The National Toshaos Council (NTC) yesterday called on President David Granger to establish a separate commission to deal with land rights of the indigenous peoples, claiming it had not been consulted prior to the setting up of the recent Commission of Inquiry into Land Rights.
“We call on His Excellency for a complete repeal of the mandate of this commission and to establish the Indigenous Peoples’ Lands Commis-sion,” the NTC said in a statement yesterday.
The group condemned the commission, which was established earlier this month.
“The National Toshaos Council, a body comprising all Toshaos of Guyana and a representative body of the indigenous peoples of Guyana, having never been consulted in the formation of such a body, cannot, with any degree of sanity nor confidence, respect such a body, and will refuse to cooperate with such a body,” the NTC asserted.
But the President dismissed the claims by the NTC saying that not only were there consultations but also recommendations which he used in selecting members of the commission. Granger also made the distinction that while there is one Commission of Inquiry into land rights, it will look at the issues of land pertaining to African Guyanese and Amerindian Guyanese, separately.
“The proposal to establish a body was announced by me at the National Toshaos Conference last year…,” the President said in response to the NTC’s claims. “I certainly did not pick Mr David James’s name out of a hat. A recommendation had to be made to me.”
And while he did not name the person, the President also pointed out that a well-known attorney who is a member of the commission is described as the legal advisor to the NTC.
The commission is chaired by Reverend George Chuck-a-Sang, and its other members are David James, Carol Khan-James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb, Berlinda Persaud and Paulette Henry.
On March 10 this year, when Granger appointed six of the seven members of the commission, he had said that it would be tasked with examining and making recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of land acquired by freed Africans; claims of Amer-indian land titling; and other matters relative to land titling.
The President explained that the commission is meant to settle all controversies originating from disagreement over ownership of land so as to satisfy all of the citizens of this country, “that we need not fight each other for land; that we will investigate their claims and we will respond to their just demands.”
He stressed that land is life and as someone who has boasted about the country’s landmass, he is satisfied that Guyana has enough land to satisfy the needs of all its people for generations to come. He referred to the duty of the commission as “almost sacred,” since Amerin-dians, who have been here from “time immemorial,” have strong cultural, material and even spiritual connections with the land.
Granger reminded those gathered that one of the most serious threats to the national security and territorial integrity of Guyana, the Rupununi Revolt, was a result of individuals taking up arms rather than surrender land to the state. The revolt, Granger explained, resulted in Amerindian land rights being established as a principle of government.
But it is for the uniqueness of the issue surrounding Amerindian land titling that the NTC pleads its case for a separate commission and that it should not be merged with issues pertaining to African land matters. .
“Guyana’s First Peoples… having lived on this land for time immemorial, view it as an aberration that needs to be recalled and have established, two separate entities to deal with the issues currently placed under such a blanket,” the NTC said.
“While we support reparations and repatriation of African lands and addressing that issue with a great degree of urgency, the Indigenous lands issue cannot and should not be viewed in the same light, nor can it be addressed under the same framework.
“The Indigenous peoples, by law, are entitled to their traditional lands, while the Africans are entitled to lands that were sold to their ancestors. It is this very separation that needs to be clearly identified and defined. It is also in realizing that these two issues are separate issues that we must address them separately,” the statement added.
The group reminded the president that at the 2015 NTC Conference he had committed, in a ten-point plan, to establish a ‘Hinter-land and Indigenous People Lands Commis-sion’ that it said would have addressed all Indi-genous land issues.