DRAFT October 15, 1996
I. Basic Features of the Sector
A. Geographical Distribution
B. Socioeconomic Conditions
II. Past Evolution and Current Policies of the Sector
A. Past Evolution of Policies
B. Current Policies Towards Amerindians
III. Description of the Principal Issues and Constraints Facing the Sector
B. Constraints Affecting the Development of Amerindians
IV. Sectoral Objectives
A. General Objectives
B. Specific Objectives
V. Alternative Policies for Achieving Stated Objectives
A. Amerindian Representation
B. National Security
C. Amerindian Lands
D. Hereditary Rights
E. Intellectual Property Rights and Cultural Heritage
VI. Policy Recommendations and Their Technical Justifications
A. General Policy Recommendations
B. Specific Recommendations
VII. Recommended Legislative Changes
A. The General Issues
B. The Specific Issues
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About one hundred and fifty years ago, the different Amerindian peoples tended to be located in specific natural environments across Guyana. Many factors altered the traditional settlement patterns: the process of Amerindian migration to Christian mission stations beginning in the 1840s; recent movements towards where there might be a school, shop or health centre; the impact of diseases; the transformation on the coastal plain following European settlement and plantation agriculture; the impact of investment in the interior and so on.
The best estimates of the Amerindian population and their status in society are found in two major surveys conducted in 1993 by the Statistical Bureau with funding from the United Nations Development Programme -- the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) and the Living Standards Measurement Survey (LSMS).
Guyana has a race-based geography, with the non-Amerindian majority concentrated on the narrow coastal plain which makes up about 5 per cent of the total land area. Amerindians are estimated to number 48,859 persons, comprising 6.81 per cent of the national population of 717,458 persons. They rank as the fourth largest ethnic group, after East Indians (49.49 per cent), Africans (35.63 per cent) and Mixed Guyanese (7.05 per cent). Amerindians comprise most of the population in the remote interior of Regions 1, 8, and 9 and a significant percentage (one-third) of Region 7.
According to the HIES, the "bulk of the Amerindians live in Regions 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9. Region 1 and 9 have 28.80 per cent and 24.95 per cent respectively of the Amerindian population, followed by Regions 2, 7 and 8 with 11.72 per cent, 9.45 per cent and 8.63 per cent respectively" (p. 97). Once having been the majority in the area comprising Region 7, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni District, Amerindian numbers are now reduced to close to one-third in this gold and diamond-bearing heartland. This is mostly due to invasion from coastland areas and emigration by Amerindians.
Amerindian peoples in Guyana were traditionally separated from each other by natural environments and by their use of distinct languages. This pattern still holds true, except for coastal Amerindian settlements in Region 1 where Arawaks, Waraus and Caribs are often found in the same village. Following are the estimated numbers of Guyana's Amerindian peoples and the general ecosystem occupied:
Distribution of Amerindian Population
|Name of People||Number||Ecosystem Occupied|
|Arawaks (or Lokonos as they call themselves) and mixed Arawaks||15,500||White sand plateau near the coast and in the middle river basins below the falls.|
|Warau||5,000||Coastal swamps in the North West Region or Region 1.|
|Caribs or Karinya||3,000||Coastal river heads and coastal lowland forests.|
|Akawaio||5,000||Lowland and upland forests of Region 7.|
|Patamona||5,000||South of the Akawaios, on the upland savannah.|
|Arekuna||562||The village of Paruima on the Kamarang River of the Upper Mazaruni District.|
|Makushi||7,750||North of the Kanuku mountain range in the Rupununi region.|
|Wapishana||6,900||South of the Kanuku mountain range in the Rupununi region.|
|Waiwai||200||Lowland forested area in the upper Essequibo region. They are the most southern people.|
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While the Amerindian population is important in regional demographic terms, it is neither homogenous nor organized effectively as a lobby. This is a distinct disadvantage due to the rapid development of resource extractive industries and the strength of the mining and forestry lobbies in the national economy.
The 1993 Household Income and Expenditure Survey surveyed 18,429 Amerindians in all the regions of Guyana - a representative rather than a comprehensive survey. Nevertheless, it provides the best current information on socioeconomic conditions among Amerindians. For example, its data establish that the average indigenous household is composed of 5.5 persons in comparison with the national average of 4.28 persons. This trend was also noted in the 1987 census - GUYREDEM - which found that Amerindian birth rates were the highest of all ethnic groups. It shows a universal phenomenon: that birth rates are highest among the poorest strata of society, where children are the only form of life insurance and where women have few options to limit childbearing.
External influences on Amerindians are contributing to the changing dynamics of village life, where the younger people often measure status by the possession of consumer goods, and the gradual de-emphasizing of subsistence agriculture. One example is the effect of mining, which has transformed social relationships in many indigenous communities, with the placement of a monetary value on goods or services. This new insistence on payment puts the old and the young at risk, who lack the necessary means. All Amerindian communities have suffered doubly from the impact of higher food prices and increased transportation costs into the interior.
The increasing contacts with national and international NGOs have been concomitant with this expansion of the domestic economy into the national system. Inevitably, some traditional mature male leaders have found themselves inadvertently sidelined as NGOs seek to work with non-traditional members of 'civil society' -- women or the literate younger generation, for example. These traditional leaders, who have often had little formal schooling, have felt displaced by their womenfolk or by younger community members more versed in dealing with the majority society. In practice these new tensions are often expressed in a generalized distrust of all community members who emerge as non-traditional leaders or potential project carriers. However, the increasing prominence given to gender and related issues has created new openings for the involvement of women and youths in development and training projects.
Villages are increasingly moving away from traditional life style patterns. Wage earning, post-primary education and NGO activities are moving these societies beyond sustenance lifestyles into new social formations, which are resulting in stresses and strains that can cause disruption within the fabric of village life.
The HIES of 1993 suggests that 75 percent of the Amerindians surveyed (13,828 out of a total of 18,429) are in the self-employed category, concentrated in traditional subsistence activities such as agriculture, hunting and forestry. Smaller numbers --fewer than 500 in total-- are self-employed in fishing, mining, quarrying, and manufacturing.
In spite of rapid changes in many areas of the interior, most of Amerindians continue to operate outside the cash economy and are still dependent on a subsistence way of life. The HIES concluded that "The most striking feature is that for all the three major ethnic groups, viz. East Indians, Negro/Black and Mixed, the average monthly household consumption expenditure is of the same order of G$22,000. For the Amerindians, it is only $15,302 which is explained by the fact that their consumption is mostly from home-grown or produced goods, and their housing expenditure is minimal."
The staple diet of the Amerindians consists of cassava, which supplies carbohydrates. Protein generally comes from fish or meat, which are either hunted or bought from the most successful fishermen or hunters. Sometimes these protein sources have to be bought from interior shops owned by coastlanders. Both sources of protein have also come under threat. In the case of fish, the use of heavy duty hydraulic earthmoving equipment on or near riverbanks by the mining industry increases water turbidity, which in turn adversely affects the spawning grounds of many fish species. The use of chemicals such as cyanide and mercury is also poisonous to fish life. In the case of birds and animals, many traditional habitats have been disturbed by foresters.
Access to potable water is nonexistent in the majority of Amerindian communities. The traditional source of pure water from creeks and rivers has increasingly come under threat of pollution due to the rapid growth of resource extractive industries in the interior beginning from the early 1980s.
In comparison with the other ethnic groups, a larger proportion of Amerindians are classified as poor in the most recent census data available. Approximately 85 per cent of the Amerindian population falls below the poverty line(1) (Dr. C.Y. Thomas, IDB Report, 1994). According to the 1993 HIES there are only 2,981 Amerindians above the age of 55 years, which suggests an overall poor state of health.
Given their comparatively small numbers, reversing the poverty status of Amerindians seems a manageable task. In fact, however, Amerindian/hinterland poverty is a complex mix of issues, given the dispersed settlement pattern, the difficult terrain, the high cost of administering of interior projects, the lack of human resources skills both in the Amerindian and in the wider population, the lack of an effective lobby.
Of the Amerindians surveyed by the Household Income and Expenditure Survey of 1993, 689 males and 884 females claimed to be illiterate. Close to one-half of that number (315 males and 317 females) were between 5 and 9 years old. Only 0.1 percent of the interior population has received post-secondary education. The urgent need for upgrading basic skills among the adult population has been identified at every recent forum of indigenous representatives - skills training to prepare Amerindians to manage the resource base in their villages as well as to take fuller advantage of job openings within the developing economy in the Guyana interior.
A less easily definable aspect of the problem results from the markedly egalitarian ethos that defines Amerindian social organization that is now being transformed in several ways. Until very recently, most Amerindian communities were essentially lacking in hierarchical distinctions. Few villagers worked outside the communities and those who did generally earned modest wages in timber grants or in other manual jobs. However, beginning in the early 1980s, the expansion of the gold and diamond mining industries attracted many Amerindian males. Some who worked on their own struck gold while others who hired out their labour to medium or large scale mining operations were able to earn considerable amounts of cash in relatively short periods. Mining fever extended beyond the mineral-rich areas to attract Amerindian males from all parts of Guyana. The scale of Amerindian involvement in mining is a contributory factor to the changing dynamics of village life where the younger people often measure status by the possession of consumer goods and the gradual de-emphasizing of subsistence agriculture.
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As a result of treaties between Spain, Portugal and other colonial countries in the past, Amerindians enjoy certain entitlements linked to their status of first inhabitants of the Latin American countries. Amerindians are free to cross the borders between the different ex-colonies in South-America. The colonial authorities divided the South American territory quite arbitrarily, not respecting the cultural homogeneity of parts of the territory. Consequently, colonial boundaries suddenly ran through areas that were, in terms of human/tribal occupation, homogenous. Several Amerindian tribes found themselves suddenly divided into Guyanese and Brazilian Macushi or Guyanese and Venezuelan Warau, etc. The social and familial consequences were partially corrected by allowing Amerindians to pass the borders freely. In Guyana, Amerindians use this entitlement very often to visit family in Venezuela, Brazil or Suriname.
During colonization, both the Dutch and the English treated and traded with various Amerindian groups in Guyana, and recognized the political and social organization of these peoples. Amerindians were never enslaved nor suffered any disability under the law in respect to the acquisition and disposition of property. During Guyana's history there has been a series of laws that have safeguarded Amerindian titles to land. These are:
The Dutch West Indian Co. decree in 1784 that the Indians be given "full and free ownership" of land and this policy remained largely unchanged during the British era.
Governor Light's recognition in the 1820s that though land was being provided to settlers, the Indians remained the "possessors de facto of the soil."
Usufructuary rights of Amerindians over state land were recognized in the Creek Bill of 1838.
The Amerindian Protection Ordinance of 1902. Nothing in the ordinance was inconsistent with the preservation of aboriginal title. Indeed, regulations introduced in 1903 and 1905 suggested that while Amerindians did not possess sub-surface rights, the lands they occupied were legally theirs.
Amerindian usufructuary rights over state lands were recognized again in a series of 1922 regulations based on the Amerindian Protection Ordinance, where Amerindian usufructuary rights to State lands were established.
During the British period, Amerindians were quite aware of their rights to own land and were suspicious of any encroachments and regulations regarding the land. In the 1820s, for instance, the Amerindians objected to their land being leased and asked for a guarantee of their right to occupancy of the soil of their ancestors. Although that this last element could also suggest that Amerindians recognized British authority over their lands, the administration's actions were entirely consistent with the continuance of an Amerindian sui generis interest in the land. Annex C of the Independence Agreement called for the formal legal recognition of freedoms and permissions that Amerindians, by tradition or custom, enjoy over lands in a de facto sense.
