On behalf of the geographic constituency that I represent in the National Assembly of Guyana, and all concerned Indigenous citizens across this country, inclusive of the National Toshaos Council (NTC), I hereby express my concerns with the stance taken by former executive member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Vincent Alexander, who posits that there should not be a separate commission to examine the issue of Amerindian land rights, as opposed to merging the inquiry into Amerindian land rights and African land rights together.
We, the first people of Guyana fear that the Government plans to deal with the Amerindians as though we are imponderables who stand in the way of the upward mobility of their traditional support base, and the rhetoric being expounded by Eric Phillips and Tacuma Ogunsye of ACDA, and others of their ilk seem to support this perception.
Alexander has adumbrated the government’s position that Amerindian land rights and African land rights should not be dealt with, one extraneous to the other and argues that there is adequate and justifiable reasons to have consideration of Amerindian and African land rights be addressed by one commission.
As an Indigenous representative of my people I also noted that, speaking recently at a Carter Centre/ British High Commissioner-organised forum on constitutional reform, held at the University of Guyana (UG), Alexander asserted “We have to have a holistic and integrated approach to the resolution of sectoral or communal problems. I don’t think the nation could have a discussion about Amerindian land outside a discussion about lands period.”
However, I stand firm, in my capacity, with the National Toshaos Council (NTC), which is resolutely rejecting the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry that considers African and Amerindian land rights together. We will not cooperate with that process because it compromises Amerindian rights that have already been established. I, like the NTC, am adamantly demanding that President David Granger stand true to his promise that he made in 2015 – that a “Hinterland and Indigenous People Lands Commission” would be constituted.
I am cognizant of the fact that the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry were only published on March 11, 2017, one day after six of the seven commissioners were sworn in. This signifies government’s intention not to consult with the NTC and any other Amerindian rights-based organization, which is denying the fundamental rights of our community to be consulted on matters that impact our basic constitutional and human rights. The composition of the Commission is also a vital concern, because we are convinced that the Commission will comprise of members who would be more inclined to favour the government’s positions.
Throughout history there have been dispossessed peoples all over the world; but none so inhuman and unjust as the injustices meted out to the indigenous peoples everywhere through annexation of ancestral lands by conquistadores and other colonials, as well as current-day land-grabbers.
In Guyana, while there was an attempt to rectify this iniquity by the British Colonials through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), through the Amerindian Act 6 of 2006, the guaranteed rights to traditional indigenous peoples land ownership that were enshrined by the Amerindian Act 6 of 2006 are once again under threat by the current Coalition government.
We are justifiably fearful of returning to the past where the first peoples of this land languished in obscurity, separate and unprovided for. We were denuded of large tracts of land rich with minerals to give to the elitists elsewhere. Historically, Amerindians roamed the forested lands freely and maintained the pristineness of forest reserves, thereby sustaining the environment that propelled the creation of the REDD-Plus initiative,
Quoting from the website: “REDD is described in paragraph 70 of the AWG/LCA outcome:
“Encourages developing country parties to contribute to mitigation actions in the forest sector by undertaking the following activities, as deemed appropriate by each Party and in accordance with their respective capabilities and national circumstances:
(a) Reducing emissions from deforestation;
(b) Reducing emissions from forest degradation;
(c) Conservation of forest carbon stocks;
(d) Sustainable management of forest;
(e) Enhancement of forest carbon stocks;”
According to a blurb on the REDD, or reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation website, the basic concept of REDD is that governments, companies or forest owners in the South should be rewarded for keeping their forests instead of cutting them down.
Apart from being Guyana’s first people, Guyana’s indigenous peoples have been, for centuries, guardians of Guyana’s hinterland forest lands, so we are the people responsible for those extant prerequisites listed in Paragraph 70. In the laws of the land, uncontested tenure of a property for in excess of seven years guarantees rights to ownership; thus, apart from the Amerindian Act 6 of 2006 the Amerindians are – constitutionally and by tradition owners of Guyana’s forested lands.
The formulation of the LCDS and consequential pact with Norway would not have been possible if the Amerindians had denuded the forests, as intruders are now doing. United Nations “has adopted” the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We, Guyana’s first peoples are urging the international community – even if through the UN to intercede on our behalf and uphold our rights as chartered by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and outlined in the Amerindian Act 6 of 2006.
Notice should also be taken that, if government has its way, paragraph 70 of the AWG/LCA outcome for REDD would be under threat, as would any other potential rewards from Norway or other countries for our conservation of forest carbon stocks and other listed prerequisites, because, while the Amerindian way conserves, the way of the intruders destroys. The world should take cognisance of the latent threat against Guyana’s indigenous peoples and consequently our traditional way of life because rainforests are the lungs of the world and the invasion by hordes of outsiders would eventually depreciate, instead of enhancing the sustainability of forest carbon stocks.
Alister Charlie MP
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