Donations flowing for Amerindian
Heritage Month activities

Guyana Chronicle
August 10, 2001

MORE donations are flowing in from the business community and individuals to assist with Amerindian Heritage Month activities, which take place in September.

Amerindian Heritage Month will be launched officially on Saturday, September 1, 2001 at the Umana Yana, Kingston, Georgetown.

Yesterday, Mr. Johnny Phillips, miner and businessman of Arakaka, Region One (Barima/Waini), presented a cheque for $30,000 to the Amerindian Affairs Minister, Ms Carolyn Rodrigues. The donation is an aspect of Phillips' contribution to the activities for Amerindian Heritage Month.

At the presentation ceremony, which took place in the Minister's Office, Presidential Secretariat, New Garden Street, Georgetown, Phillips also pledged to further support the activities within his district that is predominantly Amerindian.

Several contributions have already been made by other businesses and individuals to boost the activities, Amerindian Heritage Month Coordinator Mr. Vivian Jordan said.

Minister Rodrigues said that even though funds have been allocated in the 2001 National Budget for the Amerindian Heritage Month activities, contributions are never too much.

Kamarang, the hinterland settlement, has been identified as the host village for Heritage Month.

Ms Rodrigues said the Ministry had been asking a number of businesses to contribute towards the celebrations, and although the response has been tremendous, she expressed some disappointment that some businesses in the "upper bracket" did not respond in a favourable manner.

The Minister said that the emphasis of Heritage Month celebrations will shift slightly from the traditional focus to include in its programme, a forum for hinterland students based in Georgetown. There will also be panel discussions on issues relating to Amerindian affairs.

The programme will also include an educational tour for students from Paramakatoi, Region Eight, (Potaro/Siparuni), and a pageant involving Amerindian women from the ten Administrative Regions.

Amerindians need to be proud of their identity

By Ms Carolyn Rodrigues, Minister of Amerindian Affairs
AUGUST 9th has been designated as World Indigenous Peoples' Day. As such, on behalf of the Government of Guyana and on my behalf, I would like to congratulate my brothers and sisters in coming this far and also extend best wishes for the future.

Today we should take some time off and reflect on where we have come from, where we are, where we would like to go and how we would get there. First of all we need to be proud of our identity, being the first people to set foot in this beautiful country of ours. We should set ourselves personal and collective goals and work towards achieving them.

Indigenous, or Amerindian people, as we are commonly called in Guyana, have been classified as the poorest of the poor. Almost every survey has revealed that the Indigenous population lives below the line of poverty. This is partially because of the remote locations of these communities coupled with the high transportation costs, resulting in a cost of living sometimes as high as 600 per cent more than Georgetown. The Government of Guyana, recognising the need for special interest to be paid to this section of the population, appointed a Minister of Amerindian Affairs. Very shortly, Community Development Officers would be placed in the various Regions to directly report and address the concerns of the Indigenous peoples.

As a people, we should take note of the strides we have made over the years. Today we have students who attended secondary schools in their respective communities graduating from the University of Guyana. There are others who have been trained as Dental Therapists, Community Health Workers, Teachers and Medexes, etc. Others in training include Environmentalists, Business Administrators, Social Workers, and Civil Engineers etc. However, though there have been significant strides in providing education, health and other services, there is still a lot to be done.

Since I have begun work with Indigenous communities in the early 90s, I have recognised that there is a very high level of dependency. The assistance communities receive should not be seen as an act of charity but as a way to move one step ahead of the forefathers who have worked for us, and so, we too, should prepare for those to come after us. We should work in partnerships with Government and agencies, rather than expect them to do things for us. I know there are many communities which have done well with little or no assistance.

Today we have many issues to be resolved. The issue of land is one that has been on the table for some time now. However, a solution can only be met if we work together. For such a small Indigenous population, some 50,000, we seem to be very divided and this has to change. Our history would teach us that our forefathers always did things in a collective way. We farmed together, danced together and ate together. In order to improve our lives we have to revert to some of our old ways. For many years we were a self-sufficient people - we farmed in quantities enough to sustain us. Today this situation is changing.

On the other hand, we have to keep up with the times. The world is a very dynamic place and with technology advancing at a very rapid pace, we have to adjust. As Indigenous peoples, we are not exempted and we should see ourselves at a juncture where we have to decide which parts of our culture we need to take with us, which parts we need to alter and those we can certainly do without. We also have to recognise that we are Guyanese and cannot separate ourselves from the wider population. After all, integration is needed now more than ever.

Finally, as we celebrate World Indigenous Peoples' Day 1 would like to pledge the Government's commitment to working for the betterment of all Indigenous peoples in Guyana. Once again, Happy World Indigenous Day.