In sum, the laws and regulations that continue to exist in Guyana right now suggest that the Government of Guyana has never explicitly extinguished Amerindian aboriginal title at Common Law. The laws of Guyana include provisions that preserve the special place Amerindians take in Guyanese society as first inhabitants of Guyana. Accordingly, Amerindian aboriginal title continues as a legitimate Amerindian interest in land. This is also the main conclusion of the document prepared by the Canadian Lawyers Association for International Human Rights in 1994 for the APA. However, it still has not been decided to what extent this entitles Amerindians, from a legal and historic point of view, to collective land titles in freehold.
There are cases of British Common Law Jurisprudence using the existence of aboriginal lex loci to grant aboriginals usufructuary rights over lands that otherwise would revert to the Crown under the principle of Res Nullius (Dana v. Hanaii). However, the lex loci and its respective ethnic group were brought under the National Sovereignty of the British Crown. The British Crown recognized the diversity of its subjects, and consequently recognized lex loci and aboriginal customary rights.
Under the original article 8 and the present article 142 of the Guyanese Constitution, no interest in or right over property of any description may be compulsorily acquired without compensation being provided according to a scheme prescribed by law. Aboriginal title is an interest in or right over property, and thus may not be expropriated without compensation. Compensation should be paid in those cases where lex loci, or a customary right over a certain resource or good, exists. Compensation and royalties should not be confused; they are separate matters. The compensation to use a resource under customary rights is also different from compensation over environmental damages and socio-cultural impacts.
The status of agreements between colony and colonial power, however, may be binding as the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties points out. This convention stipulates that the principle "Pacta Sunt Servanda" should be honoured. For the Newly Independent States, the principle is that of automatic continuity of treaties to the extent in which it does not conflict with the principle of self-determination of colonial peoples and nations (Szafarz, 1983, p. 121). The NIS are obliged to take over territorial treaties, but have a free choice in relation to others (Oliver M. Ribbelinck, 1988, p. 43). The Vienna Convention was accepted in 1978, and is applicable to cases of State succession originating before the Convention's ratification.
These considerations are applied in subsequent section of this chapter that define policies regarding participation of Amerindians in natural resource concessions on their land.
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1. Amerindian Representation
The integration of the Amerindian culture into the mainstream of Guyanese society is a concept that has received much attention, and there has been a Babylonic confusion of tongues about the concept itself. For this National Development Strategy it is taken to mean equal opportunity in education, self-determination and enhanced economic opportunities. The Advisory Committee on Amerindian Affairs supports this vision of participation and consultation in the development process. Dialogue and shared responsibilities and action should increase the level of self-actualisation among the non-Amerindian and Amerindian groups that constitute the Guyanese nation.
Guyana is a young state, and the population consists of many races. The making of the Nation-State is not an easy process, and recently, we have observed that it is not the summit in the institutional development process of government and countries, but that, once achieved, the fabric of the nation-state can weaken. In this decade of ethnic conflict, we must say that the classic nation-state model is changing. Federalism, and other forms of co-gestation and decentralisation are emerging in various parts of the world.
With the inauguration of a new Government in October 1992, a Minister of Amerindian Affairs was appointed, and 10 Amerindian Members of Parliament were elected out of a total of 65 members in the National Assembly. In percentage terms, this indicates that although Amerindians comprise 6 per cent of the population, they hold 16 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly. Although democratically well represented, the Amerindian MPs are divided along party-affiliation. Political agendas do not always pay the necessary attention to ongoing structural marginalisation of the Amerindian population.
Two years ago, a fourteen-member Parliamentary Select Committee was constituted to study and make recommendations for the revision of the Amerindian Act. The Minister of Amerindian Affairs has publicly stated that Captains and Councillors of all Amerindian communities will be asked to make recommendations on changes to the Act. There is general agreement that the voice of the Amerindians is being given more attention at the national level.
As for donor-agency assistance to Amerindian communities, the UNDP country office has been coordinating sectoral meetings on poverty alleviation, integrated community development, and Amerindian Affairs. Several consultations have taken place, organized by NGOs and international agencies under the auspices of the Government of Guyana, and they have resulted in descriptive and analytical reports on the situation of Amerindians in the country. Also the formation of an Amerindian umbrella-organization, called the National Amerindian Council, is a result of this exercise. The NAC brings representatives of the centrally-based Amerindian NGOs (APA, TAAMOG, GOIP) and regionally-based Amerindian organizations (AHA, Rupununi Weavers, R2CC, SCIPA, etc.) together. The NAC still does not have a secretariat, nor a satisfactory budget to improve its performance.
While the law enjoins Regional Officers to oversee and protect the rights of indigenous communities, in practice not only are the links between these levels weak, but Regional Officials have generally supported the activities of non-Amerindian outsiders over the interests of indigenous peoples who live in resource-rich areas. This is perpetuated by the poor communication links between the most interior areas and the capital, and by the access to power, resources, and effective lobbies enjoyed by these special interest groups.
Elected Captains and Village Councils govern Amerindian communities. Elections are supposed to be held every two years, supervised by Officers in the Regional system. In theory, these elected village officials should have powers that their counterparts in the local government structure in non-Amerindian areas have; however, in practice those powers are lacking. Most Amerindian councils lack even a village office, and in fact, record keeping - of meetings, village finances, royalty payments, law enforcement, etc. - is lacking. Only the Captain receives a small stipend from the Government; all Councillors serve gratis. Most of Amerindian leaders have identified the need for leadership and other training as a priority for their development.
2. Aid Activity
Since the institution of structural adjustment policies in 1991 for Guyana, several non-governmental and international organizations have focussed on projects in Amerindian areas, most notably, the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) and Futures Fund (through a Guyanese/Canadian Fertiliser Project). Futures Fund has executed more than fifty projects in Amerindian communities in the last four years. In cooperation with Futures Fund, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) is carrying out an agroforestry/agriculture development programme for nine Amerindian communities in Region Two.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) estimates that 90 percent of its aid to Guyanese hinterland (indigenous) communities is directed at people living in extreme poverty. CIDA is also co-funding a national oral health survey that is also targeting indigenous dental status. In 1994 UNICEF, in collaboration with the Governmental of Guyana, launched a five-year Amazon Programme. This programme focuses on the amelioration of living conditions of indigenous communities through an integrative and participatory process with the communities involved. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is also involved in several projects in individual Amerindian communities. Its Partners in Development Programme fund have supported the Rupununi Weavers Society in Region 9. The UNDP also funded the February 1995 consultation on "Indigenous Peoples and National Development" and is the lead agency for donor coordination in the sector.
Worthwhile as all this activity is, in practice it has been marred by the tensions it has generated within small communities - a SIMAP faction, versus a Futures Fund faction, and so on. There have been allegations of a lack of understanding of village dynamics and a lack of donor coordination in operational terms. Clearly, stronger coordination efforts are needed on the part of donors.
Some Amerindian village leaders have reached contractual arrangements with loggers and sawmillers to exploit timber on Amerindian reservations. Amerindians have gained little from this trade; more often than not, very unequal exchanges have principally benefitted outsiders. Yet there is a threshold of poverty below which the poor - in this case, Amerindians - become disproportionately destructive, either by directly destroying resources that could nurture them for years or indirectly by giving outsiders access to resources under indigenous control. While Amerindian land title does not extend to the rivers that pass through a reservation, Amerindians have historical right to fish in all areas controlled by the State and termed State Lands.
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a. The Amerindian Lands Commission Report
This report, published in June 1969, identified 128 Amerindian communities in the country. Requests for land titles were made by 116 of them. Although the other twelve communities did not request land titles, the commission recommended them for the granting of titles. The commission had recommended that land titles be vested in Local Authorities and that individual land titles be given to residents of 8 communities. Conditional grant was recommended for one community, reservation status was recommended for two communities, while full titles were granted to 62 communities under the Amerindian Act. Titles for very scattered communities were to be known as Districts and two were recommended under this head. At the time, 12 villages in the Upper Mazaruni District were not granted title because of their involvement in a proposed hydroelectric scheme. However, those communities received land title in 1991. Outstanding issues that remain to this day are:
Inadequate land grants in terms of areas covered.
Boundary lines were never physically demarcated. This led to conflicts between communities and State Lands authorities or the Guyana Forestry Commission and sawmill concessions.
No training of local authorities to administer and manage titled lands.
Very few individual titles were granted in practice although the Act provides for them.
Amerindian NGOs refer to the customary ownership of Amerindian peoples over the lands they occupy, and urge the Government of Guyana to complete the exercise started by the Amerindian Lands Commission Act.
Opinions vary regarding settlements that did not exist at the time of the Commission's work. The same regulations governing State Lands (and Amerindians) allow Amerindians to occupy unlicensed State Lands for housing and to use the natural resources on the lands for the purpose of developing the settlement.
b. The Present Situation
Approximately 16% of the Guyanese national territory has been titled to the Amerindian population. Land title encompasses usufruct rights --to fish, farm and hunt on the land-- as well as rights to all timber on reserved lands and occupancy rights. Subsoil rights are excluded.(2) The forestry reserves under the sole control of Amerindian communities are considerable, and if harvested sustainably, could support indigenous people for generations. Guyana has a land area of about 21.5 million hectares, of which more than 16 million hectares are forested. Of this total, 1.4 million hectares of mostly forested land, is legally under the control of indigenous peoples.
Land titles have been given in different forms, namely Amerindian villages, Amerindian areas, and Amerindian Districts. Amerindians hold land collectively, although individual/family parcels are identified and generally accepted at the community level. In some communities, the village council has identified parcels for housing, farming, etc.(3) Most of the Amerindian communities in Guyana (77) have title to some of their traditional lands, totaling some 16 per cent of the Guyanese national territory. Most of this land is within the tropical Amazonian or savannah ecosystems, and therefore of poor soil quality. The criterion to grant land titles is the fact that Amerindians occupied these lands before the independence of Guyana.(4)
The Constitution does not guarantee any of these rights and the Minister responsible for Amerindian Affairs holds the powers to adjust, redraw and grant land titles. The communities that received land title in the past are shown in Table 22-2.
Amerindian Communities With Land Title
Akawini, Pomeroon River
Bethany, Essequibo Coast
Capoey Lake, Essequibo
Kabakaburi, Pom. River
Kairimap/St. Monica's, Pomeroon River
Mainstay/Whyaka, Essequibo Manawarin
Mashabo, Essequibo Coast
St. Ignatius (homesteads)
St. Cuthberts, Mahaica River
St. Ignatius (Farmlands)
St. Francis, Mahaicony River
Tapakuma (St. Deny's) Essequibo Coast
Tobago and Wauna Hill
Wakapau, Pomeroon River
Other areas designated as Amerindian districts are: Annai, Karaudanawa, Karasabai, Baramita and Konashen.
However, only Orealla has had a physical survey of its reservation boundaries properly carried out. At the time when title was granted in 1976, aerial surveys were done to establish communities' boundaries and 90 per cent of the areas granted to Amerindian communities were demarcated by natural boundaries. The cost for conducting ground surveys is very high; the Department of Lands and Surveys recently estimated that the surveying of boundaries of Bethany would cost G$400,000, while a land use mapping exercise for the nine Amerindian communities in Region Two is estimated to cost G$ 4-5 million. Nevertheless, this is an area in which international agencies may be willing to provide support.
