DeSouza, Amerindian leaders differ on policy issues

by Terrence Esseboom
Guyana Chronicle
September 30, 1999

MINISTER of Amerindian Affairs, Mr Vibert DeSouza has refuted criticism that the indigenous population is being marginalised.

Speaking at a public forum where he differed from their leaders on what should be done, he alluded to several projects in the health, education and transport sectors.

Multimillion dollar schemes, such as the Poverty Eradication Project (PEP) funded by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the recent initiative by Institute for Private Enterprise Development (IPED) prove that Government cares for Amerindians, DeSouza said.

But two other speakers saw things differently at the Hotel Tower, Main Street, Georgetown one-day exercise organised by The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG).

One of them, TAAMOG President, Mr Peter Persaud urged that Amerindians "embark on a serious programme" to escape the social, political and economic marginalisation he said they have endured since 1492.

According to him, the plight of Amerindians has not addressed "in a meaningful way" even after this country gained independence in 1966.

He challenged the Government to change its perception of Amerindians who comprise 6.8 per cent of the Guyana population.

If this happens, then "Amerindians will be part and parcel of the nation and their concerns will be on the front burner of the national agenda (and) adequate resources will be allocated to cater for their progress," Persaud stated.

He said, during his visits to Amerindian communities, there are regular complaints about lack of access to capital for enhancing economic undertakings.

Consequently, indigenous peoples "are always in a sad and terrible situation...the poorest of the poor."

As such, greater self-reliance will be required from the nine tribes to uplift themselves, the TAAMOG President said.

Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) Coordinator, Ms Jean called for a review of the school curriculum to help satisfy the needs of Amerindians.

She that the existing one frustrates the development goals of Amerindians and argued for what she described as a "bi-cultural" process.

La Rose, who was a member of the Constitution Reform Commission, criticised the current plan, saying it is "tailor-made" for "mainly coastal learners."

Addressing the theme for the day `The Way Forward for Indigenous Peoples Development In the New Millennium', she declared the movement will only be possible when the methodology is compatible with the Amerindian way of life.

La Rose said some students cannot relate to concepts tested in local examinations and Amerindians need to have a greater say in the content of what is taught.

Amerindian communities must decide on the type of learning that will advance the nine clans, she proposed.

She advocated official recognition of Amerindian languages as part of the reform and raised the controversial land issue, too, in her presentation.

La Rose said Amerindians suffer because the national land use policy sidesteps the interrelationship of their social, cultural and religious connections to the earth.

She complained that mining and logging operations in the interior are threatening the survival of Amerindians.

Women are subjected to spontaneous abortions and give birth to deformed children because of environmental pollution related to the use of mercury in search of gold.

LaRose proposed that technical studies be undertaken by specialists in the quest of protection for the indigenous peoples.

"What is important for the Amerindian communities is the recognition of their land rights (to help counter) the side effects of (the activities) of mining industries."

La Rose argued for captains and councillors to be involved in future negotiations with investors before concessions are granted.

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