Amerindian achievements
--A GINA Feature
Guyana Chronicle
August 9, 2004

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On the occasion of International Day of the World's Indigenous People, being observed today, Director-General of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in his message, noted that "the time has come for the international community to take stock of the past and mark out new paths for the future".

He pointed out that major advances have been made in the struggle to obtain recognition for the rights of indigenous peoples during the decade and cited in particular, the establishment in July 2000, of the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which gave indigenous people prominence on the international stage and drew the attention of governments to the links between freedom, development and cultural diversity.

In Guyana, development of the indigenous community has been a prime focus of the PPP/C Government since 1992.

The first significant move was the establishment of a Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. An Amerindian Affairs Minister was also appointed for the first time.

“I would talk about Education and opportunities … in some of the areas we traditionally never had Secondary Education. That was made a reality since the PPP/C came into Government,” present Minister of Amerindian Affairs (an Amerindian herself), Carolyn Rodrigues asserted during an interview.

Today, through various Government projects, there are Secondary Schools in Santa Rosa in Region One (Barima/Waini); Waramadong in Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni); Paramakatoi in Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni), and Annai, St. Ignatius, and Aishalton in Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo). These are all Amerindian-dominated Regions. These schools also accommodate students from outlying areas who are provided with dormitories.

Not only have there been physical infrastructures established, but also, tremendous emphasis has been placed on teacher training, especially in the hinterland.

Every year there is a large intake of hinterland teachers at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) in Guyana. However, to avoid teachers leaving their communities, there are also Distance Education Programmes through which teachers can be professionally trained. The Guyana Basic Education Training Programme is one of those programmes.

Distance Education Programmes reach out to Amerindians and more of them are now qualifying themselves in different areas. There is an increasing number of Amerindian students also entering Guyana’s highest tertiary education institution, the University of Guyana annually, to qualify themselves in various fields. Currently, there are 50 students at the University of Guyana.

Already, there is evidence that Amerindians are benefiting from the emphasis being placed on the Education system throughout the country.

The performance of Hinterland students attending Secondary schools in Georgetown has significantly increased over the past few years. Moreover, more students are being offered Hinterland scholarships. This year, sixty more outstanding students were added to the list of hinterland scholarship students.

These scholarships offer greater opportunities. Hinterland students are being exposed to Information Technology among other subject areas. Government, in addition, established a students’ library at the Amerindian Hostel in Georgetown for students attending schools in Georgetown. Hinterland students were selected among the 100-odd who were given Scholarships to Cuba to study Medicine, Civil Engineering, Agriculture among other subjects.

Health care in the hinterland has also improved considerably. Minister Rodrigues recalls that people in Amerindian communities were dying from curable diseases. This has significantly been reduced. There are Health Centres in almost all of the Amerindian communities.

These centres are equipped with Community Health Workers (CHW’s) who offer primary health care to residents. Vital equipment among which is a microscope for Malaria testing, is available in almost every Health Centre.

Malaria has been a prevalent disease in hinterland communities. However, the Ministry of Health through the Vector Control Sector, has been working with communities to control the deadly disease. A new drug, Coartem, will be launched in September this year in Region One. This is an effective anti-malaria drug.

Potable water
Access to potable water in the hinterland has for a very long time been of serious concern to residents. In some instances the only dependable means of water was the river or rainfall. However, through the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) and other Government programmes, most of the Amerindian communities are now equipped with artesian wells.

Through the El Nino programme several wells have been installed in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine. It was during the PPP/C Administration that the multi-million dollar Moco Moco Hydro Power Project was constructed. Though the power plant was damaged by a landslide and is not as effective as before, Government is presently looking at alternative measures to supply Lethem with electricity.

The Hydro project provided water and electricity to the homes of many in Lethem and its surrounding communities. Many thought it would never happen when the project was first initiated.

This has been the pattern of development in the water sector in other hinterland Regions as well. Over the last four years, there has been a steady increase in the budgetary allocations to the Administrative Regions. Region Eight has been described as the “most difficult” Region in terms of the cost of living. While this may be true, the Government has been allocating significant resources to improving the life of the people there.

Amerindian Heritage Month
Amerindians have realized dreams that they never imagined would have materialised. The designation of Amerindian Heritage Month is one of the significant achievements for Guyanese Amerindians under the present Administration.