There are many communities, scattered over the entire country and comprising a total estimated population of five thousand persons, that lack any security of tenure. The Amerindian communities in Guyana that lack land title are shown in Table 22-3.
Amerindian Villages that Lack Title
Kariaku, Barama River
Mabaruma Hill (Barimbanobo)
Other various small and scattered settlements
Isseneru, Middle Mazaruni
Kaburi/72 Miles, Lower Mazaruni
Kambaru, near Imbaimadai - Upper Mazaruni
Karrau Creek, Essequibo River
Mosapai/Kaikan, Upper Mazaruni
Serenamu-Pashenamu, Middle Mazaruni
Tashareng/Issano, Middle Mazaruni
|8||Campbelltown, Mahdia District
Fairview, Essequibo River
Katoonarib, South Rupununi
Parikwarunau, South Rupununi
Rewa, North Rupununi
Rupunau, South Rupununi
Great Falls, Demerara River
Hittia, Berbice River
Kimbia, Berbice River
Malali, Demerara River
Wiruni, Berbice River
In summary, the questions that are of primary concern to Amerindians are as follows:
Complete resolution of the land issue/granting of titles.
Resolve of the question of subsoil mineral rights.
Clarify the status of land regarding control over exploitation by outside agents.
Regulate the process that now results on leasing or granting to developers lands that were traditionally used by Amerindians without consulting these communities.
Develop rules for compensation of Amerindian communities for the exploitation of natural resources contained on lands to which they lay claim.
Foster the participation of Amerindians in the management, administration and conservation of natural resources.
Develop mechanisms to regulate and monitor activities in mining, forestry, and ecotourism.
Amerindian rights to sub-surface minerals are excluded by the nature of the title. The mining that does take place on titled lands is either illegal (garimpeiro-type operations) or is the result of a private arrangement with a villager, the Captain, or the Village Council. At the same time, there is mining by non-Amerindians on lands, particularly in Regions 1, 7 and 8, claimed by Amerindian communities that lack any form of title. According to Guyanese law, if an Amerindian wishes to engage in mining on his community's land, that individual must give up the special rights, enshrined in law, that the individual enjoyed as an Amerindian.
The scale of mining in and around Amerindian areas is predicted to increase dramatically over the next two years. Large-scale operations such as Golden Star Resources, Cathedral Mining, Guyana Goldfields, etc., are now prospecting in Amerindian areas. In addition, more than 3,000 medium-scale prospecting licences have been issued to date. Even if only 10 per cent of the prospecting companies go on to mine, the effects on the interior and its peoples will be considerable.
a. Environmental Aspects
Mining, whether alluvial or hardrock, river dredging or land mining, causes disturbances to the environment that affect the living conditions of Amerindians. The negative results of mining include, but are not limited to, noise nuisances, pollution of domestic water sources, land degradation, lessened navigability of rivers, flooding, and death to aquatic life that Amerindians depend on as a food source.
b. Cultural/Social Aspects
The presence of mining operations in or near Amerindian areas tends to socially and culturally affect the population in several ways:
(1) The mining jobs are generally higher paying, hence young men leave the farms and traditional ways of life for mining.
(2) The miners and loggers bring in new ideas and gadgets, music, television, etc., that influence the desires of the villages. These lifestyles affect Amerindian family units and cohesiveness, resulting in moral decline, drunkenness, sexual abuse, prostitution and drug abuse.
(3) Miners and loggers often take out Amerindian young men and women from the interior to the coastland, where they are likely to be unable to cope with the environment and can become trapped in illegal activities.
c. Economic Aspects
Amerindians are generally concerned that valuable minerals are removed from lands belonging to them without any meaningful consultation and compensation. The Government is aware of this situation and will take measures to ensure that Amerindians benefit from any exploitation of minerals, forest products and tourism on their lands. Amerindians will also be given greater investment opportunities in any other economic area. A policy that requires mining royalties to be paid into an Amerindian development fund is outlined in this Strategy. This development fund is discussed in more detail later in the chapter.
While it is recognized that our forests contain many species of trees that can be exploited for economic benefit, the harvesting of those trees must be done on a regulated basis, not only to protect the environment, but also to safeguard the lifestyles of the people and animals who depend on the forests for survival.
If the forest ecosystem is not taken care of and there is no plan to preserve and protect the environment, the lives that are dependent on it for survival will be at stake. Amerindians depend on the forest for food, shelter, and various other needs; thus it is important not only to protect the trees, but the larger ecosystem as well.
In addition to these considerations, the rights conferred on Amerindian communities imply that they are entitled to benefit economically from forest exploitation of their lands.
Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is a relatively new industry in Guyana. Amerindians, as individuals and as communities, have much to learn about what it entails and its positive and negative impacts. No tourism policy or regulations govern the industry, allowing most of the tourism activities in the country to go uncontrolled and unmonitored.
Since eco-tourism in Guyana depends on what nature provides, most of that activity will take place in the interior. Contact with interior communities and their environs can be expected. While communities can benefit economically from this activity, they can suffer negative social impacts if the operations remain unregulated. While profitability should remain a goal, protection of the environment and of the lifestyles of interior communities should also be a guiding factor. It is recognised that tourism, no matter how sensitive to the needs of the Amerindians, will have a disrupting effect on local culture. As such, steps will be taken that reduce these effects and to enhance tourism's benefits for Amerindians. (For more details, see the Tourism chapter of the Strategy.)
5. Intellectual Property Rights and Cultural Heritage
Indigenous peoples have been particularly vulnerable to the loss of their heritage as distinct peoples. Usually viewed as "backward," they have been the targets of cultural assimilation. Their arts and knowledge were frequently not regarded as world treasures and have been simply destroyed through colonisation or collected by museums. Now tourism, a growing consumer demand for "primitive" style art, and the development of biotechnology threaten indigenous peoples' ability to protect what remains of their heritage.
The issue is very technical and complex. At several international and national fora arguments have been made for the protection of the traditional knowledge and culture of indigenous peoples through a system of intellectual property rights. The issue was important enough to be put on the agenda of the UN Working Group for Indigenous Peoples. In Guyana, indigenous groups have called for legislation to protect the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples and to promote the revival and enhancement of indigenous heritage.
Heritage is a concept that includes all expressions of the relationship between the people, their land, and their environment. It is the basis for maintaining social, economic and diplomatic relationships with other peoples. All aspects are interrelated and cannot be separated from the traditional territory of the people concerned. What tangible and intangible items constitute the heritage of a particular indigenous people must be decided by themselves.
Traditionally the Amerindian population has been excluded from the mainstream of educational opportunities due to several constraints. The inability of Government to address these constraints has resulted in a lack of educational opportunities for Amerindians. Education for Amerindians should be wide in scope. It should not only address issues of formal education for
children in the school system, but should be extended to empower Amerindians of all ages to improve their standard of living. Education and training policies should be of such a nature that they enable Amerindians to deal with other contemporary issues that affect them. Examples of these are basic business skills, public health concerns, and social welfare. These policies should be designed so that they encompass overall human development.
Relevant training in conservation and use of hinterland resources should equip Amerindians to benefit fully from the development of these resources. Training will focus on appropriate agricultural techniques and forestry practices, food processing, handicraft, artisanal trades and general training in entrepreneurship and management.
The same overarching economic difficulties that afflict the entire country adversely affect education in the interior. However, these have had a greater impact on the hinterland communities. The result is that Amerindian villages have suffered the most in all aspects of life, especially for education. Very little attention has been paid to empowering Amerindians through education to take advantage of opportunities that are available to the wider population.
Among the most important issues is the lack of trained Amerindian teachers at the community level. The trained teachers in Amerindian villages are often non-Amerindian. Despite the best intentions, the result has been that education has a non-traditional focus that may not be applicable to community development. Students are not inculcated with an appreciation of the value of their own traditions. Many cultural aspects of Amerindian life are being eroded. Among these is the gradual loss of language, dress, dance, medicinal knowledge and general culture. To make education a success and relevant to the needs of the Amerindian peoples, the question of linguistics must also be addressed with urgency.
Many Amerindian teachers in the interior are not trained and do not possess the requirements to enter the Cyril Potter College of Education or the University of Guyana. This problem can be tied into a larger issue, which is the absence of secondary schools in the interior. Decisive steps in the educational area are needed to remedy this problem.
7. Village/Community Administration
While some practices in local and community administration differ from what the Amerindian Act contains, many other aspects of administration are hindered by the narrow and limited powers given to community leaders under the present regulations. For proper administration of communities along the lines of what the communities perceive their needs to be, there is a need for more empowerment of village and community leaders. However, as with all systems of management and administration, checks and balances should be in place to ensure proper and efficient administration and to avoid misuse of power. In addition, substantial efforts are required to train Amerindians in the techniques of administration, including accounting.
The National Plan of Action for Children, launched in March 1995 by the Government of Guyana in collaboration with UNICEF, noted: "Conditions for Amerindian children and women of the hinterland, taken as a group, are harsh in comparison with conditions for children on the coast. Malaria, malnutrition, acute respiratory illness, and diarrhoeal-related diseases are especially prevalent due to unacceptable water and sanitation. High levels of teen pregnancy, poor material health and a decline in breast-feeding are all of concern."
This situation is worse in some areas (Region 1, for example) than in others (Region 9). Individuals are caught up in such poverty and deprivation that they often ignore the practice of basic health care. For example, 8 out of 10 inhabitants in Region 1 had malaria in the first quarter of 1995. Thirty-five per cent of these cases have not responded to the standard drug treatment, while an equal number are reinfected three times and more during the average 12-month period. This situation may be rightly termed a national emergency, and for communities and Regions as stricken as these, direct governmental intervention is critical; not only medical attention and supplies, but also food and vitamin supplements, particularly for schools, and payments for work done on community projects are essential. Also, training in public health (e.g., eliminating open stagnant pools of water) is urgently needed.
The 1987 GUYREDEM survey found that Amerindian birth rates were the highest of all ethnic groups. This rising trend is in line with indigenous growth rates for Amerindian populations throughout the Americas, reversing the widespread prediction at the beginning of the 20th century that indigenous populations were on their way to extinction. It is, however, indicative of another universal phenomenon: that birth rates are highest among the poorest strata of society, where children are the only form of life insurance available and where women have few options to limit childbearing.
The Ministry of Health has declared that malaria is now endemic in Guyana. This disease is prevalent in the forested interior areas of Guyana where the mosquito vector is abundant. These are also the areas populated by a majority of indigenous peoples who, along with miners and other workers in resource extractive industries, are its principal victims. In 1994 there were 30,913 new cases of malaria, compared to 33,172 in 1993 and 31,156 in 1992. Seventy-one per cent of the cases reported in 1994 were of the more deadly falciparum strain with 29 per cent of the vivax strain.
It is well known that endemic malaria has an extraordinarily debilitating effect on the infected community. High infection rates, which break the agricultural cycle, have been historically associated with the extinction of entire populations. Worm infestation is endemic in most interior areas. The extremely low hemoglobin levels found in Amerindian patients referred to the Georgetown Public Hospital are probably as much a symptom of year-round worm infestation and repeated bouts of malaria as of poor nutrition.
Recent anti-malaria interventions undertaken by the Ministry of Health include more training of primary health care workers in malaria control and treatment, controlled DDT spraying, and the
launching of a pilot project in two Amerindian areas to treat mosquito nets with a safe insecticide.
