Guyana’s first people, the Amerindians, having once been in a state of historical neglect, have progressed significantly and are now benefiting, especially in the areas of education and health, and while this Administration cannot create a perfect environment, it always tries to ensure a better one for the indigenous people.
This is according to President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was at the time addrwssing delegates at the Guyana Shield Conference held at the Regency Hotel, Hadfield Street on Wednesday evening. The leaders have been meeting in Guyana to discuss ways to better the lives of indigenous people. Referring o the past neglect of the Amerindians, President Jagdeo said, ” part of it has to do with policy and a lot of it has to do location because many of them live in the hinterland location far from the coast; so what we have sought to do over the years was try to correct some elements of that disparity, every community has access to a school, they have a health hut, almost in everyone of these community we have health workers who are being paid by the government.”
He pointed out that today, Amerindian children are able to benefit from secondary level education as they are facilitated at dormitories built at central location with all their needs paid for by the government. They also benefit from hinterland scholarships where they have the opportunity to attend secondary schools in the city to pursue their studies, and others to further their studies abroad. There are over 40 of them studying in several fields including medicine and engineering both locally and abroad.
He acknowledged that there remains the need to improve income which has become a challenge because they depend on subsistence farming and because of their geographic location. However, he is hopeful that this can be addressed through the avoided deforestation model that lobbies for compensation for standing forests.Speaking on the issue of mining, which has been a cause of concern of the visiting delegations and Guyana’s Amerindians, the Head of State said that many of the indigenous communities are titled, giving them veto over small and medium scale mining. “We are one of the few countries that have actually come forward with sub-surface rights because they mainly had the right to use the land, the forest etc to hunt and fish traditionally, but this act (New Amerindian Act) has now given then a veto power, the community over small and medium scale mining, if they agree to that on their land then they have to be paid a tribute. Supposing you found a huge deposit of uranium or something there you have to do it in consultation with the community, they have to benefit also from it, so that is how that Amerindian act had dealt with the issue of mining.”
On the issue of land claims he noted that since his government got into office in 1992, the percentage has moved from about six to seven percent to 13 percent, and more claims are being processed. “We are hoping that it will exceed some 20 percent of the land, that is titled land, that they will have all of these rights come forward on the communities. It a bit difficult now because of its cost, I was told that it costs $250,000 to demarcate sometimes one community,. so funding is an issue now but I think because of the commitment we made we have to find the money to complete the demarcation, that includes land traditional plus requests for new lands, expansion, etc.”
President of the Association of Amerindians in French Guiana, Charles Jean Auberic said the meeting was at a crucial point and was an effort to work together in a better way. He said he is aware of President Jagdeo’s achievements in terms of his stance on climate change and Indigenous People’s rights and wanted to share in his experience and expertise. Leon Wijngaarde, President of the Organisation of Indigenous People in Suriname told President Jagdeo that they have not always enjoyed their rights and he hoped that the President would relate whatever was discussed to the President of Suriname.
Countries represented at the Guiana Shield Regional Meeting include Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Ecuador, Peru and Columbia. The meeting began on Monday, April 13 and ends on Friday, April 17.