Though it has not been proclaimed a National Holiday as yet, the mere designation is a momentous achievement in recognising the contributions and the value of Amerindian heritage to the Guyanese society. Minister Rodrigues said that Amerindian communities have very strong arguments in favour of a National holiday in their honour.

The Government has done much more than recognising Amerindian culture. It has dedicated significant resources to developing the infrastructure and intellectual capacity of Amerindians countrywide.

In the area of Housing there have been several land settlement schemes developed in the Hinterland Regions. Two major ones are the Culvert City Housing Scheme in Lethem, Region Nine and the Mabaruma Housing Settlement in Region One.

Not only did the Government establish these housing settlements, but they also installed the necessary infrastructural works such as roads, water and electricity.

Road linkages and access to Amerindian communities have been another concern to the Government and it has taken a significant step in creating access to some communities by building road links.

Having a road network between Regions Eight and Nine, which was only a dream, is today a reality. Already roads in Region Eight, currently only accessed by air, have been able to facilitate some amount of vehicular traffic.

Communities will become easily accessible with the implementation of the road adjoining the Rupununi to the Pakaraimas. It will also improve the standard of living for the local residents.

In previous years coastlanders referred to the interior as the “Bush”, perhaps because there was no electricity, communication and transportation available. While some communities still experience difficulties in accessing the coast physically, every hinterland Amerindian community now has some form of communication with the coastland.

Though the Georgetown-Lethem Road has not been such a good success story, the improvement of the road has significantly benefited residents in the Rupununi areas, especially. Work continues to enable residents to traverse in a more comfortable manner. Buses now travel from the interior to Georgetown on a regular basis.

Land Demarcation:
It was a promise of the Government to Amerindians that they will have their lands demarcated and their titles given to them. Today this is a reality. Out of the 75 legally- recognized Amerindian communities spread across the interior of Guyana, many have already been demarcated and given land titles, while Government is now addressing extending these lands at the request of the indigenous people.

The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs continues to deal with this matter as a priority.

Agriculture is the most sustainable means of survival for Amerindians. It is because of this reason that the government has allocated substantial resources to ensure that Amerindians diversify their agricultural practices.

Though they continue to use their main staple, Cassava, communities in Regions Eight and Nine have begun to cultivate rice. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has assisted these communities that are now investing in small-scale rice production with rice hullers to help in the speedy processing of the rice.

Though many may not regard this as a major development, it is the beginning of a long-term project that will increase the food production level in Amerindian communities, especially during adverse weather conditions.

The Government has also implemented measures to empower Amerindian women. Several economic programmes have been designed to develop their traditional skills and at the same time market some of their produce. The New Guyana Marketing Corporation assists in providing local market for products in the Rupununi District. The Georgetown - Brazil Road and the road network between Regions Eight and Nine are expected to boost the marketing strategy in these areas.

The re-afforestation project for the heart-of-palm in the Barima area was implemented and this project has been a successful income generating activity.

A pineapple canning project has also begun in Mainstay/Whyaka, an Amerindian community in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supernaam).

Early this year, the Area Development Strategy to determine development projects for the various hinterland regions was launched.

The Amerindian Act and Amerindian Rights:
In February this year, a National Toshaos meeting was held and a National Toshaos Council was formed. Three Village Captains were selected by the Toshaos to represent indigenous people at Parliament as part of an Indigenous Peoples Commission.

With regard to the revision of the Amerindian Act, Government announced recently that consultations were presented to Cabinet and are being studied. Government hopes to complete the revision in October this year.

To strengthen Village Councils in Amerindian communities, training is in progress for Village Councils. The Village Councils are being trained to better manage their financial affairs as well as other issues in their villages.

Dr. Desrey Fox, established Coordinator of the Amerindian Research Unit and Linguistics Lecturer at the University of Guyana, in a recent interview with the Government Information Agency, said that advocacy groups in Guyana need to educate and sensitise Amerindians about International Day of the World's Indigenous People so that more can be done in observance of this special day.

While it is observed that much more needs to be done for the indigenous people in Guyana, Government has made a significant effort to recognise the rights and achievements of the Amerindian people. On this special day, we salute our indigenous people.