The following excerpts from the findings of a 1992 GAHEF Health and Nutrition Survey in all ten Regions of Guyana further illustrate the health situation of Amerindians:
"That children in the hinterland areas - Regions 7 and 8 - were the ones most affected by respiratory tract infection. Over 50 per cent in Region 8 and more than 30 per cent in Region 7 were affected at the time of the survey."
"The highest percentage of children with diarrhoea at the time of the survey or preceding the survey was found in Region 9, another interior region. At the time of the survey, 10.2 per cent were found to be affected by diarrhoea, while 29.1 per cent were affected during the previous month."
"Anaemia remains a persistent health problem particularly among pregnant women. Statistics from health centres in 1987 showed that 70.5 per cent of women checked had hemoglobin levels below [a normally healthy level]."
"In the measurement of severe malnutrition, Region 8 (Pakaraimas) recorded 4.8 per cent, coming after Region 5 which with 5.8 per cent had the highest level (p. 55). Region 8 recorded the highest percentage of mild to moderate malnutrition with 33.9 per cent, followed by Region 7 with 28.4 per cent, Region 6 with 27.3 per cent, and Region 5 with 25.4 per cent."
"The highest percentage of severely malnourished and mild to moderately malnourished children were from among those women who had 4 or more children."
"The highest percentage of low birth weights was recorded among the Amerindians, 29.9 per cent. However, these figures may have been influenced by the skewed nature of the sample."
b. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Narcotic Drugs
Nationally the rate of STDs, including AIDS, is high among mining workers whose workplaces are in the interior. Driven by their poverty and lack of employment opportunities, many Amerindians gravitate towards these locations, where there is the possibility of steady or casual employment in mining camps and in surrounding rum shops, discotheques, etc. Given the lack of effective public education on the life-threatening nature of the HIV infection, STDs have the potential for spreading rapidly among indigenous peoples. An aggressive AIDS public education campaign must target the interior as well as coastal populations.
Little data are available on the scale of drug cultivation, trafficking and use in Guyana, Amerindian involvement has been reported in many areas: the Mahaica, Demerara and Pomeroon Rivers, Region 1, and the interior mining districts. Drug use is also reported in mining areas where Amerindians make up a part of many crews.
c. Water-borne Diseases
Most of the Amerindian communities depend on nearby creeks and rivers or on shallow ponds dug close to their homes for their water supply. Those communities located close to mining areas (including those downriver of the Aroaima bauxite operation on the Berbice River) increasingly lack a safe source of potable water. An increasing incidence of water-borne diseases and skin rashes has been reported in all interior areas, a development which may or may not be blamed on resource extractive industries. In addition, most of the dwellings in the interior have palm-thatched roofs that cannot be adapted effectively for the collection of sterile rainwater.
The use of pit latrines is far from universal in Amerindian areas. The number of cases of diarrhoea increases with the rainy season, when the runoff from the ground transfers fecal matter into the river water that they rarely boil. Many adults do not know that there is a connection between diarrhoea and drinking water that is not boiled.
9. National Security
Guyana is threatened by border claims on the east and the west, originating from Venezuela and Suriname, respectively. Guyanese Amerindians can obtain Venezuelan passports, which makes them Venezuelan citizens, quite easily and freely. Upon returning to their homes in Guyana, these nationalized Venezuelans may support Venezuela's claim to Guyanese territory.
Right now Amerindians are more attracted to Venezuela and Brazil, where health and educational facilities are more accessible and cheaper than in Guyana. Other basic infrastructural facilities such as communication and electricity are also more readily available than in Guyana. Some Amerindians are attracted to Suriname through familial ties. This situation poses a threat to Guyana because these populations can easily align themselves with the Venezuelans and Surinamese during times of conflict. Policies that give Amerindians an increased sense of being Guyanese are articulated in this Strategy. There is no one policy that will achieve this, but rather a combination of policies that provide to Amerindians the same facilities and benefits enjoyed by other Guyanese will serve to instill a sense of national pride in the native population.
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a. The ambiguity and vagueness in the laws regarding the issues of occupancy, ownership and control of land need to be resolved. There are also fundamental differences between Amerindians' notions of ownership and those precepts written in the laws. The lawmakers tend to view ownership in the sense of a commodity, while Amerindians view it more globally as encompassing a number of conditions.
b. Interdepartmental conflicts between different Government ministries and agencies have exacerbated the situation. As agencies responsible for indigenous affairs attempt to regularise land use, they have to contend with other ministries and agencies whose purposes are to regulate and exploit natural resources, such as the Guyana Forestry Commission, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Lands and Surveys Department. Ultimately, conflicts arise between the various initiatives and Amerindian communities, especially those in the process of obtaining or claiming title to lands on which extractive activities are contemplated.
c. The unfamiliarity of Amerindian peoples with their legal rights and correct administrative procedures is part of the overall societal neglect of Amerindian concerns and the weakness of the education system in interior communities. Some Amerindian villages did not apply for land titles they were entitled to according to the Amerindian Lands Commission Report, simply because they did not know it was an option available to them.
d. A lack of resources to take on as a matter of urgency, the physical demarcation of Amerindian lands. This activity will ameliorate largely fears among Amerindians about their land rights.
a. The nonexistence of a centralised entity with the resources to give coordination to all governmental, non-governmental and international agency activities in Amerindian and hinterland development. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is ill-equipped to perform this task; many initiatives bypass this Ministry and are coordinated out of other agencies, such as SIMAP, the Ministries of Finance, Health, and Education.
b. The chronic shortage or nonexistence of appropriately trained personnel with the expertise in matters such as agricultural extension, forestry and natural resource management is a part of a larger problem. Other chapters in the National Development Strategy present proposals for addressing this problem. The success of these policies will have a positive impact on Amerindians.
c. The lack of physical infrastructures such as schools and health clinics to deliver basic social services to Amerindians makes the general poverty situation worse.
d. The extreme isolation of most Amerindian communities demands that basic physical infrastructure be put in place, e.g., roads, airstrips, river transportation and telecommunications. The absence of these facilities adds considerably to the cost of projects in the interior.
e. There is a historic lack of Amerindian participation in the design and implementation of projects in the interior. This is linked to a poorly staffed Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and an insufficient number of qualified Amerindians in Georgetown. This has often lead to the design of projects that do not meet the needs of interior communities. By increasing the participation of Amerindians in project design, many pitfalls associated with projects in the interior will be avoided.
f. Access to capital, finance and credit is a major obstacle to Amerindian development. It is difficult for individual Amerindians living in reservations to get access to commercial financing for start-up capital. This is because the preferred security demanded by commercial banks is proof of individual land ownership, which the vast majority of Amerindians do not possess. In other countries, this kind of problem has been circumvented by using other types of collateral, including community-based networks of co-signers.
Another major difficulty is posed by the absence of banking facilities in most Amerindian areas of Guyana. This means that indigenous people have no secure and easy way of saving money, and thus are more apt to spend it all on consumables sold in interior shops. The current situation facilitates the entry of non-Amerindian intermediaries, who advance credit to cash-strapped communities in exchange for natural resources.
g. There is also a notable absence of micro and small enterprise development agencies in the interior. The primary reason for this is the high overhead cost associated with interior offices and the amount of business that each agency can attract.
a. No mechanisms to ensure a coordinated approach to Amerindian education are in place. While education policies are designed in the Ministry of Education, little interaction takes place with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Amerindian Research Unit at the University of Guyana.
b. The absence of an appropriate curriculum for the training of teachers to be based in Amerindian communities severely affects the quality of education provided to interior locations. Very often teachers who leave the coast to teach in the interior take with them a coastland perception of the interior and irrelevant teaching techniques.
c. There is a lack of access to training at the Cyril Potter College of Education and the University of Guyana by Amerindians who wish to be trained as teachers but do not meet the entrance requirements of these institutions. This severely limits the number of potential teachers in the interior.
d. The curricula designed for students in the interior are often inappropriate for the needs of Amerindians. Curricula for all levels of education are designed with coastland concerns and needs in mind.
4. Other Constraints
The constraints of the present village administration include the inability to monitor and control the activities of non-Amerindians in or close to Amerindian communities. This refers especially to the operations and activities of itinerant miners and forest operators.
Another constraint refers more intimately to the affairs and the regulations of the community. These include dealing with petty offenses, the granting of permission for entry into the village, and the conduct of public officials in the communities, among others. In order to alleviate some of these problems and to streamline administration, several steps should be taken, as discussed subsequently.
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1. The question of human resource development must be the priority as to the allocation of financial and other resources.
2. The formulation and development of policy, and the design of programmes, must be participatory, inclusive and empowering to Amerindians communities. The strengths of individuals and communities must be advanced over historical and current weaknesses. Action must address needs in ways that ensure the empowerment of these communities and the improvement of their well-being.
3. An understanding and appreciation of the complex and delicate social and cultural dimensions of the Amerindian question in Guyana must inform our national development policies. The more contentious and controversial of these dimensions concern the issues of segregation, assimilation, integration, pluralism, self-reliance, self-determination, self-management, ethno-development, ethno-racial respect, and the ownership and control of natural resources.
4. Priority also must be assigned to improving the quality of life and the provision of equal opportunity for Amerindians, specifically for women and children, who happen to be the most disadvantaged in these communities.
5. Policies must address the inherent inequalities that now exist between hinterland/Amerindian and coastal communities in a manner that, among other things, fosters mutual respect and cooperation.
6. The state must understand, accept, and fulfil its obligation to provide basic services and infrastructure to Amerindian/hinterland communities while enabling local institutions to play their essential role in development.
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a. Completion of the land-issuing and demarcation process set in motion by the Amerindian Lands Commission.
b. Clarification of the legal status of Amerindian lands.
c. The participation of Amerindians in the process of identification and demarcation of lands.
d. Establishing mechanisms for consultation, regulation and monitoring whenever Amerindian rights (usufruct or other) may be threatened.
e. Bringing to bear on policies and programmes more insight into Amerindian land-use practices and knowledge about the land as an intrinsic part of the Amerindian world view.
f. Examination of different systems that guarantee Amerindian rights to the land traditionally used by the different tribal groups in Guyana through agreements between Amerindian communities and/or their mandated representative organizations and the Government of Guyana and, if this examination results in findings that are at odds with current policies, replace some provisions of the Amerindian Act.
a. Enshrining Amerindian claims to partial entitlement to subsoil resources on Amerindian lands more clearly in a renewed Amerindian Act by Parliament, or in a system of agreements between Amerindians and the Government of Guyana.
b. Development of a long-term land-use plan that prohibits mining in Amerindian areas, unless measures are taken to limit environmental degradation, and to safeguard Amerindian interests in the area through dialogue with local and supra-local Amerindian organizations.
c. Identification of a legal basis, administrative system, and monitoring mechanisms for the payment of part of the mineral royalties to Amerindian communities by mining companies. Rather than pass the royalties on in cash form, create special Amerindian Development Funds which would plan and manage the use of these revenues.
d. The recognition of Amerindian participation in the rights to minerals in and on their lands must be upheld and made into law.
3. Intellectual Property Rights and Cultural Heritage
a. Adoption of the model provisions for national laws on the "Protection of Expressions of Folklore against Illicit Exploitation and other Prejudicial Actions" drafted by the World Intellectual Property Rights Organization's (WIPO) in 1982.
b. Establishment of a policing framework to monitor activities of foreign corporations and research institutions in the areas of traditional Amerindian knowledge and patenting.
c. Granting an annual allocation in the national budget for the promotion of Amerindian cultural heritage.
a. Better preparation for teachers who intend to teach in the interior, as an integral requirement for the rapid improvement of Amerindian levels of literacy.
b. Increasing the general educational level of the adult Amerindian population to ensure that they are in a better position to participate in and benefit from activities that are taking place around them.
c. Setting up appropriate measures that will improve access for Amerindians to the Cyril Potter College of Education and the University of Guyana, including establishment of secondary schools at more locations in the interior.
d. Implementing curricula that are more appropriate to Amerindian communities, in order to assist Amerindians to play a direct role in developing their communities.
