The efforts by the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to ensure greater participation by Indi-genous persons at this year’s Heritage Month Exhibition has left one long-time vendor questioning the purpose of the government’s social cohesion programme.
On Friday, the ministry launched the five-day craft and food exhibition under the Indigenous Heritage Month theme of “Guyana’s First Peoples – Sustaining a Rich Cultural Environment.”
The exhibition allows patrons to sample a variety of products produced by Guyana’s first people, using products indigenous to the country.
In order to facilitate this authenticity, coordinator of the event Anil Roberts told Stabroek News that preference was given to Indigenous persons who applied for vending permits though not all of them have been selling indigenous products. “We aimed first to showcase the foods of the Indigenous peoples but not all of the Indigenous persons have indigenous foods, some of them were cooking other foods to back up their wild meat or fish,” Roberts said.
He added that there were also rules to be a part of the Heritage Arts and Craft exhibition since the organisers wanted “the exhibition to be much more into the arts and craft of the Indigenous peoples.”
These stringent measures were developed because it was observed that over the years Chinese products had begun to have a prominent place at the exhibition. “People were allowed to vend and they were selling toys, Chinese stuff and so on but what we want to see is more locally made arts and craft, woven materials, [and] carved sculptures showing indigenous designs,” he explained.
At least one vendor has found this new policy difficult to accept. Adrian Cole told Stabroek News that he has been a vendor at the Heritage Month Exhibition for years and questioned whether the new policy was fair.
He explained that he and several other vendors who are not indigenous applied for vending permits and were told by Roberts that, “If you are not indigenous, you can’t participate.”
“He said that everything you do has to be indigenous, only things made from indigenous products, nothing from China or so. I approached Minister Valerie [Garrido-]Lowe who said that Amerindians can’t go and sell at an African activity or Indian activity, so why should we be looking to sell here,” Cole, who sells hotdogs and other food products, further related.
He added that “the president created a whole Ministry for Social Cohesion,” so Minister Garrido-Lowe’s statement that “only Amerindian’s can sell” confused him.
He further stressed that he approached the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) to find out if they actually prevented Indigenous persons from vending at last month’s Emancipation Day activity and was told that they did not. “ACDA said they have an open policy. It was open to everybody who wanted to sell, so I don’t know what the minister meant by her comment,” Cole lamented.
Stabroek News reached out Minister Garrido-Lowe, who noted that in order to facilitate Cole an Indigenous person would’ve had to be displaced and that simply was not acceptable.
“This is Indigenous Heritage Month and while we don’t want to lock out anybody, other events don’t have Indigenous people’s prominently featured. They have complained to us that they travel far and then their products don’t sell,” the minister explained.
She noted that these exhibitors requested of the ministry that they be treated with preference and that products, such as “the barbeque and so on,” be limited.
“They stressed that for them this is a once a year opportunity, so we listened and the coordinator [Roberts] made the necessary decisions. I’m not arranging this, he [Cole] approached me and said Anil told him that he won’t get a place. I explained that I am not coordinating but that he could ask to be placed outside at the gate or around the fence where several persons are vending,” the minister explained.
She stated that Cole raised with her the question of social cohesion but she stated that she noticed persons of other ethnicities, including Afro-Guyanese, selling arts and craft when she visited the exhibition.
“We have limited space and it seems that he wasn’t able to get a number this year.
We can’t include everyone. To include more people we’d have to displace the indigenous and we can’t do that,” Garrido-Lowe stressed.