1) The recent establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by President David Granger to “examine and make recommendations on resolving issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands along with Amerindian Land Titling issues “ has resulted in a vehement and bitter outcry among our Indigenous people including their elected Village Councils, Indigenous Groups, the National Toshaos Council, supporters and members of the People’s Progressive Party; and sections of the public who view the establishment of this Commission as both a transgression of the land rights and “an expression of gross disrespect for the Amerindian people of Guyana” whose fast growing population numbering over 70 000 living in over 200 Villages/Communities accounts for almost 10% of Guyana’s population.
2) What land issues and uncertainties is the Government talking about? The only issues and uncertainties would be the Government’s position with respect to moving the Land Titling, Land Extension and Demar-cation processes forward. May I remind the Government that the rights of our Amerindian people to their traditional lands and resources are clearly set out in the Constitution of Guyana and the Amerindian Act 2006. May I also draw attention to the fact that
the Amerindian Village Councils, the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission and the National Toshaos Council, elected bodies, are empowered to promote and protect these interests and rights. In fact, the Constitution specifically makes provision for our Amerindian people; so that while the issue of Reparations and Repatriation of African Lands are important; these are two distinctly separate issues that must be addressed separately. Is the COI a Trojan Horse plan and nefarious attempt to usurp the role and functions of these constitutionally established bodies which deal, inter alia, with Amerindian Land Rights? How disrespectful can we become?
3)The idea that Amerindians should be recognized as Owners of their land began to gain momentum in the years just preceding our Coun-try’s independence on May 26th, 1966; thanks primarily to the advocacy of Guyana’s first Amerindian Par-liamentarian Mr Stephen Campbell and leader of the People’s Progres-sive Party, Dr Cheddi Jagan. Our history records that there was a hiatus in terms of the political effort of the Government of the 1964 to 1992 epoch to move this process forward.
The PPP/C’s success story in the Amerindian Villages and Communities
Our Amerindian people did not have to wait until 2017 for an ill-informed and lethargic APNU+AFC Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate what is already known with respect to Amer-indian lands and land rights. Indeed, while the PPP/C Government worked with the Amerindian Leaders and the Amerindian people to provide improved social services and physical infrastructure and so create for them wider choices in respect of goods and services available to them; we did through a consultative pro-cess, and by providing the required resources, enact Legislation, formulate policies and programmes, and facilitate the required activities to give recognition and protection of the rights of our Amerindian people; including their rights to the lands they own and occupy.
4) The Legislation includes (i) our revised Constitution of 2003 (ii) Our Mining Act of 1989 which provides, inter alia, that all lands occupied or used by Amerindian communities and all land necessary for the quiet enjoyment by the Amerindians of any Amerindian Settlement shall be deemed to be lawfully occupied by them (iii) the EPA Act of 1996 which provides that the concerned Minister in making regulations under this Act shall take into consideration the rights of Indigenous Villages and Communities (iv) the 2009 Forests Act which makes provisions for the protection of traditional rights of Amerindians to forested areas
outside of their titled land and (v) the 2006 Amerindian Act which provides for the recognition and protection of the collective rights of Amerindian Villages and Communities, the granting of land to Amerindian Villages and Communities and the promotion of good governance within Villages and Communities through elected Village Councils.
5) Regularising Amerindian Land Tenure.
The PPP/C Government made much progress during the period October 1992 to May 2015 in addressing the very land issues President Granger’s Commission is now being tasked to address and more. Besides enacting Legislation, we formulated policies, plans, provided resources and facilitated activities that gave recognition and protection of the rights of our Amer-indian people to ownership of their own lands including the forests resources situated thereon. Indeed, to address their cultural, social and economic needs.
We ensured that Amerindian Communities satisfying the legislative requirement for Grants of State Lands were able to receive Titles to such Lands and that those Lands were clearly defined and demarcated. These Titles are granted under the State Lands Act which makes the Titles “absolute and forever” and vested in the elected Village Councils to be held for the benefit of the village.
When the PPP/C demitted Office in May 2015, 98 Amerindian Villages had received Grants of Title to their lands, and the process of consultation with additional Communities that had met the qualifying requirements for Titling was a work in progress in order to ensure that legislative and procedural requirements were being met and the Villagers understood and were satisfied with the process. This is what the APNU+AFC Coalition Government should be pursuing with the respective Village Councils, the National Toshaos Council Executive, the Indigenous People’s Commission; not setting up another COI so as to reward cronies.
By May 2015 Amerindian Titled Villages across Guyana had owned communally 13.9 % or 11 11 593.2 square miles of Guyana’s land mass. This represented a rise of land mass from 6% in 1991 to 13.9% in 2009. While the Indigenous people of some countries were being deprived of their lands, the PPP/C Government was giving our Amerindians their lands. Under the PPP/C Government, the Amerin-dians own the Lands and, in this regard, they were granted Land Titles, a document issued by the President under a special power in our State Lands Act. It transfers ownership of land. The Land Titles are protected by our Constitution from being taken away by the Government. It also helps with long-term planning of resource utilisation and resultantly helps secure more sustainable income for villages.
6) The Amerindian presence in Guyana has been the longest and, as Indigenous people, they have helped to “forge a Nation out of untamed land to create our dear land of Guyana.” Decent, honest Guyanese now and in the future will forever remain indebted to the Indigenous people of this country.
While in some countries Amerindian people have only rights of use of the land; in Guyana, they own the land. No Commission of Enquiry can change that fact.
Former Minister of Local