5. Amerindian Representation
a. Strengthening of the Minister of Amerindian Affairs' Office by assigning legal and administrative assistance to improve the policy-making process in the sector.
b. Adoption of a system of periodic consultations between the Minister of Amerindian Affairs and the Amerindian communities, to improve grass-roots communication inputs at the central level and to measure improvements and assess policies.
c. Adoption of participatory approach to selecting the Minister of Amerindian Affairs to ensure that Amerindian interests are well represented at the highest levels of Government.
6. Aid Activity
a. Putting in place a mechanism for ensuring a coordinated approach to implementing aid projects in Amerindian communities.
b. Production of regional development plans for the hinterland that will indicate and translate Government's priorities to the donor community in operational terms.
a. Implementation of health programs to meet the following health targets:
A decrease of the incidence of respiratory tract infection among the children in Regions 7 and 8.
A decrease in the incidence of diarrhoea among the children in region 9.
Resolution of the problem of malnutrition and anaemia among pregnant women, and low birth weights, through nutritional programmes and improvement of the sanitary conditions in the interior.
b. Launching of an AIDS/STD and anti-drug public education campaign that must target the interior.
c. Enforcing and extending existing anti-malaria interventions in all regions.
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The formation of the Parliamentary Committee is a valuable initiative that will be strengthened in its capacity to consult periodically with Guyana's indigenous peoples, to assess and evaluate periodically the Amerindian situation and corresponding policies. The establishment of organizations like the Assembly of First Nations or the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada is useful, and will be adjusted to suit local conditions.
The Canadian Assembly of First Nations is a parallel decision-making forum that brings all the leaders of the Native Nations in Canada together on a yearly basis, with provincial and federal MPs and respected members of Amerindian NGOs, to look into relevant political, economic and socio-cultural issues. It is an initiative that is parallel and complementary to the formal national decision-making processes. By bringing all the indigenous leaders together, a powerful lobby/watchdog for aboriginal policies has been created.
The Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples examines a broad range of issues concerning aboriginal peoples in Canada and their participation in mainstream Canadian society. The Royal Commission complements current efforts at constitutional reform in Canada, and has organized consultation rounds with indigenous groups all over the country.
In Guyana, a dual system similar to the Canadian model will strengthen Amerindian participation in the national decision making process. The Government should sponsor yearly hearings/rounds at the regional or sub-regional level (depending on the accessibility of the regional level for outlying communities). The institutionalized Advisory Committee on Amerindian Affairs would function in parallel to the yearly consultations. This would also involve:
- a reform of its membership to ensure that it is adequately representative;
- the granting of a working budget for the body to perform its functions;
- the coordination of its agenda in communication with other institutions.
The financial means for these actions should come entirely out of the national budget.
The creation and strengthening of a national umbrella organization of Amerindian NGOs and Regional Amerindian Organizations (RAOs), who in turn represent CBOs, is important in several ways. The recently formed National Amerindian Council could suit this purpose, but would need funding to guarantee fluent communication with and participation from the grass roots level.
A special fund should be created for its operation. Funds should be raised through involvement in community development projects, membership-payments from RAOs and CBOs, and donations. Yet again, the NAC should be a civic initiative to fulfill its watchdog functions adequately. Nevertheless, it would be advisable that the bodies identified above come to an agreement for the coordination and funding of hinterland consultations on important and urgent Amerindian issues. In coordination with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the NAC could do some technically oriented interventions, such as the training of CBOs.
At the administrative level, the Central Government will ensure that the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is fully strengthened with qualified personnel and funds to respond promptly and efficiently to all aspects of Amerindian representation and other issues, and to organize training workshops to strengthen the leadership qualities of CBOs and communities at large.
Economic development, channeled through a process of participation and communication, will be endorsed not only at the central level but also on that of the regions. It should become less centrally planned, and economic activities should not only benefit the coast. At the moment most of the economic facilities are situated along the coastland and many interior activities are developed in the interest of fulfilling coastland needs.
Regional integrated development plans, which would serve donor agencies and other actors as indicators for key points of development, should be developed through a process of consultation with the regional and local levels.(6) In this context, it is important that development plans for the interior be designed specifically to create local wealth and not to return monetary benefits to the geographical core of economic activity, namely Georgetown, or outside the country.
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Creating opportunities for Amerindian people will strengthen national security policies. For instance, the inclusion of an increased number of Amerindians in important governmental positions, in the army, the police and security services, especially in those areas or departments of importance to the Amerindian population, will strengthen the policing of Guyana's natural resources (forests, minerals, etc.).
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The Government will pursue the following recommendations:
a. That Amerindian titled lands be surveyed and village boundaries demarcated as soon as possible. International grants will be sought especially for this purpose.
b. That village Councils be trained to manage the land under their jurisdiction.
c. The granting of individual land titles should be considered and given to Amerindians, but only in a framework that they design, in order to respect community interests as well.(7)
d. That ownership rights to Amerindian lands be put into the Guyana Constitution.
e. That programmes for training Amerindian land surveyors and map makers be drawn up and funded as a matter of priority. If necessary, an upgrading year should be added to get candidates chosen by communities up to the required academic level. At the end of the period of training, all graduates must sign contracts to serve the Amerindian community for a stipulated time.
f. That Amerindian candidates from each community should be trained to use Global Positioning System (GPS) units, and that several of these instruments should be made available in each Region for use from time to time.
1. The Position of the Advisory Committee on Amerindian Affairs
The Advisory Committee on Amerindian Affairs has taken the stand that Amerindian communities should be granted land titles on a case-by-case basis through a process of dialogue with the different administrative entities involved, especially Lands and Surveys, the Mining Commission, and the Forestry Commission. Secondly, many communities, especially in the Rupununi, are asking for land extensions. In the case of the South-Central part of the Rupununi, Macushi and Wapishana communities are asking for the integration of their village lands in one large area, an Amerindian District. The opinion of the Advisory Committee is that it will first look into the land problems of those communities that have not received land titles yet, under the provisions of the Amerindian Act, and then it will look into the matter of land extensions.
2. Land Granting Procedures
The Advisory Committee on Amerindian Affairs has made no detailed plans except for the approach to start dealing with the land problems. A committee will be established with representatives of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Ministry of Public Works, Communications and Regional Development, the Ministry of Finance, the Department of Land and Surveys, the Forestry and Mining Commissions, and Amerindian NGOs. This technical commission should work out an overview of the stage in which recent (communal) land applications are at present, and work out a plan for evaluations of land claims. The Minister responsible for Amerindian Affairs should get a clear mandate to facilitate in this process, and to grant titles. A case-by-case approach concerning the land titling procedures is recommendable because it would be simplistic to believe that general directives can resolve the Amerindian land issue in Guyana, and local situations might have changed, creating judicial conflicts between existing licencs for resource exploitation and requested land titles.
3. Land Security
After completing the demarcation process, enforcing the boundaries and provisions of the titles is another step that is a sine qua non for improvement of the material well-being of Amerindian communities. Amerindian community leaders should have the authority and responsibility for monitoring their lands. Amerindian captains should have legal authority of intervention, and Amerindians must be trained to act as security personnel. A fund is to be established to help the Amerindian defend their case. In other Amazonian countries the responsibilities in these areas have been transferred to the communities or to Amerindian organisations. To avoid arbitrariness and corruption, measures of full consultation with captains, counselors, and communities, and measures of appeal, should be incorporated into that process. The details of these measures are presented in the proposed Amerindian Act section of this document. The Government or the Minister of Amerindian Affairs should keep the executive powers committed to the decisions taken. Brazil took this step a few years ago when they made constitutional changes and the Estatudo do Indio was revised.
Other requirements are:
The Amerindian Lands Commission Report will be reviewed to update findings, which should lead to the immediate issuing of titles to Amerindian communities ensuring recognition of ancestral lands, and also to take account of new and expanded settlements.
An Amerindian Lands Protection Bill providing for a buffer zone around titled Amerindian lands should be legislated to prevent encroachment from alien enterprises and to provide for expansion to satisfy future needs.(8)
4. Communal versus Individual Titling Policies
Often, communal land title is considered an obstacle for development and modernisation in Amerindian societies by non-Amerindians, while Amerindians consider it to be a cornerstone of their tradition and community experience. Legally, they are two totally different notions and as such considered opposed to each other.
In the USA, Senator Henry I. Dawes sponsored the General Allotment Act in 1887. This act was meant to speed Indian assimilation into the rest of society, and gave authority to the President to divide reservations into parcels and give each Indian an allotment of land formerly owned in common by the tribe. Leftover tribal lands were to be opened to non-Indian homesteaders. Largely as a result of this process, between 1887 and 1934 tribal lands dwindled from 138 million acres to about 46 million acres. Most individual allotments were too dry for farming, and most Indians could make no productive use of their holdings. Many leased their lands to non-Indian ranchers. Not only did the act result in confusion among the Indians, but these assimilation policies did not improve the living conditions of the native Americans.
Another case is that of India. Although the Bengal Act VI of 1908 provided that the land of Adivasis was inalienable --which meant that it could be purchased by an Adivasi-person but not by a non-Adivasi-- the situation of land possession for the Scheduled Castes in India deteriorated severely. In the case of individual plots of land, the Benami transfer method was often used, which means that a non-Adivasi purchases the name of the Adivasi, before buying land of an Adivasi. According to a study made by the Bihar Tribal Research Institute in the district of Ranchi there were, between 1950 and 1964, 233 cases of alienation and 207 acres of land were transferred from Adivasis to non-Adivasis. Many rebellions of Adivasis, especially since the 19th century under British rule, were caused by the settlement of outsiders on their lands, increase of rents, violation of the rights to the forests, and debt bondage.
In Guyana, it might be doubted that opting for individual titling will improve the development in Amerindian communities. The development of the interior will lead to increased land speculation, which is already taking place in some areas, and the dispossession of Amerindians and other poor strata of the Guyanese society. As Janette Forte indicates in one of her papers:
"This danger is very real and indicates that granting individual land titles could exactly lead to that what the Government wants to avoid: further marginalisation and impoverishment of the Amerindian peoples of Guyana."
Lessons could be learned from the development of the mining industry at Linden and how the non-Amerindians gradually took over individual plots of land that used to belong to Amerindians. A similar evolution has been reported to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs in relation to Buck Hill, where Amerindians hold transfers for their lands, but non-Amerindian families are squatting on the land and planting on it, and gradually taking over the plots.
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Although in Guyana the discussion on hereditary rights of indigenous peoples has not yet reached the level it has in another Commonwealth countries, the issue has to be dealt with. Treaties, which could show that once there was a social contract between Amerindians and non-Amerindians, are nonexistent. However, this fact also indicates that Amerindian rights were never surrendered to the British Crown. On the other hand, the British Crown took Guyana over from the Dutch, who colonised Guyana based on the principle of discovery.
