Heritage Month begins...
Revised Amerindian Act to spur indigenous development By Nivedta Kowlessar
Guyana Chronicle
September 2, 2003

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A REVISED Amerindian Act is likely to be ready for Parliamentary perusal early next year, Amerindian Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues, reported yesterday.

The Government has had 40 consultations in 90 communities on the proposed legislation, which is being summarised for Cabinet's consideration, Rodrigues said.

The updating of the Act, last amended in 1976, started last year as a priority for the Amerindian Affairs Ministry. It is being handled by a technical committee comprising lawyers and representatives of the Ministry, Amerindian communities and organisations.

Rodrigues reported on the issue at the launching of Amerindian Heritage Month during a sweltering afternoon beneath the Umana Yana benab, an indigenous landmark in Kingston, Georgetown.

She said the critical issue of land titling will take "some time" to sort out as some want individual ownership and others, communal, and the Government would like to have "adequate consultations".

The Minister also said she was "concerned" about media reports of rape and sexually transmitted infections among Amerindians and urged those with "authentic information and evidence" to report to the Ministry.

In other developments, Rodrigues reported on a pilot project to incorporate the Wapishiana and Macushi languages into the regular school curriculum, and the issue of birth certificates to some 4,000 residents of north and central Rupununi. The Ministry is collaborating with its Health and Home Affairs counterparts to improve distribution.

Amerindians are also being trained by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission to be Mines Officers, but Rodrigues said while many are concerned about mining in interior locations, education tops the list of priorities for the Ministry. As such, it has focused on strengthening the hinterland scholarship programme and hired more staff to work in the related department.

As more than 30 communities prepare to host Amerindian Heritage Month activities under the theme 'Igniting Our Indigenous Roots Amidst Change', Rodrigues said the usual "exchange of brotherliness" should continue year-long.

She noted that Guyanese have "much to learn about each other" and ought to "discard the negatives, appreciate the differences and identify the similarities."

Many, Rodrigues said, have taken Amerindians' shyness to mean their "ability to understand is retarded". But the first people to settle on this land had welcomed others and the country would not be the same without the "de facto protectors of its borders, she observed.

Rodrigues said the Government's policy is to ensure they are treated fairly, with equal opportunities for development, and the month of heritage celebration has been helping to increase their consciousness and pride.

President Bharrat Jagdeo, delivering the feature address soon after returning from a state visit to India, said it is "obligatory" for citizens to learn of their culture and exhibit such pride. But he urged that the national "preoccupation" be how to weave each section of the multi-ethnic society to create a "unique identity" as Guyanese.

While the month of September is set aside for evoking Amerindian pride, Mr. Jagdeo said it should also serve as a "periodic check" of national policies and interventions. "One of the key tasks of the Government is to set in place programmes to redress some of the imbalances of the country", he stated.

The greatest level of poverty resides in indigenous communities and the administration has targeted education as the way to tackle this. President Jagdeo assured issues affecting the Amerindian population, which has grown from 20,000 to 60,000 in recent years, are engaging the "full attention" of the Government.

He said the goal is to provide equal opportunities for all, and promised that the use of natural resources, an issue of critical importance to Amerindians, will be done sustainably.

The President also hoped the stalled National Protected Areas System can gain momentum, pledging that it will be a "good" one that will see Amerindians being trained to manage parks and the country's biodiversity.

Yesterday's programme featured greetings from Toshaos (Amerindian Village Captains) and performances by hinterland students.

An art and craft exhibition is being run until September 07 at the Umana Yana as part of the month of activities.
The revision of the Amerindian Act.