GGDMA objects to granting Amerindians rights to extensions to titled lands
It was with great consternation, that I read a letter, in the media, penned by Mr. Ashton Simon. Firstly I am curious to know in what capacity is Mr. Simon writing, since he is an employee of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, a member of the GGMC Board of Directors and an Amerindian advocate. I think Mr. Simon firstly owes the public an explanation as to which hat he was wearing when he chose to attack the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association. (GGDMA)
Let me state that the GGDMA has never purported to represent any specific ethnic group in Guyana; we represent miners, both foreign and domestic, including those who are Amerindians. We are not, nor ever have been, against Amerindians being given title to their ancestral lands; in fact we applaud the successive governments of Guyana for taking this initiative in ensuring that lands that are truly part of the Amerindian patronage be titled. Some are playing on the ignorance of the rest or the population. As a result we feel compelled to clarify the issues for the truth.
We are objecting to the proposed and unverified extensions, which use the legal structure to claim additional lands, which are now more important for personal enrichment rather than ancestral patrimony. This is largely happening in the mining districts, where Amerindian communities are actively involved in mining. Despite what Mr. Simon would want the public to believe, that Amerindian communities are hapless victims in a large scheme of mining, this is far from the truth.
Amerindian communities are now one of the largest holders of mining properties, properties which they either actively mine or lease out for hefty profits. In fact, what many do not know is that if Amerindian communities are given all the extensions that they have applied for Amerindians will own, exclusively, approximately 35% of all lands in Guyana, an area that would be larger than the county of Demerara. This percentage excludes lands which they privately hold on the coast.
We are glad that Mr. Simon has called on members of the National Toshaos Council to look at the matter, since some of the members of the council are actively involved in the practice of mining and leasing both land and river rights to miners, both foreign and domestic, and receive handsome profits. These members can certainly advise on the benefits of mining. The communities of Micobie (Cassava hill), Jawalla and Issenuru are just three examples of communities which have made significant strides in development through mining. Amerindians like all of Guyana’s peoples have a right to make a living out of mining or any other means they find suitable. We salute these communities for not falling victim to those who would have them watch the trees and starve in pursuit of grand international ideals.
Amerindians are our brothers and sisters in mining, many have made their living from the extraction of Guyana’s minerals, a process which disturbs the environment, not destroys the environment. Mr. Simon would have us believe that all Amerindians are still “natives” who are confined to the forest and do not understand that they live in an ever expanding world.
I wonder if Mr. Simon speaks for those who have chosen to make their living from the extractive sector or would he have them all kowtow to the international masters with begging bowl in hand? Amerindian brothers and sisters who have joined the extractive sector have chosen a path which now allows them to send their children to school and university, improve their homestead and meet their needs. However, while we salute this drive for prosperity, we must recognise that Guyana belongs to all Guyanese and not one ethnic group. We want a level playing field in the extractive sector. We find it difficult to accept, the arbitrary applications for extensions, particularly in areas where there were pre-existing mining and other forest productive operations.
We would like to clarify the issue we have about Amerindian lands; we have no problem with legally titled Amerindian lands and the payment of tribute (which is as much as 15%) to the titled village. This is in addition to the monies received through the Amerindian Development Fund which is garnered from mining royalties. We are objecting to the additional applications for extensions, outside of the titled lands, unto lands that have active mining interest. We are objecting to the fact that the GGMC, as soon as an extension to the titled land is filed for, stops mining in the area and proceeds to remove the existing miner off the land. We have no say in the matter and it is our contention that this is illegal; as a result we have taken the matter to the courts.
Mining affects all of Guyana; the Mining sector contributed, last year, over 363,000 ounces of gold valued US$560 million to the national economy, allowing Guyana to stave off negative growth. Miners have invested personal capital in developing interior infrastructure, transportation and communication, which benefit all those who use the forests and provide employment to many who would otherwise be isolated from the rest of Guyana.
Miners cannot work without land and the recent increase in the severity and volume of mining regulations is stifling the industry, not making it easier. A miner’s life is not easy, we do not walk into the bush and pick up gold, we invest in physical and human capital, and in many cases barely scrape out a living.
To all miners, including our Amerindian brothers and sisters, we remind you, we now stand together, one for all and all for one and we will not be bullied. We recognise the Amerindians’ right to their land, but we as other Guyanese also have a right to work and settle just as any other. Guyana is for all Guyanese.
Patrick E. Harding
Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association