It might be worthwhile to study the Canadian binary land titling procedures, namely that of comprehensive and specific land claims procedures. While specific claims usually deal with conflicts related to the Canadian Indian Act, comprehensive land claims involve substantial negotiations resulting in a treaty that includes land rights, subsoil rights and other Indian rights related to hunting, fishing, culture, and a lump-sum payment for community development purposes. The agreement on a comprehensive land claim replaces the traditional and hereditary rights of the indigenous peoples involved. Canada has some very good experiences with this system, which has satisfied Canadian aboriginal interests, the mining and forestry sectors in Canada, and the public at large. The Nunavut agreement is only one to mention.
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There are many conventions in relation to cultural heritage and property rights. Only a few offer some perspective for effective measures to protect cultural heritage. The Berne Convention, originally adopted in 1886, has been amended on many occasions. In 1971, amendments were made to enable states to control the licencing, use, and protection of national folklore. The World Intellectual Property Organization interprets this as including, in each State, "traditional manifestations of their culture that are the expression of their national identity.'' Indigenous peoples would probably object to State management of their folklore as part of the national patrimony, with royalties being paid to the State instead of to their own communities. Through this convention, however, the State can delegate responsibilities for the definition, protection and licencing of folklore to indigenous peoples themselves.
In 1982, the WIPO drafted "Model Provisions for National Laws on the Protection of Expressions of Folklore against Illicit Exploitation and other Prejudicial Actions." It forbids any use with "gainful intent and outside its traditional or customary context without authorisation by a competent authority or the community itself." Some African states have adopted legislation based on this model.
The Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1984) aims at maintaining some minimum uniformity in national laws relating to patents on technology, industrial designs, trademarks, trade names, appellations of origin and prevention of unfair competition.
There are three limitations on the usefulness of patents for the protection of indigenous peoples' heritage:
1. Patents only apply to "new" knowledge.
2. Rights are ordinarily granted to individuals or corporations, rather than to cultures of peoples.
3. The rights granted are of limited duration.
Patents are therefore not useful for protecting traditional or "old" knowledge, or knowledge which people wish to remain confidential. "Novelty" is a basic requirement of patentability. A product or process is not ordinarily patentable if it is already known elsewhere in the world. It must also be described in such a way that it can be reproduced. Plants and animals would therefore only be patentable if they had been created by a process that can be described, controlled and reproduced, such as genetic engineering. Some conventions and national legal systems restrain what is patentable even more, but some others relax these limitations. In the case of isolation and purification of naturally occurring species of microorganisms, the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Micro-Organisms (1977) creates a network of international institutions for the deposit of microorganism and registration of rights to their commercial use. Indigenous peoples could conceivably use this treaty to assert their rights to strains of yeast and other microorganisms long used for fermentation. Usually, biochemists' work is patentable, even though indigenous peoples may have guided them to the valuable molecule. This experience does not stand alone. Also, indigenous peoples' knowledge in Guyana is subject of research done by foreign experts. It is discriminatory to treat the effort involved in isolating a chemical compound in the laboratory as more worthy of legal protection and compensation than the effort involved in centuries of observation and experimentation with naturally occurring species. Furthermore, using indigenous peoples' knowledge to select plants for laboratory analysis significantly reduces the cost of discovering new products. Traditional knowledge has economic value, and should not be treated as a "free good."
Indigenous peoples, organised in cooperatives, could, through patenting and research and access to training facilities and laboratories, develop economic possibilities for their communities based on traditional knowledge and heritage.
Many applications of indigenous peoples' knowledge to practical problems, such as harvesting fish, manufacturing pottery or managing forests, might still be patented as "technology." Technology can include any knowledge that is useful, systematic, organised with a view to solve a specific problem, and capable of being communicated in some way to others. The patentability of traditional technology depends on national legislation, however, and many countries may not consider long-held knowledge to be sufficiently novel and inventive to qualify for patent protection.
Right now the legal tools to recapture objects, designs or knowledge once they have been acquired by non-indigenous peoples are inadequate. Therefore, the most critical and effective means for the protection of indigenous peoples' heritage is the ability of indigenous communities to control access to their territories. Achieving this will require demarcation of lands and support for capacity building in indigenous communities.
The implementation of development projects should be preceded by an assessment of the potential impact on the heritage of indigenous peoples, conducted in partnership with the peoples concerned. It is difficult, and often inappropriate, to attempt to identify specific "sacred sites" or sites of special cultural importance to indigenous peoples. All lands and resources are, to a greater or lesser extent, sacred and integral to indigenous peoples' cultures and spiritual life, and often the most important places cannot be revealed to outsiders. It must be presumed that everything within the traditional territory of a specific people has a traditional cultural and spiritual value and importance to them.
With respect to potential commercial applications of indigenous peoples' medical and ecological knowledge, existing legal schemes are inadequate. We would like to stress that the further erosion of indigenous peoples' intellectual property rights robs them, and the larger national society of which they form a part, of tools for future development. For many developing countries, indigenous peoples' knowledge may hold the key to achieving sustainable national development, without greater dependence on imported capital, materials and technologies.
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1. Government must institute, develop, and strengthen a national dispute resolution framework to deal specifically with the settlement of land and resource management concerns.
2. The institutional capacity of the Ministry responsible for Amerindian Affairs must be strengthened through the provision of appropriately trained technical, administrative and political personnel.
3. A centralised unit directly responsible to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs must be established within the Ministry to coordinate the activities of all governmental and non-governmental agencies involved in Amerindian/hinterland development. All actions by other ministries and public agencies that involve Amerindians or Amerindian lands must be approved by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
4. All lands occupied by Amerindian/hinterland communities must be surveyed, boundaries clearly demarcated, and maps produced in a process that should be a collaborative effort between the relevant government agencies and members of the communities, who must be provided with the requisite training for this exercise.
5. Environmental impact assessment studies must be conducted before agreements for projects and programmes in Amerindian lands are finalised, to ensure that social, cultural and environmental concerns are considered.
6. Administrators in forestry, mining, and other natural resource sectors should be appointed in those hinterland areas where these activities are taking place to ensure that they are properly monitored. Continuous dialogue between Amerindian leaders and government officials in these sectors should be institutionalised.
7. Systems must be put in place to ensure that Amerindians have access to credit. In this light, the government must establish an Amerindian Development Fund to provide financial support to Amerindians. This fund could be financed by the payment of a tax or royalty imposed on all developers working in Amerindian areas. Also, in Amerindian areas it is necessary to expand postal agencies equipped to deal with savings accounts. This could allow Amerindian populations to hold saving securely.
8. Arrangements should be made with one or more banks to initiate programs of savings and borrowing for groups of Amerindians. A highly relevant example is found in South Africa, where the First National Bank has instituted what is called The Peoples Benefit Scheme. Under this scheme, an informal mutual credit association (often a group of about 12 persons) opens a savings account in the name of the group. After the group has saved for six month, it can apply for a loan for up to 150% of the amount saved, and all group members are co-responsible for its repayment. Interest rates on such loans are above normal bank lending rates, but it has been found that for the poor access to institutional finance is much more important than the interest rate, since the only alternative they typically have is to borrow from informal lenders at exorbitant rates. Informal mutual credit associations are common in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean and East Asia, and can readily be brought into this kind of relationship with banks.
9. Government must institute a coherent system of vector control taking into account key locations such as mining camps, forestry grants, border crossing points and the communities themselves. An adequate supply of equipment and drugs must support this.
10. Government must begin a programme that emphasises preventive measures/medicine through the introduction of educational and public awareness exercises, and traditional Amerindian knowledge and the recognition of the position of the traditional Amerindian healers.
11. Amerindians must participate in the formulation of curricula appropriate to the needs of their communities and which will equip them with the skills relevant to hinterland development. This will also prepare them for further education and training outside their communities and hopefully will facilitate their fuller involvement and integration into the wider society on their terms.
12. Special consideration (salaries, incentive packages, other benefits) must be given to local and coastland personnel working in the areas of health and education in Amerindian/hinterland communities.
13. Integrated training complexes (along the lines of the St. Ignatius Educational Complex) must be established in strategically located hinterland areas to provide training and education in academic, technical, vocational and adult continuing programmes.
14. A system of national consultation must be begun to help the process of reviewing the Amerindian Act. Membership of the National Assemblies Select Committee looking at the Act must be widened to include more Amerindian representation. Government must provide special funding to facilitate this process.
15. Legislation must be put in place to protect cultural and intellectual property.
16. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that Amerindian/hinterland communities are in contact both with each other and coastland areas. In this light, a communications network must be developed that integrates telephone/ telecommunication systems, road networks, airstrips, improved river and sea communication and mass communication systems.
17. A body of national guidelines and bylaws must be instituted to govern Amerindian village administration based on the principles of regular democratically held elections, grass root consultation, and constant dialogue with the Regional Democratic Council, while permitting the exercise of the Council's legitimate executive authority in day-to-day matters.
18. One concern that needs to be addressed in Amerindian policies is the question of who pays. With the current strains on the Central Government budget it is unlikely that the Government will find the required revenue to finance the Amerindian components of this National Development Strategy without special measures. Besides, funding for Amerindians often gets lost as the Government considers its priorities. Therefore, more attention needs to be paid to the setting up of an Amerindian Development Fund that will be managed independently by a Board. Such a fund should be set up in the Bank of Guyana and be subject to the yearly scrutiny of auditors. The fund will be financed by a small percentage of royalties from forestry and mining concessions. The money should be directed back to Amerindian communities for their development, with guidelines for the use of that money. The money should not be seen as a replacement for Government allocations to the Amerindians, but as a supplement. The existence of the fund in no way suggests that Government spend less on education or any other social good out of its regular budget. Examples of the way the money could be used for Amerindians with respect to education are: 1) a supplement to teachers to attract them to the interior, 2) scholarships for Amerindians who need to come to Georgetown to study, 3) the distance education learning programme mentioned below, and 4) community-based training of Amerindians in business and management. The fund also can be used for programmes in health, potable water and other areas.
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a. Teachers based in Amerindian communities must go through an initiation training conducted by the Ministry of Education. Such initiations should be structured so that it involves training in issues relevant to the Amerindian communities in which the teachers are to be placed. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs should design the course with the National Amerindian Council, the Guyana Forestry Commission, the Geology and Mines Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, the Amerindian Research Unit, the Cyril Potter College of Education, and the University of Guyana. This list is not exhaustive and appropriate institutions should be added. Teachers should not be certified to teach in the interior unless they are successful at this course. The course should equip the teachers with an appreciation for the community within which they will teach. The course should also be geographically sensitive, i.e., a teacher to be moved from the Rupununi to the North West should be brought back to school to do a short course on the culture of the native community in that area.
This course is not intended to add a layer of bureaucracy to the teaching system, nor to lengthen the duration of training substantially, but to make the teachers suitable for the needs of the community. The course should be taught in the same institutions that presently conduct teachers' training. However, it should only be approved by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the organisations mentioned above.
b. Preparatory training must be offered for Amerindians who do not have the entrance requirements to enter higher institutions of education. This training should be wide in scope to prepare students to enter any stream of their choice. This problem is especially severe with those who wish to become teachers, but do not have a sound secondary education. This preparatory training should not be seen as a permanent solution to the problem, but only as an interim measure.
c. As a longer term solution to the problem of inadequate preparation of Amerindian students, many more secondary schools have to be built and staffed in the interior, even if each of them has few pupils.. The Government must stand ready to provide special incentives to the teachers recruited for these schools.
d. The policy recommendations mentioned here recognize the need to train the adult Amerindian population. This would be difficult to achieve through the formal school system; therefore innovative methods of long-distance education are required. The Amerindian Research Unit, in collaboration with the Ministries of Amerindian Affairs and Education (Institute of Adult and Continuing Education) and other institutions listed previously, should begin distance education programs for the adult community. These programs should be simple and designed to bring adults up to a basic literacy and numeracy level that should enable them to interact with the wider society.
e. Curricula for Amerindian students need to be specialized and geographically sensitive. This will require special coordination between the Ministry of Education and the communities. As happens with preparing Amerindians for teaching in the interior, education for students should be suited to the needs of the native population, placing heavy emphasis on areas such as agroforestry, mining, entrepreneurial skills, etc. Language should be seen as an integral part of the education of Amerindian children and corresponding curricula should be developed by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Amerindian Research Unit and the other organizations listed above.
