Amerindians plan "awareness" march

by Kim Lucas
Guyana Chronicle
August 12, 1999

THE Touchaus' Council of Region Nine (Upper Takatu/Upper Essequibo) is planning a massive north-bound 600-mile solidarity walk from the Wai Wai territory in South Rupununi to the Coast to bring the Amerindians' land claims to the fore.

Region Nine Chairman, Mr Muacir Baretto, told the Chronicle yesterday that the march will also be a "unifying effort" to highlight the endurance and determination of Guyana's indigenous peoples.

At a recent conference, delegates expressed the view that more activities needed to be staged to bring about a greater awareness of themselves and their way of life among the rest of the Guyanese people.

According to Mr Ian Melville, Chief of the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), the walk is to show solidarity, especially for the Amerindian communities in the Mazaruni area which have taken the Government to court over their land claims.

The matter has been postponed several times and is expected to be called again in October, the same month the historic march is expected to take place.

In the city, Mr. Melville says, they will congregate in front of the Courts, if they are granted permission by the Police.

Melville observed, "Guyana's authorities have, since the 1980s, tended to get nervous whenever they heard of any sort of march organised by indigenous Guyanese.

"This march is to bring to the fore the whole question of Amerindian lands (which) should have been settled prior to Independence," the Village leader claimed.

According to Melville, some villages have received titles to only a third of the land recommended by the Amerindian Lands Commission.

The march is scheduled to start at Gunns Strip in the Essequibo River, joined by the Wapishanas in South Region Nine and other tribes until the procession reaches the Coast.

Baretto said he would imagine that the journey would be done on foot, assisted by a vehicle convoy, with respective villages supplying food.

"The enthusiasm is high (and) the communities are prepared to be self-sustaining," the Regional Chairman stated.

The proposal for the historic venture was raised earlier this month when the GOIP held its ninth General Assembly at Moraikobai Village in the Mahaicony Creek .

The theme was `Katayho ackay panay kula 2000 oto warrau tuma', which means `Reviving our culture with dignity beyond 2000' when translated from the Warrau language.

At the conference, the controversial land demarcation in protected areas issues were placed high on the agenda, and Melville referred to recent cases in Alberta in Canada and the Mabo decision in Australia where ancestral lands were eventually returned to aboriginals.

He noted that Moraikobai, in Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice), was one of the few communities that accepted their demarcation.

Melville said a major cause for the demarcation problems in other areas was the "attempts to sidetrack broader involvement by Tauchaus (village leaders) and villagers in the process".

The Chief also advocated more Tauchau and community involvement in determining protected areas of Guyana.

He cited the sacred `Shiriri' Mountains of the Rupununi as one area Touchaus of the South Savannahs are protecting.

At the two-day conference, residents of Region Five's only indigenous village turned out in full force to cheer a number of impressive presentations by the Cuyuni's Batavia Culture Group.

These included the `Cassava Dance', `The Victory Dance' and the `Tengerey Dance'.

Traditional Carib and Warrau songs were also performed by the group, backed by a Wapishana song from a Rupununi delegate.

The gathering also witnessed the first display of the GOIP's "9-nation" flag.

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