Nov 29, 2021 News
Have respect for us!
Kaieteur News – Residents of Marudi, in the deep-South Rupununi, Region Nine continue to protest the signing of new agreement between Government and a Canadian-based gold company for prospecting work to be done in their community.
Following the announcement on social media of the signing, residents became alarmed and protested the decision, citing that they were never consulted and have no knowledge of how their lives would be impacted by the activities. This prompted a visit by Cabinet members on Saturday, who residents say were just there to ‘brainwash’ them.
In attendance were Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat, Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, and Minister of Amerindian Peoples Affairs, Pauline Sukhai. Officials from the Guyana Geology and mines Commission (GGMC) were also present.
Kaieteur News understands that the meeting took place, only after a contract was signed, permitting the company to conduct its hunt for gold resources in the area. Residents in the area who attended the meeting said that they were made to understand that the Government has granted approval for Guyana Gold Strike, a Canadian based company and Aurous Guyana Inc. to prospect the land for gold. Toshao of Aishalton, a village just about 15 miles outside of Marudi in an interview with this publication said the Indigenous community feels disrespected.
He said, “We weren’t even notified of this meeting. I was told only at a meeting the day before by the Chairman…we were not informed of this agreement and we want to be involved in the decision making. Up to now we haven’t seen the agreement that was signed, so we don’t know what is on the agreement”.
The Toshao, Michael Thomas clarified that it is not his intent to stop mining activities, but they are calling for the decisions to be made only after the necessary consultations.
He noted that while the Natural Resources Minister had visited before and discussions were held, “we never know that those discussions were consultations towards the opening of the mountains”.
In fact, he explained that last year, a two-day meeting was held when the Government was attempting to reopen the mountains to mining activities. However, “We continued to ask questions like which law are you using to reopen, or to have mining activities happening”.
Since then, the project was halted and a taskforce was formed, which also never achieved the goal of ironing out matters relating to the recommencing of mining activities. “I did not get to speak but there wasn’t enough time for them to hear us. They said time was against them, so not everything that we wanted to say was said. We didn’t have much input in the meeting,” the Toshao posited.
He however pointed out that the residents’ main concern was being excluded from the agreement. “The main concern was them excluding us. We want those agreements to be made available for our Toshaos to read so we can have an idea as to what it says,” Thomas noted.
Marudi is a mining area just 15 miles outside of Aishalton. An application was made years ago for the land title of Aishalton to be extended to the Marudi Mountains. Since then, several residents have settled there from surrounding areas.
A resident of Marudi village and Youth Chairperson on the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), Josh Fredericks complained to this publication that not only were they given inadequate notice of the meeting Saturday, but also residents who attended were denied an opportunity to raise their concerns. He said that while miners were permitted to speak during the meeting, only a few residents were afforded the opportunity to speak.
According to him, “The district council was not invited to this meeting. It was me who decided to gather up the people to go out to the Community Center for this meeting”.
He noted that the GGMC officials spoke about how the community of Marudi is poised to benefit from the mining activities, while vague responses were given in relation to resolving the impacts of these activities. “They were only talking about the benefits and the many good things that they want to do; how miners will put funding into the community…but basically we think that this is just a brainwash to the people of the community,” he opined.
The Youth Chairperson said that while the authorities were bragging on social media that all stakeholders participated in the decision, this was not the truth. In fact, he said that the SRDC was never part of the discussions to formulate the agreement.
As a consequence, he called on the Government to make the agreement available for residents to understand how they stand to be affected. “This is totally wrong. It is like putting the cart before the horse. Doing a consultation after you already signed an agreement. It looks like now they want to inform the people that this agreement was signed,” he protested.
Fredericks said that because villagers are ignorant of what the mining companies were permitted to do, they are also clueless as to how their livelihood can be affected.
“We want to protect our land and our sacred sites, our natural forests, and we are looking at the negatives impacts this thing can have. Also we know that it can be positive. We are not against the mining but we’re upset about the way they are carrying about their selves. It is in manner that is disrespectful to our rights as Indigenous People,” he pointed out.
The Youth Chairperson was keen to note that the village is completely dependent on natural water sources. Against this background, he expressed fear as to what could happen to the people, should the river become polluted as a result of the mining activities. “We depend on the head waters. We depend on the natural water source and the water head are located in that area where there is a mine and if our water is polluted, it is not only the South Rupununi that would be affected, but other communities that depend on the water source, the Rupununi River,” he explained.
“We are not seeing any environmental plan, are they going to plant over trees, what are they going to do? We haven’t seen anything and we don’t know what is in that agreement,” Fredericks quarreled.
He is of the view that the villagers in Marudi inherited the land from their forefathers and they must remain keepers of the space.
“They must recognize that we are the keepers of the land and we want our rights to be respected at all times, at all forums whether it be locally or internationally, we are not only asking but are demanding legal recognition of our land. We have heard them saying that oh we care, but if they really cared they would be consulting our people and settle an agreement in the best interest of our community,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, another resident, Kid James echoed the sentiments shared by the other village leaders. He insisted that the South Rupununi District Council was never included in the agreement, and any development taking place in the district should pass through the Council.
“Mining may not be very ideal for our communities, but we know it is important to the economy. But we just wanted to make sure it as done the right way because when those people leave our communities, our land, it is our children who will continue to be affected by that, so anything about our development, our community voices need to be heard,” he posited.
James added, “This is a slap in the face, because this community gave over whelming support to this Government in the last elections…we in the south have been impacted by the pandemic, but the flooding recently gives rise to the issue of climate change. We want to make sure that our areas are not contributing to climate impacts that the world is experiencing at the moment and I think we have the resources and the local knowledge and we can help to reverse and keep within the limits in which we need to stay alive.”
The SRDC represents 21 Amerindian Communities in the district including Crowdar, Achiwib, Aishalton, Shea, Shulinab, Marudi and Awaranau.
Back in 2016, a ‘Mediation of the Marudi Mountain Dispute Agreement’ was made after the then Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, intervened in a standoff between small miners from the Marudi Mountain area, representatives of Indigenous communities, and Romanex Guyana Exploration Limited.
The Minister had facilitated a mediation process resulting in all parties signing the ‘Mediation of the Marudi Mountain Dispute Agreement’. This agreement paved the way for approximately 70 small scale mining operations to be able to continue operations providing they adhere to the environmental, safety and health stipulations.
However, in late 2018 and early 2019, several small-scale operators had descended upon the Mazoa Hill area and began dangerous and illegal mining operations. This was a direct breach of the terms of the agreement, signed in 2016. A total of thirty-four operators of “Crushers” and four operators of hydraulic excavators were issued with orders to remove.
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