This Strategy specifically calls for royalties to be paid to the communities affected by mining activities, in recognition of these communities' partial right to subsoil resources and also to compensate the damages suffered in terms of other customary rights of its Amerindian population. Among these rights is the use of the topsoil for farming, fishing grounds, timber, etc. The payment of this royalty should not free the mining company or the miner from taking sufficient actions to avoid environmental degradation or to employ and involve the local Amerindian population in the mining enterprise. The royalty payments will be channeled to development projects for the concerned communities via the Amerindian Development Fund mentioned above.
The following proposals are therefore put forward:
a. During the exploration stage (prospecting licence) the company will pay an additional rental of 10 US/acre/yr for the portions that overlap with Amerindian areas. Guyana Geology and Mines Commission may collect these sums and transfer them to the Amerindian Development Fund.
b. During the mining stage, an additional rental of 20 US/acre/year and a fee equivalent to 1% of gross production.
A formula will be worked out through which most of these revenues go to projects that benefit the communities directly affected and the remainder is distributed over projects for all Amerindian communities.
a. Any forest policy should respect the lifestyle of Amerindians.
b. Land claims for Amerindians should be settled before forest concessions are awarded, especially in areas where Amerindian communities exist.
c. Amerindian community leaders should always be consulted when timber agreements are being drawn up. They should also be an integral part of the decision-making process in such agreements. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs should take steps to ensure that this condition is respected.
d. Regulations about sustainable logging and environmental protection should be introduced and enforced, and should apply to Amerindians as well as non-Amerindians.
e. Amerindians should be key players in the monitoring and enforcement of timber concession operations near their communities. GFC should work with Amerindian communities toward this end.
f. Feasibility studies and social and environmental impact assessments should be done before concession agreements are reached. The findings should be made freely available to Amerindian communities, especially those that stand to be affected by the concessions.
g. Part of the proceeds collected from royalties should go back directly to the communities, through the same mechanism of the Amerindian Development Fund. It is suggested that the share of royalties devoted to the Amerindian Development Fund should be the equivalent of US$1/acre per year of forest concessions.
a. Policies should respect and be sensitive to the cultures and lifestyles of indigenous and interior communities.
b. Natural, economic, social and cultural diversity should be maintained and encouraged.
c. Social, environmental and economic impact assessments should be carried out as a prerequisite to developing any tourism venture.
d. Local communities should be involved in the planning and decision-making process of tourism activities by which they will be affected.
e. Tourism activities should be structured so that a greater share of their benefits go back to the local community and care should be taken to avoid over-dependency on the tourism industry.
f. Monitoring mechanisms should be developed jointly by the Tourism Association of Guyana and Amerindian representatives to ensure that the tourism policies set out here are respected and local resources are used sustainably.
g. Local persons should always be part of the managerial staff of tourism ventures.
h. Local and other staff should be trained in responsible tourism procedures.
i. Continuous monitoring of the impacts of tourism ventures should occur, and disclosure of information should be open and transparent.
5. National Security
The creation of on-reserve peacekeeping forces, which can communicate directly with regional police or army posts for quick intervention in matters of security, is also one of the steps that should be taken immediately.
Following the earlier discussion, emphasis will be placed on:
a. Granting of individual land titles to Amerindians living outside Amerindian communities.
b. Granting of collective titles to Amerindian communities that can prove that occupancy dates back before colonization of Guyana.
c. Demarcating Amerindian lands, as mandated by the Amerindian Lands Commission.
d. Undertake a legal clarification of the entitlement to part of the royalties from natural resource exploitation that is implied by the Amerindian land rights.
e. Develop and implement mechanisms for including Amerindians in the process of identifying and demarcating their lands.
7. Intellectual Property Rights and Cultural Heritage
Except for those legal actions which governments at the national level can undertake, it is essential to focus on increasing the capacity of indigenous peoples and national academic institutions to supervise research conducted in their territories, and to develop their own institutions for medical and ecological research.
Meanwhile, licencing agreements providing for confidentiality, appropriate use, and economic benefits may be the most effective means for the protection of ecological, medicinal and spiritual knowledge. The National Government will initiate actions on behalf of the Amerindian population in this regard.
In most parts of the world, indigenous peoples have already been subjected to extreme hardship and interference with their social and cultural life. This has undermined their ability to transmit their knowledge and arts from generation to generation, by disrupting families and traditional systems of education and training. The future integrity of indigenous peoples' heritage therefore depends, fundamentally and inescapably, on the recognition and strengthening of the right of indigenous people to control and develop their own forms of education and cultural expression.
Government and RDCs must help in the promotion and development of Amerindian culture through supporting:
a. The inclusion of Amerindian culture in the curriculum of hinterland schools.
b. The formation of cultural groups in Amerindian communities.
c. An allocation from the Amerindian Development Fund for the promotion and preservation of Amerindian culture.
d. The establishment of Amerindian cultural centres in hinterland communities.
a. There is a need for periodic upgrading of all health workers, provision of relevant and up-to-date health information, and for payment of a living wage to all health workers.
b. There is inadequate physical plant and equipment in health facilities in most areas. Most cottage and Regional Hospitals in interior areas lack functioning electricity generation systems as well as adequate and reliable supplies of medication and supplies.
c. The targeted health care programmes in section IV.B.7 above will be implemented.
9. Village/Community Administration
a. A general set of community regulations should be established for Amerindian communities throughout Guyana. Individual communities and their leaders can work out a more applicable set of local subsidiary rules. These rules should apply to Amerindians and non-Amerindians alike.
b. Captains and councillors should be given the power to adjudicate petty civil and criminal cases, and to administer relevant penalties for such actions. These penalties should be decided by the community, captain and councillors. Empowering community leaders in this manner can help to alleviate the problem of extended incarcerations on the coast for Amerindian offenders. At the same time communities can benefit from community work done by offenders.
c. Captains should have the authority to grant or revoke permission to non-Amerindians to enter their communities.
d. Captains and councillors should be empowered to discipline and/or expel non-Amerindians from their communities for breach of community regulations. This should include public officials.
e. Captains should be given powers of mines and forest officers for the appropriate areas affecting their communities.
f. Rules governing the conduct of captains and councillors should be established, including penalties for misconduct.
g. Captains and councillors should be subject to removal from office for misconduct of village affairs. This should be done after public hearings and after the accused has a chance to defend his/herself.
h. Programmes should be put in place immediately for training leaders of Amerindian communities in administration and accounting.
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Guyanese law is not always consistent with developments concerning indigenous peoples in other countries and with binding international human rights conventions. There is a growing awareness of the fundamental rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples, which most countries consider to be crucial for the social contract between the State and its citizens.
A certain level of inconsistency can be found between the Amerindian Act and other Guyanese laws, such as the State Land Act, the Mining Act, the Forestry Act, etc.
There are also the important, but largely undiscussed, questions inherent to the situation of legal pluralism and common law doctrines on aboriginal people and lex loci. The recommendations of the Amerindian Lands Commission Report and the commitment of Guyana's Government during decolonisation, in combination with existing rules about succession of states and transfer of legislation, raise questions in relation to aboriginal rights.
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In keeping with provisions of several international instruments (ILO Convention 169 and Agenda 21), and the important democratisation of the country, Government must publicly commit itself to an open process of legislative reform. Government must also take steps to solicit and integrate Amerindian grass-roots representation on issues of resource and environmental management, Amerindian land rights, Amerindian government, and Amerindian development policy, into Guyanese legislation. The Amerindian Act does not make any provision for participation and consultation. The principles of participation and consultation will be addressed in an amended Amerindian Act. The existing practice, created by Article 5 part 1 of the Act, from which emerged a form of de facto consultation at village council level only, will be brought under stronger local control, and will be expanded to the practice of public hearings at the village level.
Some administrative positions and references to the Minister are vague and/or archaic. For example, the positions of the Commissioner and Chief Officer no longer operate, and references to "the Minister" need to be specified as "the Minister of Amerindian Affairs." These positions need to be reviewed, clarified, or eliminated as necessary.
Also, other remarks in relation to the use of terminology could be made, for example, the use of the word tribe (art. 2). The word "tribe" will be replaced by "band." The socio-anthropological meaning of the word "band" is a body of aboriginals, mostly consisting of a limited number of people using the Commons in a specific limited area, while the word "tribe" actually identifies a large group, often many communities. Amerindian communities in Guyana rarely conform to the definition of "tribe."
Finally, the amounts of the fines mentioned in the Acts are too low to be effective instruments, both in terms of crime prevention and restitution.
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1. Reforms to Land Law
Based on the series of laws enacted and agreements acknowledged through its colonial history, the Government of Guyana is obliged to provide Amerindians with the required interest in those lands on which Amerindians were normally resident or settled before 1965, according to the Annex C, Section L of the 1965 Independence Agreement, the Amerindian Lands Commission Report, and the existing administrative practice. Amerindian land rights in all regions of Guyana should be granted on this basis, and their land rights (collective or individual) should be enshrined in the law explicitly. Also, the Amerindian Act is not always precise in relation to the description of the land title of the communities recognised. Corrective measures should be taken in two regards:
a. Scrutinising and correcting the definition of areas described as Amerindian lands in the Amerindian Act.
b. Scrutinising and correcting the definition of areas described as Amerindian lands in the Amerindian Act in comparison with those same areas and recommended land titles in the Amerindian Lands Commission Report.
Other legislative recommendations pertaining to Amerindian lands:
a. Changes of Amerindian land titles can be made by the Minister only in consultation and agreement with Amerindian captains, councils, and communities.
b. Amerindian Act should be amended to vest in the Village Council the power to divide into individual lots the community's lands.
c. Village consultations should be organised before communal village lands can be divided.
d. Enshrinement of land use mapping exercises in the formal procedures of granting communal titles.
2. Mineral Rights
State reservation of mineral rights is a power flowing from the doctrine of sovereignty at public international law. Section 5 of the State Lands Act and s.6 of the Mining Act specifically provided for State control over the subsurface.
The definition of the construction "lawfully occupied" under Section 112 of the Mining Act should clearly include lands granted by the Amerindian Act, and lands held in reserve for Amerindian use and lands subjected to procedures of Amerindian titling. The lands traditionally used and occupied by Amerindian peoples should also be considered as lawfully occupied.
In keeping with the land use exercise being carried out nationwide, this practice should be enshrined in law when considering the granting of collective land titles, new usufruct rights, or territorial development plans that affect Amerindian communities.
The Amerindian Act and the Mining Act should be amended to prohibit clearly logging, mining, tourism, and other natural resource-based ventures on lands lawfully occupied by Amerindian people lacking consent by Amerindian communities. This consent should be measured by the results flowing from a locally held consultation. Furthermore, Amerindian councils should be given the powers to supervise those operations and to halt their activities in case of irregularities or illegal activities. For this purpose they should be able to mobilize regionally based police or army personnel.
