I wish to respond to Minister Pauline Sukhai’s statement and Mr Peter Persaud’s letter published by the Guyana Chronicle in relation to the picketing exercises staged by the Indigenous people from all over the country. I am fully aware of the activities of August 7-9 in which the Isseneru Village Council played a major role, not forgetting the Amerindian Peoples Association, the Kako Village Council, the Chinese Landing Village Council and the other village councils that gave their support towards our peaceful picketing exercises.
Firstly, extracting from the minister’s statement, she used the same choice of words as Peter Persaud in a letter published some time back to describe the Indigenous people who are fighting for their land rights to be recognized by the state as “greedy and selfish.”
Secondly, she also stated “that the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is open Mondays to Fridays. Why then were the ministry’s doors closed on Friday, August 9? Officials were seen peeping through the ministry windows on the day of the picket but none came to meet with the people. What was she afraid of? We can only conclude that she did not want to hear the truth. On international World Indigenous Peoples Day she chose not to talk with us. What a shame! Thirdly, after the Isseneru court ruling in January, the minister did not make an effort to visit the community even though she was invited. How can she be a true representative to her people, when she sends unsuitable people to “take notes”?
In another part of her statement she said, “The weight of the blame should not fall on the government but on the village council which was elected by the Amerindians to govern their affairs… I am unable as Minister to wring the hands of the village councils who do not respect the rule of law.” Is the Minister urging us to respect the law that works against us? It is this law that we are asking her to advocate on our behalf to change. Obviously the conclusion is that she would be unwilling to represent us in this instance. In the first place, if the government had given land titles that had no mining concessions or even if they had compensated the concession owners, the Isseneru Village Council would not be having these problems. The High Court ruling in January has weakened the full authority of the village councils and this can be seen in cases where it is now happening to other Amerindian communities, especially in Kako, Chinese Landing and Jawalla. The Amerindian Act which was supposed to safeguard Indigenous rights is weak, since it does not have the powers to protect land rights and even environmental issues. How can the Minister defend this act?
Finally, I would also like to acknowledge that there is some development in Amerindian communities but the Minister must realize that the Amerindian people need our resources to develop ourselves. We cannot wait for the government to develop our village economy with the state of the country’s economy.
In relation to Peter Persaud letter, he wrote:
(1) “No representatives from the National Toshaos Council and Indigenous Peoples Committee were present” at the dialogues. I was present at both forums and there was a representative from the IPC and two from the NTC at the respective meetings. The two NTC members were present in their individual capacity after the request for a meeting that was made to the head of the NTC by email upon his instructions went unanswered. (2) He also asked “who was financing the activities, transportation, meals and accommodation?” Let me remind him that Amerindians are becoming independent, and the village councils are becoming “financially stable.” But we can ask the same question of him: “Who financed his election campaign?” “Who finances his travels into selected communities to give biased information?” “Who finances his time to pen the trash against respected representatives of Indigenous peoples?”
Mr Persaud also wrote that “the APA is misleading and fooling some Amerindian communities with its political agenda.” Who has more of a political agenda than Mr Persaud with his unrealistic ambitions of running for president at the last elections? If he is so concerned for the Indigenous people why is it so hard for him to convince anyone of his good intentions? Many Indigenous communities are aware of his political agenda but he does not have the integrity for them to believe him. Mr Persaud must know that the Amerindian people are tired of his political manipulations. We will stand up for our rights. And to clear the air on the NTC/ IPC issue, we had invited these two Indigenous bodies to our forums because they are always complaining of inadequate financial resources, yet we did not get the response we had anticipated.
Editor, I would like to make these recommendation:
(1) The NTC and IPC must be able to function independently without being pressed down by the government.
(2) Free, prior and informed consent must be properly obtained before any decision is made in relation to Indigenous lands, resources, human rights and cultural diversity.
(3) The Amerindian Act is weak since it does not have all the legal provisions to protect titled and traditional lands as in the case of Isseneru, Kako and Chinese Landing. It needs to be amended.
(4) Indigenous communities must have the right to develop their resources without any political intrusion.
(5) The GGMC and GFC must stop granting mining and logging concession on Amerindian titled and traditional lands.
(6) Guyana must honour its international obligations as it relates to Indigenous people and their rights.
Finally, I would like to encourage Minister Sukhai and Mr Peter Persaud to let us speak words that are positive and reassuring and begin to work unreservedly for our people, disregarding every emotion for other masters.
Secretary Isseneru Village Council