The Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA) has presented a report to Government, on an extensive research and exploration project it undertook to have a comprehensive grasp of the land tenure situation for Indigenous communities in Region seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).
The advocacy body held the launch event yesterday evening at the Regency Hotel, Hadfield Street, in Georgetown, attended by Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Sidney Allicock, and stakeholders from several partner organisations of the APA.
The report, titled Ina Nono, Ina Uko’manto’ Eina Pata, Eina Komantok or Our Land, Our Life presents results of 16 months of research, working along with members of 20 communities in Region Seven, at the end of 2017 and throughout 2018. Its content also involves some literary research.
According to the APA, of the 20 communities studied, 15 are titled and five possess no legal documents to their lands. The Land Tenure Assessment team also reportedly visited two satellite villages located within the title boundaries of other villages; some families who are living within their own traditional lands, but don’t have formal governance bodies; and two communities situated closely with other Region Seven villages, but which are formally located in other regions.
The APA has contended that many Indigenous communities have expressed concerns over not having title to the full extent of their traditional lands or no title at all, in some cases. Further, there have been complaints about poor demarcation, which has left out parts of the communities’ lands. This has reportedly resulted in the erosion of their customary land rights or causation of boundary conflicts with other neighbouring communities.
There are also problems with extractive activities such as mining and logging on community lands.
The APA has called for Government to grant resolutions to land conflicts with third parties operating within titled lands, without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the community.
One of the issues that came up during the launch is that of the Amerindian Act not being adequately structured to ensure full protection of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, particularly their customary land rights. The organization is requesting legal and policy reforms to prevent the allocation of Indigenous ancestral lands to mining concessions holders without respect for the rights of the Indigenous communities.
Speaking to Kaieteur News after the event, Minister Allicock said that the revision of the act is a focus of Government, but the Minister said that the current political situation limits the power of Government to make those changes. As the Government is functioning in a caretaker capacity, it has decided not to go back to Parliament unless there is consensus with the political opposition to do so. As a result, no new laws can be passed, nor can amendments be made at this time.
The report’s main findings detail widespread dissatisfaction with the current land tenure situation, with reports of claims for land titles being ignored, failures of current titles to cover the entire traditional areas, conflicts with logging and mining interests, fragmentation of collective territories based on the allocations being done by the state, etc.
Minister Allicock said that the traditional lands utilised by indigenous communities also inculcate the interests of other species that live in the environment, as these communities place great significance on the maintenance of the natural ecosystems in which they live, and the protection of the environment.
This land tenure assessment was largely donor-funded, with assistance coming from Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative and The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.
The APA has worked with the Forest Peoples Programme and the Rainforest Foundation US, as well, for this endeavour.
Land Tenure Assessment Projects have been concluded in Regions One, Two, and Eight, as well. Prior to 2016, research studies were carried out to compile a report titled “Participatory Assessment of the Land Tenure Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Guyana: Regions 1 and 2”.
It was launched in December 2016, and copies of the document were distributed to villages that participated in the activity. For Region Eight, Land Tenure Assessment Work began in late 2015, continued through 2016, and concluded in 2017. That report, titled “Our Land, Our Life: A Participatory Assessment of the Land Tenure Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Guyana – Report for Region 8”, was launched in May 2018.
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