In addition, the existing corpus of legislation should be amended to recognise the Amerindians' entitlement to part of the mineral and forestry royalties, and to establish the Amerindian Development Fund, as described below.
3. Sixty-six feet buffer [Section 20 (2) (a)]
The preservation of such a buffer zone along the banks of rivers in Amerindian community land under the Amerindian Act apparently represents an attempt to maintain a transportation corridor for non-Amerindians. However, since the land in the 66 ft. strip remains state land, small scale mining operations do take place on these small strips of state land in Amerindian villages. This piece of legislation must be reviewed and changed accordingly.
Finally, it is not entirely clear which watercourses found on Amerindian lands are rivers subject to this provision in the law. A clearer description of the terminology is necessary. One could also maintain a transport buffer by burdening Amerindian freehold title to these lands with a right of way or statutory servitude open to non-owners.
4. Surface Rights
In keeping with the ILO Convention 169, Agenda 21, and the Rio Declaration, grants or leases of lawfully occupied State Lands made under the State Lands Act, the Mining Act, the Forests Act, or the Petroleum Act, should be made in consultation with Amerindian communities and the Minister of Amerindian Affairs. This provision is in accordance with what has been discussed in relation to Amerindian representation and participation before. Formulating the consultation process in detail is necessary. The following steps should be integrated into this process:
- Principle of democratic voting
- Decision of the community is binding
- Possibility for administrative appeal to higher instances
5. Expropriation (Section 3 - Section 20A)
The powers of expropriation provided by the Amerindian Act represent an extraordinary, and possibly illegal, curtailment of Amerindian Land Rights. The expropriation by simple administrative fiat would appear to counter not only fundamental democratic rights and freedoms, and checks and balances, but also principles of freehold ownership and customary rights, to the extent that there is no compensation (article 142 of the Constitution of Guyana - prohibition of uncompensated appropriation of property).
Circumstances set in Article 20A (4), which permit the Minister to expropriate Amerindian lands without paying compensation, do not conform to the exceptions to article 142 envisaged by the Constitution. The expropriation regime might also violate Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, a convention that Guyana ratified. Only appropriation for the reasons contemplated by the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act should be maintained.
6. Governmental and Personal Issues
International fora are increasingly in favour of non-secessionist indigenous self-government. While the current Amerindian Act embraces paternalistic provisions in relation to local government, control of Amerindian property, and membership, Guyana should recognize the intellect and the self-reliant capacities of the Amerindian communities.
The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples includes a number of provisions of relevance to the issue of Amerindian government. Paragraph 29 recognizes the indigenous right to self-government in matters relating to "internal and local" affairs, including: culture, religion, education, information, media, health, housing, employment, social welfare, economics, lands and resource management, environment, and entry by nonmembers, as well as internal taxation for financing these autonomous functions.
The Canadian Assembly of First Nations has defined self-government as "the authority to control our own lives as aboriginals and to manage our day-to-day affairs without having to ask permission to do so. It includes the authority to make and implement plans to meet the needs of the people, to allow people to have control over decisions directly affecting them. It also means having the necessary financial resources to carry out these plans. The right to self-government requires a land base for all First Nations Peoples. It requires that our land rights be respected. The right to self-government is free-standing; it does not depend on government handouts. Its implementation will come from power-sharing agreements between the First Nations and the Canadian Government" (Assembly of First Nations. First Nations Circle on the Constitution, 1991, p. 9).
In relation to membership, the powers of the Chief Officer to decide on Amerindian membership are far reaching, with no administrative appeal possibilities. Membership should become a matter to decide on by the village authorities, and administrative procedures for appeal should be put in place. Local village and central authorities should cooperate to issue Guyanese ID-cards and Amerindian Membership Cards. The same measures may be considered for residence considerations.
Village government officers (CHW, teacher, Councillors, Captain) and Regional Officers should receive training to advise Amerindians in relation to the rights mentioned above. The Government of Guyana should also provide countrywide legal aid services to Amerindians.
7. Rights of Complaint
Under Section 13 of the Amerindian Act, CBOs and NGOs should also obtain the right to make complaints to a court on behalf of an Amerindian who has been allegedly wronged.
8. Office of the Captain and Village Area or District Council
Section 14 (1) of the Amerindian Act should endorse the existing practice of electing a Captain. The same procedure may be worked out for the village and other councils.
9. The Powers of the Councils [ Article 21 (1)]
The councils' regulatory powers should be increased to implement principles of local self government in a legal and bureaucratic framework of subsidiarity. The Government of Guyana should organize hearings with Amerindians in all areas of the country to work out a plan for systematic transfer of centralised responsibilities that should, according to principles of subsidiarity, be executed at the local level.
The Minister's powers to intervene in local decisions should be limited to the role of "Primus inter Pares" in cases of administrative appeal or if the local decision or regulation is inconsistent with higher regulations and laws. Avenues of appeal should also be introduced, in case that the Minister cancels or annuls local rules or regulations. The Minister's authority to intervene in these cases should be limited through defining more precisely the cases in which he may intervene. An example is if local regulations abuse fundamental rights and freedoms, the Constitution, or any law of a higher level.
When rules made by the Council are breached by an Amerindian, the council may require the Captain to bring the accused person before the Council. The Council may fine the offender following a summary investigation in the presence of a regional government officer, who will take notes of the evidence presented to the Council. These notes must be submitted to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, who will give satisfaction to final administrative appeal. Revenues from fines will be used for the benefit of the Amerindian community whose rules were violated and in a manner approved by the local Council.
The requirement of prior approval of the Minister for the changing of local rules, and the Minister's power to do so anytime, should be removed. The Council may make its own rules provided that they are consistent with this act and regulations made pursuant to this act. Communities are free to choose a different regime based on their traditional decision making processes, customs, jurisdiction, etc. In this case the community will negotiate with the Minister of Amerindian Affairs a pact that will stipulate in detail how the community will govern its local affairs. The Amerindian Act will no longer apply to that community, but the Constitution of Guyana and Fundamental Rights and Freedoms must be respected by the provisions of that pact.
The Council will also have the powers to regulate, levy and collect village taxes. Government, in consultation with Amerindian representatives, will decide what percentage of these taxes will be contributed to the Amerindian Development Fund.
10. The Amerindian Development Fund (Article 26 - 27)
A provision that would allow a part of the royalties from mining, lumber and other sources to be deposited into this fund for the benefit of Amerindian communities and to increase solidarity between rich and poor Amerindian areas should be added to the Act.
In respect to article 26 (b) those resources stemming from royalties will be divided over the communities according to three criteria, namely:
Local income levels or taxation and royalty payments
These funds will be redistributed to Amerindian communities mainly in the form of development projects (no less than three-quarters of the disbursements of the fund). These allocations, plus any direct distributions, will use the above-mentioned criteria for selection. The Board of the fund will approve projects and all disbursements.
11. Amerindian Employment (Art. 31 - 32)
Though the objective of these articles was to prevent exploitation of the Amerindian labour force, this objective was not achieved. The relevant provisions of the Amerindian Act should be uplifted without any doubt because of its discriminatory impact.
Amerindians are often unskilled and consequently underpaid, or hired in a self-employed capacity where they actually should be employed by the companies directly. Therefore, it is important to investigate the problems related to Amerindian labour, preferably by an Amerindian Labour Standards Authority staffed by an equal number of Amerindian and Government representatives.
The Amerindian Labour Standards Authority will have the power to investigate conditions of employment concerning Amerindians and to introduce whatever labour and employment regulations the Authority deems appropriate. These regulations will include rules on payment of wages, minimum wages, maximum working hours, border employment, working conditions, monitoring, and the reporting of such information as required to the Authority.
The role of the local councillors and captains as peace-keeping officers in labour and employment disputes should be increased.
12. Intoxicating Liquor (Article 36)
Provisions relating to intoxicating liquor should be made at the grass roots level. Because of the sensitive nature of this matter, Amerindian communities should approach this issue in a way that supports consensus building. Appeal against the decision of the village council is possible and should be supported by at least 15 per cent of the village inhabitants. In such cases, the Minister may decide to organise a local consultation. The results will be binding.
13. Page 18, Article 40 (a) : This authority should be shifted to Parliament.
14. Hereditary Rights
Hereditary rights are perpetuated from one generation to the other. It is not a static process; the dynamics are reflected in gradual changes in ceremonial behaviour or customs, but the subject and object of hereditary rights usually stay unchanged.
In Guyana, the hereditary rights of the Amerindian population can be perceived in two ways:
the colonial and post-colonial era,
the pre-colonial era.
The hereditary rights of the Amerindian population during the colonial and post-colonial era are those rights recognised by colonial and post-colonial legislation and practices between the Amerindians and the Government. Under the heading "Reforms to land law" we have dealt with this issue. They are those rights in relation to the use of land, timber, game, etc., enshrined in the Amerindian Act, State Lands Act, Mining Act, Forest Act, the Wildlife Act, the Petroleum Act, and other legislation or agreements that were put in place by the British or Guyanese Government. Amerindians should decide whether they agree with the way these various pieces of legislation deal with the hereditary rights of the various tribes in the country.
Some Amerindian groups will claim certain hereditary rights based on their status as First Nations, and that a mutually agreed covenant never extinguished their traditional rights to the land and natural resources. There are several grounds on which this position could be defended, and according to recent jurisprudence in other Commonwealth Countries, judges have generally held that aboriginal title cannot be extinguished unless there is a clear agreement on behalf of the aboriginal groups involved.
Amerindian groups may indicate to the Government that they prefer to be subjected to a mutually agreeable covenant to address the customary rights, and consequently the social organisation and livelihood of their peoples.
1. Thomas, C. 1994 Socio-Economic Reform in Guyana: Poverty, A Report to the Inter-American Development Bank.
2. See Amerindian Act, Cap. 29:01, Article 3, 2) State Lands (Amerindian) Regulations, Cap. 62:01, Articles 5, 6, 7, etc.
3. According to Articles 2 and 3 of Cap. 62:01, State Lands (Amerindian Regulations), half-castes forfeit all the privileges as Amerindians. A gender-related observation is that according to article 2 and 3, Amerindian women who marry a non-Amerindian man, also loose their rights. The content of these articles could create an issue based on gender-equity. In Canada, similar provisions were made in the Indian Act. Educated Amerindians or half-castes lost their Indian rights. Bill-21 corrected this situation after serious criticism and debate was brought up by women's groups.
4. The preamble of the Amerindian Lands Commission Act, Cap.59:03 states that "Whereas the Government of Guyana has decided that the Amerindians should be granted legal ownership or rights of occupancy over areas and reservations or parts thereof where any tribe or community of Amerindians is now ordinarily resident or settled and other legal rights, such as rights of passage. In respect of any other lands where they own by tradition of custom, they de facto enjoy freedoms and permissions corresponding to rights of that nature."
5. This village has received individual titles for its members.
6. In addition, the regional governments need to play a more active role in project implementation and monitoring. Individual micro projects stand more of a chance of success if supported by macro planning at a higher level in the economy.
7. Particularly in the Berbice and Pomeroon Rivers in the Regions 1 and 7 requests had been made for grants of individual title to extended family homesteads (Source: Report on UNDP Consultation, 1995, page 6).
8. The precedent for such buffer zones had in fact been set out in the Amerindian Act which stipulated 10-mile buffer zones between the Guyana border and Amerindian communities like Karasabai and Paruima.