Jan 23, 2013 News
By Zena Henry
A number of villagers from Isseneru, in association with the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA), have expressed displeasure with the recent ruling of High Court Judge, Diana Insanally, in favour of a miner Joan Chang conducting works in what they consider to be Amerindian ancestral lands. The Amerindians have seen the ruling as “an assault on our rights and way of life”, and have deemed the Amerindian Act 2006 as “a document with no power.”
At a press conference held at the Guyana Human Rights Association headquarters yesterday, villagers called on the Government to review the Amerindian Act, and to make the necessary amendments to strengthen and encompass a broader scope of rights for the indigenous people. They also plan to host peaceful vigil and picket exercises in order to meaningfully show their dissatisfaction with the court’s ruling.
The villagers brought to the fore, many incidents where they said they are contending with miners for areas given as titled lands. Currently, they said, many cases are before the courts and some which they have already lost are being appealed. Given these developments, they questioned what power they possess to control and monitor their lands, citing the negative implications the ruling may hold for Amerindians countrywide.
“The implication here is that the rights of miners take precedence over the people who were there before, simply because one was granted their legal papers before the other. What then is the relevance of the constitution; Article 149G that says ‘Indigenous peoples shall have the right to protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life?’” Isseneru Village Councilor and Secretary, Dwight Larson asked.
The Isseneru villagers said that they received their land title from the government in 2007. The land was, however, much smaller than what they had applied for and considered as traditional lands. About three months after receiving the title, they said it became clear that the officially recognised land was not in effect theirs, since miners started making claims to carry out their activities.
They said that in 2008, when they tried to negotiate with another miner, “We were taken to court, and in late 2008 a decision was made stating that we did not have the right to stop the mining activity. Isseneru appealed the matter, but it is still pending in court and the miner is still carrying on mining on our lands.”
After the issues experienced by the villagers, they said the government demarcated their land in 2010 and a Certificate of Title was given, but the mining problems persisted.
“We sent letters to the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Minister of Amerindian Affairs about our concerns and arranged a meeting in Isseneru which they attended, together with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the Environmental Protection Agency and the Lands and Surveys Commission. The response was that the Ministers would look into the matter, but we never received word back. As a next step, we addressed the GGMC in order to have a cease work order issued towards the miner, Joan Chang. This was done – twice – but as a result, Chang chose to take both our Village Council and the GGMC to court.”
“We are deeply disappointed and worried with this ruling and what it means to our village and to Amerindian communities in general. On the ground it has serious environmental and social impacts for us. The miners have, for example, brought with them problems related to drugs and prostitution. At the higher level, we feel that when the High Court tells us that we have no rights to decide and control what takes place on our land, then the land is not ours. Why has the government given us this land when it has already given the same land to someone else? Just Friday, when inquiring at the office of the GGMC, we learnt that our whole land is covered with mining concessions. Yet, the government has not informed us about this,” the community members asserted.
They opined that with the existing Act, Amerindians’ way of life is at risk as they depend wholly on the land for survival.
The Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA) has also highlighted its disappointment towards the court ruling and by extension, the treatment of Amerindians in connection to the rights given by the Amerindian Act.
Several members from various Amerindian villages were also in attendance to lend support to the representatives of the Isseneru Village. The members highlighted problems they face in their communities, while others also pointed to the possible negative impact on their locations and the weakness of the Amerindian Act.
In light of the recent developments, media operatives were told that the Amerindian representatives received word that President Donald Ramotar would be moving to accommodate them in discussions. The vigils and picket exercises will be held at the office of the Amerindian Affairs Minister and the Office of the President.
In the meantime, Isseneru Village has indicated its intention to challenge the High Court ruling, while other villages have vowed their support. “Together we will fight for our rights as first people and for the lands of our forefathers and for the future of our coming generations.”
Jagdeo will make ayo sell ayo bodies to feed ya’ll pickney.
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