Celebrating Amerindian Heritage
September 3, 2003
AMERINDIAN development. Amerindian heritage. Indigenous culture. Our Amerindian brothers and sisters!
For years, these had been the catchwords that punctuated many a speech by politicians.
But it wasn't until the early 1990's, when President Cheddi Jagan designated September 'Amerindian Heritage Month', that these words or terms did anything but discomfited and even chilled indigenous Guyanese.
"They began to mean something" more than discredited clichés.
With Guyana putting aside one month each year to specifically focus on Amerindians, a reassuring process is under way.
The Government budgets money each year towards the Amerindian Development Fund, which finances socioeconomic, humanitarian and poverty alleviation programmes. And that's apart from central, regional and village government funding and policies that facilitate the implementation of non-governmental organization initiatives.
Private enterprises operating concessions in the hinterland do so in conformity to policy briefs that outline clear directions for undertaking logging and/or mining activities on or near indigenous reservations.
In keeping with decisions emerging from the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Government is encouraging meaningful partnerships between Amerindians and companies mining on indigenous lands, and ensuring that the companies are accountable for the non-fulfillment of their commitments to Amerindian communities.
The land demarcation process is continuing and, as we reported yesterday, the Amerindian Act of 1976 is being revised for tabling in parliament early next year.
In education, a phenomenal number of Amerindians are taking advantage of distance education opportunities to qualify as teachers. Schools are being built or rehabilitated to accommodate a growing child population in outlying regions, and hinterland students are increasingly winning scholarships and enrolling in the nation's top schools.
Amerindians also account for a swelling corps of nurses, medexes, pharmacists, and technology personnel working in healthcare delivery institutions both on the coastland and in the interior. In fact, they are so much a part of the mainstream of Guyanese life that there is hardly a facet of the nation's being in which an indigenous Guyana cannot be found.
Indigenous culture already forms part of Guyana's rich cultural heritage, and Amerindian dialects are being taught outside of their traditional domain.
With little fanfare, in some instances without the rest of the Guyanese society realizing it, Amerindians are achieving their dreams of lifting themselves out of poverty and into the mainstream of socioeconomic prosperity.
We expect that by the end of September, highlights of Amerindian development will have proven beyond doubt that indigenous Guyanese are an integral, functioning part of society, in many cases enjoying an indefinable sense of well-being.