The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) has criticised Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs (MOIPA) official, David James for claiming ignorance of its training sessions with Indigenous Peoples in preparation for the revision of the 2006 Amerindian Act.
In a brief overview on Thursday at the National Toshaos Council conference, James, Special Assistant with responsibility for Legal Issues, said, Government has begun consultations for the revision of the Act in clusters with meetings held in the Moruca sub-Region and Georgetown. From the two consultations, he said that perhaps more time was needed.
He said that MOIPA has a schedule for cluster meeting for Regions Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Essequibo/Upper Takutu).
“Right now we have some resources to ensure consultations and we intend to get those done in a proper manner.”
Asked by a toshao to clarify whether indigenous organisations were holding similar consultations, James said, “I am not aware. I do not know which other organisation or whoever might be doing consultations.”
He continued, “I would imagine, or I would say based on my experience you can have civil society organisations or NGOs or whatever you may call them, Indigenous organisations who can work with their constituencies or different villages or wherever and come up with recommendations. Nothing is wrong with that.”
He reiterated, “I am not aware that there is a separate consultation to Government. At the end of the day it is Government to take it through its course, through the Parliament. I don’t think any other organisation has that mandate.”
Senior councillors of Rupertee in Region Nine, Suresh Andries and Sharon Atkinson of Santa Rosa Mission and Islands in Region One expressed “shock” that James was not aware that the Steering Committee for the Revision of the Amerindian Act 2006 (SCRAA), which comprises representatives of the National Toshaos Council, district councils and Indigenous People’s organisations, had been holding training sessions with Indigenous Peoples communities and that MOIPA had been aware of the SCRAA’s intentions.
They both noted that the SCRAA had met with both ministers at MOIPA, Sidney Allicock and Valerie Garrido-Lowe at the ministry at which both ministers expressed the need for collaboration and cooperation on the issue.
The training sessions, Atkinson said, included awareness of the provisions of the Amerindian Act, sections of the Guyana Constitution and relevant international laws.
Responding, James said, “The issue is the very simple. I work with Government. If I go to communities and I tell them what should go into the Act, I won’t be surprised if shortly after someone comes and say that he works with the Government. That is where I stand.”
He continued, “That is why our role is to receive rather than to tell. You have the organisations who can do that. I used to work with the APA. I understand the role of the APA. I could have done that. It is a different role I am in right now.”
In a release issued on Saturday, the APA said, it has been supporting training sessions on the revision of the Act at the district council level through the SCRAA.
In April, the APA said, the ministry met with the SCRAA to discuss synergies for the implementation of the revision process.
After commending the SCRAA for its revision process strategy, which included hosting Amerindian Act training sessions at district council meetings to familiarise villages on the Act, the APA said, “the ministry decided that it would pursue a revision process separate from the SCRAA.”
James’s claim that he is unaware of any other organisations conducting consultations on the revision of the Act, without acknowledging the efforts of indigenous representative bodies aiming to facilitate the process, the APA said “raises serious questions from the standpoint of the APA.”
“The committee, which is dedicated to ensuring that villages understand the Amerindian Act 2006 within a legal and human rights framework before submitting their recommendations to the government, has made a concerted effort to collaborate with the MOIPA as consultations take place”, the APA said.
For July, the APA said, it has already supported the revision process with three training sessions completed in the villages of Santa Rosa, Moruca Sub-District, Region 1, Kako, Upper Mazaruni Sub-District, Region 7 and Kopinang, North Pakaraimas Sub-District, Region 8.
The sessions included other villages from the respective sub-districts. The aim of the sessions was to build communities’ capacity in reading and analysing the 2006 legislation so that people make their own recommendations to the ministry for amendments to the Act.
With assistance from SCRAA, the APA said, it has collaborated with the Moruca District Council (Region 1), Upper Mazaruni District Council (Region 7) and North Pakaraimas District Council (Region 8) to conduct these sessions with the help of facilitators from each region who are trained to understand the current Act as well as international and constitutional human rights guarantees.
Once sessions are completed and villages make their own recommendations, the APA said, they are expected to be submitted in written form to MOIPA after a team of lawyers has framed the recommendations in legal language.
The SCRAA’s plan is to ensure that as many Indigenous villages and communities, through collaboration with their district councils, are prepared to make recommendations that are informed by knowledge of the Act, and their rights under the constitution and international law.
Although the ministry has already started their consultations, separate from the activities of the APA and SCRAA, the APA said, the SCRAA is still open to collaborating with Government to ensure the mutual and just advancement of the indigenous peoples.