The security at Guyana’s borders, mining and pollution, and the National Protected Areas System (NPAS) were among several issues raised by toshaos (indigenous village leaders) attending the three-day National Toshaos Conference from May 27-29 on the Essequibo Coast, the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported.
Ashton Simon, President of the National Amerindian Development Foundation (NADF) said that in 2001 he had proposed that a security force be formed comprising local residents who live in the vicinity of the borders, but he had not received favourable responses in this regard, GINA stated.
Amerindian Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues said the matter was raised with the army but it would be a very expensive exercise because the Amerindians would have to undergo training, likely in Georgetown, and some may not want to return to their home villages, GINA stated.
Meanwhile, several toshaos have alleged that consultations for the NPAS were not done in a manner consistent with democratic practices, GINA reported, and many of them appeared to have little knowledge about the benefits their villages would derive from the system.
According to GINA, the Masakanari community, formerly known as Gunns, which falls within the Kanuku Protected Area has fully agreed that they want their village in the NPAS, but Santa Rosa’s Village Captain Mark Atkinson seems to be against the exercise which has further broadened to include Shell Beach in Region One (Barima/Waini).
Recently, GINA said, the first in a series of consultations were held with communities in the Region and Atkinson claimed he was not invited to the exercise. But Ramesh Lilwah of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refuted that saying that Atkinson was indeed invited but had refused to be part of the exercise.
The EPA, Conservation International (CI) and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs have held numerous consultations with communities that would be affected by the NPAS, GINA said.
While some have agreed to have further consultations, some have asked for additional time to determine how they should proceed on the way forward.
Recently the second phase of the consultations with communities surrounding the Kanuku Mountains in Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) were completed and the community resource evaluation was done.
Amerindians are the main inhabitants of the area surrounding the Kanuku Mountains, and they are expected to be the main direct beneficiaries, particularly in terms of employment.
Since Amerindians are mainly engaged in subsistence activities like fishing, farming and hunting, this matter has to be dealt with very delicately, Minister Rodrigues said.
She noted, GINA stated, that when the protected areas system is established and some restrictions to these subsistence activities are imposed, then alternative activities would have to be put in place.