How can Amerindians become first-class citizens in their own land?

Consumer Concerns By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
September 10, 2000

September is the month to remember the indigenous peoples of this country. We usually refer to them as Amerindians but the word, I am told, is not always acceptable. For the sake of convenience we use it.

Not many of us have been fortunate enough to visit Amerindian communities. The two communities that have made the greatest impression on me are Mashabo and Capoey, both being on the Essequibo Coast.

To reach Capoey Settlement, one has to cross the lake by speedboat. The crossing was safe and our group was welcomed.

The problems at Capoey and in every Amerindian community, are many. Safe drinking water is always a problem. The lake is polluted and the water filters available in Brazil are not readily available even in Georgetown.

The secondary school caters for nine children. There are few books. A child attending school at Anna Regina or Suddie must stay at the hostel and there is a fee of $1500 a month, which is sizeable for people without paid employment. Amerindian craft is not selling as people now show a preference for plastics. Prices for basics are high.

On the return journey there was no speedboat. We used a leaking canoe. One member of the group volunteered to bail out water. It took 30 minutes to reach safe land, 30 long minutes. It was not very comforting to be told that the lake was only four feet deep. One could drown in four feet. And that was the thought uppermost in my mind as the minutes slowly passed.

The road to Mashabo is passable for some distance then it gives way to large holes. In wet weather, the dam is slushy. As in all Amerindian communities, there is great hardship. Sports equipment is needed, a generator, education could be improved, there should be vats for storing rain water.

One hopes that at some time soon distance learning through computers will come to these areas. We will have to follow the example set in Trinidad & Tobago and set up a Ministry for Training and Distance Learning. Then education at all levels will become available to young and old throughout Guyana. How are Amerindians to move into their rightful places in our society? How are they to become first-class citizens in their country?

To answer this question each of us has to trace our ancestry and, should we discover that one, or more, of our grandparents or great grandparents was an Amerindian we should pledge ourselves to help our people out of the morass.

Recently there has been some interest in tracing one's family tree. It can give some measure of pleasure to discover who you are and where you came from. Some months ago I was shown a photograph of one of my uncles standing beside a short woman. I was told that the woman was my Amerindian grandmother. Her name, the community she came from, I do not know, but it was thrilling to know that I had a stake in this country of Guyana.

So it can be for you, too. Discover yourself and, if you do have Amerindian blood, do pledge yourself to do all in your power to bring your brothers and sisters into the mainstream of life.

It is my intention to invite persons descended from Amerindians to submit their names and other information so that we may compile a register of persons claiming Amerindian blood. Do check the letter columns of this newspaper to see what information is required and let us support all indigenous people in their efforts to struggle out of the morass. Who knows? We may find the names of many outstanding Guyanese in our list of Amerindian descendants.

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