward. When this is done we will see scores of millionaires among our Amerindian brothers and sisters.
Their food security will be assured, their education will be entrenched, their future will be guaranteed. Their future and destiny will be in their own hands and overseen by a commission that is reflective of the various nations (tribes).
The above measures are by no means exhaustive, but through consultations, more avenues may be put forward. It is up to the policy-makers to equip themselves with the political will to make this happen. It can, and it should, with no strings attached.