There needs to be a systematic study of the Amerindian Act

Dear Editor,

Most of our people on the ground hardly know about the Amerindian Act and its purpose in the hinterland, and for those who know, they may not be interested in its proposals, because they are too busy with the day-to-day activities for life’s survival. However, conversely there are those of us who are interested in learning about this legislation which is important to us, since we have access to read it and also discuss it at informal group meetings. Participating in these activities made me contemplate that the legislation should be studied systematically to help most of us learn how it developed from the colonial era to the present and how it affects Guyana’s indigenous peoples.

Perhaps the study of the Amerindian legislation could be done by any Guyanese (not me) since rarely do Guyanese study their own people, or possess the academic qualifications, inter alia, to pursue the same. Editor, there exists a ‘frontier’ in the Amerindian Act: one is represented by the Indigenous traditional culture, and the other, the Western or conventional wisdom of the state which the law represents.

This dichotomy which has contrasting but important pillars that constitute the Amerindian Act 2006, if studied systematically, could offer a platform for dialogue and the exchange of learning experiences. The law could play an important role in setting a standard to reach a better understanding and approach for tackling contemporary issues in relation to land demarcation and other claims which ultimately can guarantee the sustaining of the unique and rich culture of the Indigenous people that is Guyana’s patrimony.

To carry out the study of the Amerindian Act 2006 the research could take on an interdisciplinary approach of law and anthropology: law to determine the formal norms which would regulate the Indigenous people’s claim, and anthropology to deal with their oral traditions and customs. This interdisciplinary approach it is hoped would assist in comprehending how the legislation works; if some of its aspects are still used to patronize the Indigenous peoples, or to control them for political agendas; whether it’s balanced, and if it’s not, how to create more space in it for democracy where indigenous people and the state can benefit.

Finally, the study of the legislation could also involve a dialectic method, which would encourage a discussion of contradictory views, such as those that exist between Indigenous people’s ancestral claims and other rights as stated in the International Labour Organization (Convention 169) and the state’s position on the same. This could produce a meaningful and democratic Indigenous people’s Act, at least in theory, which would highlight Guyana. The country would have a unique and scholarly updated Amerindian Act for its first people that could serve as a model for other legislation designed for Indigenous populations in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Yours faithfully,

Medino Abraham

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