The human rights and fundamental freedom of our Amerindian people are protected through our revised Constitution of 2003 and other legislation and statutory measures. In fact, the Constitution specifically makes provision for Amerindian people. Article 35 of our Constitution provides that “the State honours and respects the diverse cultural strains which enrich the society” Article 149G of the Constitution provides that “Indigenous peoples shall have the right to the protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life”; while Section 212S makes provision for the establishment of “the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission” which shall provide the “mechanisms to enhance the status of indigenous peoples and respond to their legitimate demands and needs”.
Compare the apparent non-binding Declaration on the Rights of the world’s Indigenous peoples with our binding legislation as reflected in our Constitution, 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”; 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”; the 2009 Forests Act which makes provisions for “the protection of traditional rights of Amerindians to forested areas outside of their titled land; and 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 . Much of this legislative upgrade forms part of the PPP/C’s success story in the Amerindian villages and communities.
More than these developments, the PPP/C government did commit extensive resources and did persevere with much success in its efforts to bring about positive changes and improvements in the lives of our people, including our Amerindian population.
Indeed, the PPP/C government of the post-October 1992 era did work with our Amerindian people to bring improved social services and physical infrastructure and, in the process, create for them wider choices in respect of the goods and services, viz, quality education and primary health care that were available to them. It is as a result of the commitment and persistent work of the PPP/C government that many Amerindians became qualified/trained teachers, headteachers, education officers, doctors, medex, dentex, nurses, health workers, agriculture officers, engineers, police and army officers, ministers of government, etc.
The People’s Progressive Party through a consultative process, and by providing the required resources was able to enact legislation, formulate policies and programmes, and facilitate activities to give recognition and protection to the rights of our Amerindian people including their rights to the lands they own and occupy.
We granted Amerindian Villages ‒ provided the villages met the qualifying requirements as per the 2006 Amerindian Act ‒ certificates of title to their lands. We demarcated their lands and, where requested and once the criteria for extension of their lands were met, granted them such extensions.
When we demitted office in May 2015, 98 of their villages had received grants of title to their lands, and the process of consultation aimed at meeting and discussing with additional communities that had met the qualifying requirements for titling was a work in progress.
One of the biggest challenges for the PPP/C during its term of office was to strike a balance between socio-economic development and the protection of the rights of Indigenous communities to their ethnic identity. In this regard, we were able to examine various options and develop specific policies and programmes with the participation of our Amerindian people and their representatives in order to meet specific needs and address particular concerns and so build the necessary conditions for more development to take place in the villages and communities.
We introduced in many of the villages activities aimed at transforming the village economy, and in the process ensuring food security and the creation of job opportunities and income for villagers. These included the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Project which the PPP/C government launched in a number of villages in Regions One and Nine in 2009 and which focused on the production of honey, cassava, ginger, pineapple, passion fruit, aquaculture and crab production. In this regard, we assisted the villages to form farmers’ associations for each project and for the purpose of monitoring, marketing and sustaining the projects.
Another of the PPP/C government’s initiatives was the presidential grant which we started in 2007 with $150 M targeting 140 Amerindian villages and communities. This project was intended to transform the economy of the Amerindian communities and enhance the livelihood of its people. By May 2015 over 150 Amerindian villages and communities were benefiting from the project to the extent of $160 M. Most of the projects identified by the villages were income generating projects and included agriculture, transportation and tourism. The PPP/C government did focus on promoting sustainable living and food security and reducing poverty in Amerindian communities by intensifying income generating projects.
Two years into its present term in office, the APNU+AFC government merely talks of the rights of Indigenous people but is doing very little to help satisfy these rights. The PPP/C ploughed to the contrary; it provided resources and worked with our Amerindians to ensure a decent education, decent health care, a diversified village economy with opportunities for job creation and a brighter future for themselves and Guyana.
Norman Whittaker, MP