Returning officer at Aishalton did not explain nomination procedure for toshao in Wapichan

Dear Editor,

At the Aishalton Village Council’s nominations held on April 25th, 2018, a grave injustice was committed against the Wapichan people of Aishalton.

To begin with, the villagers were informed on the day of nominations that the procedure for nominations would be done differently. That alone robbed the nominations process of being truly free and fair.

However, a graver injustice was committed by the designated Returning Officer when he refused to provide explanations of the legal procedure in Wapichan language.

After the officer explained the legal procedure in English using the Amerindian Act of 2006, he asked for questions and clarifications. Knowing that some villagers would not properly understand the English explanations, the Toshao of Aishalton requested that the explanations be done in Wapichan. This was promptly disregarded by the officer as “just a request”. The Toshao again asked for the explanations to be done in Wapichan which again did not find favour with the officer.

The officer then proceeded to ask the villagers whether they understood the explanations to which some responded loudly in the affirmative, others did not respond and since the explanations lacked clarity, I responded in the negative. The officer then summed up by saying that “the majority said they understand so we can move on”.

Editor, first of all, indigenous people have the right to understand legal procedures like anyone else. The United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 13 (2) states:

“States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or any other appropriate means.”

How could the officer refuse the Wapichan people explanations in their language and more so when it was requested by the Toshao? In addition, as a villager of a Wapichan village, the officer should have known that providing explanations in Wapichan could have provided true clarification for the villagers. 

Further, without conducting a vote, the officer claimed that the majority understood. Can some loud voices validly constitute a majority? Even so, if only one person did not understand, isn’t that person entitled to seek clarification and for clarification to be given?

On February 17, 2018, His Excellency President Granger visited the office of the “Quality Bilingual Education Programme for Wapichan Children” at Aishalton, where he praised the efforts of the Wapichan people to develop an education programme that respects their culture and language. The President also stated that his Government would be providing Amerindians with translators in the Courts of Law so that they could better understand the legal proceedings and express themselves freely.

Therefore, given that Amerindian languages are being promoted at national and village level, I expected at least the possible Toshao candidates to voice their support for the Wapichan explanations, but they were silent.

Fellow Wapichan people, let us stop suffering in silence and speak out against these injustices.

Yours faithfully,

Leah Casimero

Youth of Aishalton

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