Indigenous people's group appeals for urgent review of Amerindian Act
Against sale of land to Beal

Stabroek News
May 9, 2000

The Amerindian People's Association (APA) is calling for a change in members of the Parliamentary Select Committee in its bid to hasten a review of the Amerindian Act. To this end it has made a number of recommendations.

The APA has also pitched its weight behind the April 1999, National Touchaus Conference which issued a call that no protected areas be established in Amerindian areas without the full resolution of Amerindian land rights issues.

These resolutions were among several the APA made at its General Assembly held at Zeriwa (Lethem) in Region Nine (Upper Essequibo/Upper Takutu) from April 26 to 28. The General Assembly is the highest decision-making forum of the organisation.

The resolutions called on government to consult with Amerindian communities on a number of pertinent issues which include land rights, Beal Aerospace, the Amerindian Act, the Linden-Lethem Road, forestry and mining, the National Protected Areas System (NPAS) project and the Kaieteur National Park.

On the issue of land rights, the APA has rejected the government's task force on demarcation and is demanding that government demarcate and grant titles based on historical and ancestral occupation. It calls on the government to enter into meaningful dialogue with Amerindians to bring about a peaceful and mutually acceptable resolution of all land claims.

The Amerindian Act, which is based on laws dating back to 1902 and has been changed six times since 1951, the APA said, needs urgent review. It is calling for the Parliamentary Select Committee to be replaced with a joint committee of persons freely chosen by Amerindian communities, representatives of the Touchau Council, representatives of the government, opposition political parties and one representative of the Human Rights Commission.

Among its recommendations are that the joint committee should have at least an equal number of freely chosen Amerindian representatives and preferably that two-thirds of its members be representatives of Amerindian communities.

Contending that the Amerindians are the guardians of the land and have been so since time immemorial, the APA said that Amerindians reserved their right to establish their own protected areas on their own land with rights to own and manage them. While they are not opposed to protected areas, these may not be established without the full, free and informed consent of any affected Amerindian community or communities.

In addition the APA expressed full support for the people of Chenapau in their struggle to ensure that their rights are recognised and respected with regard to the Kaieteur National Park. The association said that the order extending the park "was and remains a violation of their rights and of the rights of the Patamona people as a whole."

In relation to the forestry and the major impact it has on Amerindian communities the APA is calling on government not to grant any future concessions or rights over forests until all outstanding Amerindian land rights issues are settled. It is also calling for a withdrawal of the draft forest legislation prepared under the Guyana Forestry Commission Support Project. The draft legislation was done with assistance from the British Government which the association said had failed to adequately consult with Amerindians.

The APA has rejected the proposed concession that government intended to grant to a Chinese logging company in Region One until such time that all Amerindian land rights issues have been resolved to their satisfaction.

On the issue of Beal Aerospace, the APA said there was need for further consultation with the people in the area and that affected communities receive all relevant information in an understandable form including maps of the area that Beal intends to buy, so that they could make good and informed decisions about Beal.

The association also rejected the sale of any land to Beal and urged that Amerindian land rights issues in the area be addressed before any further action on Beal takes place.

Calling for an independent environmental and social impact study which accounts for Amerindian rights and incorporates the full participation of Amerindians, the APA said that it did not consider Dr Peter Pritchard of the Audubon Society as an independent and impartial person to undertake any impact study in the area.

The association has also elected a new executive for the next two-year term. Elected to serve as president is Lawrence Anselmo, captain of Paruima Village and captain general of the Upper Mazaruni. The vice president is Tony James, the touchau of Aishalton and chief of chiefs of the Region Nine Touchaus/Amerindian Council of Region Nine. Sharon Atkinson of Santa Rosa, Region One has been returned as secretary; immediate past president David James is now the secretary and Jerome Marques, the Touchau of Sawariwau in Region Nine is the assistant secretary/treasurer. There are seven committee members representing Regions One, Two, Seven, Eight, Nine, women and youths.