Aug 22, 2017 News
…as 11th Annual Conference begins
By Murtland Haley
The National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference 2017 began yesterday with an opening ceremony at the Cyril Potter College of Education.
During his remarks to the gathering, Chairman of the NTC, Toshao Joel Fredericks, called on President David Granger to have his administration consult with the Indigenous people on a number of issues
relating to the nation’s first people.
Fredericks stressed that there needs to be consultation between the government and the leadership of the Indigenous peoples regarding decisions that will affect Amerindians.
He said that this year is an important year for the Indigenous people in Guyana.
“It marks the 10 years of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and I want for us all to reflect on our progress, and how we as a nation have addressed the issues faced by the indigenous people.”
Fredericks made reference to Article Five of that Declaration which speaks about the indigenous rights to participate in decision-making. He said that the NTC has seen townships being named, with indigenous lands being placed in them, such as Lethem, Bartica, Mabaruma and Mahdia, that will be classified a town soon.
Further, Fredericks said that Articles Nine and 13 of the UN Declaration call for consultation. However, the NTC Chairman said that it has been noted that there are government programmes and policies being implemented without consultation with the indigenous peoples.
Fredericks said that despite these challenges, the NTC remains willing to discuss a way forward with the APNU+AFC government.
In addition, he highlighted Article Two of the Declaration, which calls for Indigenous peoples being free from discrimination. “I must say that I have not felt discriminated against based on my Lokono (Arawak) background, but my people are asking why are we being treated sometimes like third class citizens in this land where we are the first people to occupy this land.”
Fredericks however admitted that no government can solve all the problems facing Indigenous people. He said that “there are six races in Guyana and they can work together in love and unity”.
Meanwhile, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sydney Allicock encouraged the Toshaos to publicise the positive things happening within their villages and communities. He said that the Conference is also the place for reflecting, introspection and forward planning.
He said that the NTC is meeting at a time when there is much expectation of a bright future, particularly with the recent oil find. He added that there is a need for a stronger and more unified approach in decision making at the level of the NTC, whereby there is greater consultation with the wider membership of the Council.
He challenged the NTC to examine its own processes and identify the successes and shortcomings, and to work to ensure that the legacy made would be celebrated by future generations.
Delivering the feature address was President David Granger, who congratulated the NTC for including in this year’s theme ‘good governance’. He said that good governance is important in economic development, so that employment can be created and poverty can be reduced. He said that the NTC is responsible for preparation and planning, and improving the quality of life for the indigenous people and their communities.
The President said that the government along with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and the NTC have an obligation to work together towards improving the economic and social conditions of Indigenous people in several ways.
First, he highlighted that there is need for improvement in the education sector for Indigenous People.
“We must work together to improve the standard of education in terms of the three As, Access, Attendance and Achievement, especially in the primary and secondary schools in the hinterland communities.”
The President said that he would have visited a number of Amerindian communities along with his wife, where there were no buses, bicycles or boats to transport children to school. He said that efforts must be made to ensure that each child has access to education, can attend the institution, and thereby have the opportunity to achieve.
In the area of Social Protection, the President said that the government as well as the NTC need to work together to reduce alcoholism, prostitution, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and trafficking in persons. He said that these social issues undermine the cultural fabric of Indigenous communities.
The President outlined a number of issues which Indigenous communities face and must be protected from such as flooding, environmental degradation and pollution. He said that his government will not ignore these issues and will continue to work through the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to address the problems.
He reminded the Toshaos that the Conference is not a talk-shop but rather a workshop, a forum for planning and problem solving. The President urged the NTC to adopt the advantageous measures needed to improve the quality of life in Indigenous communities.
The Conference began yesterday and continues for the next five days, where representatives from 215 Indigenous Communities will meet, discuss and decide on a number of issues. This year’s theme is “Good Governance – A brighter future for Guyana’s first peoples.”
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