I wish to take this opportunity to salute our Amerindian brothers and sisters on the occasion of Amerindian Heritage Month. As we all know, our Amerindians are the first people to set foot in this country. Several theories have been forwarded by archaeologists as to exactly how they arrived in this part of the world but one thing is not in dispute and that is, that all the other ethnic groups came and met them in this land of ours.
Our Amerindian peoples were the only ethnic group that really escaped the traumas and brutality of plantation society. According to historians, attempts were made to use Amerin-dians to capture slaves who ran away from the horrors of plantation life. These attempts however failed as our Amerindians refused to allow themselves to be used as pawns in the service of the planter class. (Ed note: Contrary to Mr Ally’s claim, some Amerindian nations did not “escape the traumas and brutality of plantation society” and were enslaved down until 1793 in Essequibo-Demerara. In addition, the four ‘free nations,’ so called, were certainly employed to recapture runaways, etc, although with the exception of the Caribs, not for roughly the first century-and-a-half of the slavery period.)
It is an established fact that historically our Amerindians were neglected by the colonial government and later on by the PNC regime which treated them as second-class citizens. This was evidenced from the fact that there were no proper schools and other facilities in these hinterland communities. For example, there was no secondary school in the whole of Region 8 and only one each in Regions 1 and 9, neither of which was preparing students to write the CXC general examination in a manner that would have allowed them to enter the public service or to benefit from tertiary education. The number of hinterland scholarships provided to Amerindian children was not many and only the exceptionally bright were allowed places in the top secondary schools in the city. What this effectively meant was that the system was reproducing a cycle of education mediocrity not designed to uplift these communities culturally and intellectually.
All of this has now changed since the assumption of the PPP/C administration in October 1992. New secondary schools have been built in all of the hinterland regions and an increasing number of our hinterland children have now matriculated and have access to higher education.
There is a saying that one cannot be educated and poor at the same time. This saying has particular relevance to our Amerindian peoples who are today much more empowered through education and are now taking the development of their communities literally into their own hands. This is what genuine and sustainable development is all about, one that is internally driven and not, as in the past years, dependent on people from the coastland for the provision of whatever few services were provided by the state.
Today, Amerindians are taking their rightful place in society and are becoming an integral part of the development process, not only in their communities but in the country as a whole. Thanks to the PPP/C, we now have a Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and cabinet ministers who are part of the decision-making process at the highest levels. The government has introduced legislation which gives Amerindians through their elected leaders greater say in the management of their own resources.
Our country is richer for our Amerindians who continue to play an integral role in the transformation of our society. The social and physical landscape of our Amerindian villages has improved significantly with the construction of new schools, hospitals, health and recreational facilities. All of these interventions have enhanced the quality of life of our indigenous peoples. Indeed, the latest census showed that Amerindians are the fastest growing segment of the population, an indication that the several interventions made by the current administration are impacting positively on the longevity and fertility rate of our Amerindian people.