Amerindian Heritage Month was launched on the evening of Aug 31 at the Umana Yana and then at the Amerindian Village yesterday (Sept 1) at Sophia. The year’s theme is: “Our culture, our heritage, our life: a fusion of indigenous diversity”.
While there are a host of activities that will dot the calendar during the month of September on the coastland, on September 10 there will an elaborate programme in the hinterland village of Aishalton. This day, of course, is recognised as “Amerindian Heritage Day” and commemorates the day in 1957 on which Stephen Campbell was sworn in as the first Amerindian Member of Parliament.
The nexus between MP Stephen Campbell and Amerindian Heritage Day by the Amerindian communities makes transparent their recognition between political activism and giving of life and meaning to the commemorations and perpetuation of their heritage. This is as it should be and we salute the Amerindian community’s refusal to have their heritage reduced by commodification and commercialisation which not only trivialise their role in Guyana but essentially create peripheralisation of that role.
A number of stark facts should emphasise the crucial role that Amerindians will play in the development of our country. Because of the foresight of Stephen Campbell, the right of Amerindians to the land that they occupy is part and parcel of the actual granting of Independence to Guyana. This right cannot be abrogated by any government since it is immanent in the very constitution and formation of the Guyanese state by the departing British.
The present government is to be commended for embarking on the long-delayed demarcation of the Amerindian lands which at time amounts to over 14% of Guyana’s territory. Since these lands are generally in the interior, a large portion would be affected by the government’s ambitious plans to craft a low carbon development strategy for the country. The Amerindians will play a key role in the execution of the LCDS as they will have to be consulted as far as the strategy impacts on the use of their lands.
Amerindians are also the fastest growing ethnic group in Guyana. From 40,343 in 1980, their numbers grew to 68,675 by 2002, when the last census was taken. This 3.75% population increase in its national numbers contrasts to the 8.48% drop in the Indian population and the stagnant figures for the African community. These trends have certainly been exacerbated during the subsequent decade that has witnessed the unstoppable migration pattern from the coastlanders. While there is some migration of Amerindians over to Brazil, this appears to be balanced by an equal number of returnees.
The growth of the Amerindian population within the context of the opposing ethnic demographic changes has already precipitated significant changes in the political landscape. The Amerindian communities are now definitely the determinant switch bloc between the traditional Afro-Indo divide of Guyanese politics – and the politicians have not been lax in their courtship of them.
It cannot be gainsaid also that there is almost universal acceptance that the overall economic development of Guyana is inextricably linked with the opening up of the hinterland – dominated by the nine Amerindian tribes. While their numbers may be small, their wide distribution will certainly ensure that they benefit from such development. For instance, the road to Lethem is the sine qua non for us to take advantage of our proximity with the economic behemoth on our southern border, Brazil.
Once this road becomes an all-weather proposition, the hinterland will cease being the backwater it presently is and take its place as the cutting edge frontier for our economic transformation. It will be in such an environment that “Amerindian Heritage” will cease being the song and dance routine that it presently is, and take its place as the driving energy to Guyana of the 21st century.
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