Minister of Social Cohesion with responsibility for Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr George Norton, has announced that the building which currently houses the Ministry of Citizenship, on Waterloo Street, will be renamed in honour of the Indigenous political leader, Stephen Joseph Campbell, who is the first Guyanese of Indigenous descent to have become a Member of Parliament.
The Arawak (Lokono) and Portuguese descendant was born in Moruca, British Guiana on December 26, 1897. Minister Norton also said that consideration is also being given to the possibility of erecting a monument in Campbell’s honour at some time in the future.
Campbell, according to the Ministry of the Presidency, is widely regarded as a hero in Indigenous communities after having fought for their right to vote, land rights and for increased remunerations for captains. In 1962, amidst widespread fears that Indigenous lands would be expropriated after the departure of the British, Campbell presented a petition signed by 26 Indigenous Chiefs to the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Duncan Sandys at the British Guiana Constitutional Conference in London to lobby for Indigenous land rights.
When no satisfactory response was received after one year, Campbell and the then leader of The United Force (TUF), Peter D’Aguiar jointly pursued the matter, resulting in a number of initiatives, including the establishment of semi-reserves, fixed boundaries, and safeguarding of the right of appeal to the Privy Council concerning Indigenous rights for at least 10 years after Independence.
In 1964, the Amerindian Association of Guyana was formed, with Campbell at the helm where he continued to tackle land rights issues affecting Indigenous peoples, which led to the establishment of the Amerindian Act. That same year, he was re-elected to the House of Assembly where he was made Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs with special responsibility for Amerindian Affairs. Campbell also advocated for matters including agriculture and education. He was a firm proponent of the Indigenous way of life and the preservation of Indigenous culture and languages.
Campbell’s contributions are celebrated every year on September 10, during the Annual Indigenous Heritage Month celebrations. He died on May 12, 1966, two weeks before British Guiana obtained Independence.
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