Whenever one of my indigenous brothers and sisters suffers embarrassment and pain because of disrespect and thoughtlessness shown by their fellow Guyanese, I cannot help but feel very sad. I feel angry too that up until the present day many Guyanese feel that Amerindians are inferior to them. It is crude, rude and totally unacceptable – absolutely downright disgusting!
There is a movie which plays in my head when such episodes occur. I imagine my Amerindian brothers and sisters trekking through the savannahs and moving about in the forests attending to their daily chores of fishing, hunting and farming only to be interrupted by peculiarly dressed strangers who stare at them as if they were animals instead of people. These strangers then plant their country’s flag on our soil and in their minds and language, proceed to claim our country for their country. What an odd thing to do – claim ownership of land or country that is already occupied.
Presently, there are nine Amerindian tribes in Guyana and there is evidence that there were once more tribes who roamed and occupied many parts of this country. Did these strangers who met the early Amerindians ask them for some of their land and how much land did they ask for and were they given? Or did they start marking off boundaries for themselves and with wild gestures indicate to my brothers and sisters that they cannot plant, fish or hunt within those boundaries?
The Amerindians lived here first; we are the first people of this country and to my mind that makes us the first owners of this country. Were the colonizers squatting on our land?
Can I paddle over to Suriname in my canoe, land, plant my Guyana flag and claim a part of that country for my country, Guyana? Or can I claim the whole country of Suriname for Guyana? What a hilarious sight that would be and what a thing to do in this day and age. But history has recorded that that was how countries managed to own other countries; you simply landed in a country and if there was no resistance from its occupants then you happily claimed it. If there was resistance then you fought to the death and whoever won controlled it. All this happened a long time ago and in the present time I cannot go and plant my Guyana flag in Suriname and claim it for Guyana. Things have changed and we have become more enlightened, so to speak.
However, I speak nothing but the truth when I say that enlightenment and the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous people have not reached this country. Most of the hinterland where our Indigenous brothers and sisters live have been declared state land and any government of the day can use it as they like for whatever purposes. I am saying that this is wrong. Did the Indigenous people move out of the hinterland and so give up that part of their country too? No way Jose! Never! They did not move out, they did not barter or sell it nor did they give it away. It is our home and has been for many, many, many moons.
So it stands, that since state lands in the hinterland are really stolen property and rightfully belong to the Amerindians, I demand that the requests for land by Region 7 and Region 9 be addressed as soon as possible with positive solutions in mind. I demand that the request for extension by Kwebana Village in Region One be addressed as priority since the village population is increasing and the lumber in that piece of land is needed to sustain the community. I am afraid that if Baishanlin is allowed to continue cutting the lumber in that area the prospects would not be bright for the future generations of Kwebana. I demand that other requests from villages for extensions of land be treated as priority. I demand that Baishanlin and others be stopped from working on the lands of Region 8 if they did not first consult the people of Region 8. I demand that best practices be observed when miners mine for gold and diamonds in the hinterland, especially bearing in mind that the waters that we drink and fish in must remain unpolluted. I also demand that Indigenous people sit on all boards that make decisions involving all four of the hinterland regions.
I demand that when ministers of government, the police and the army visit our villages they are respectful at all times. If they consider us inferior to them, please, let them keep those feelings to themselves. Allow my people to ask questions or speak up for their rights because we have many rights – as citizens and as the First People of this country.
Finally, I demand that the assault on Mr John Adams of Aishalton by one of President Ramotar’s guards be thoroughly investigated and, in the meantime, an apology from the President to Mr Adams would be quite in order.
I fully realize that we cannot go backwards, that we must go forward as a nation of seven races, mixed race included, but there are some wrongs that have happened in the past that can be corrected to a point so that our thrust forward as Guyanese can progress in harmony with each other.
Valerie Garrido-Lowe, MP
Alliance For Change