Thursday, April 23, 2009

Indigenous people have benefited from new Amerindian Act

Stabroek News (Guyana, South America) - President Bharrat Jagdeo told the delegates at the Guyana Shield Conference dinner that the status of local indigenous people has been boosted due to a number of opportunities made available to them as well as the amended Amerindian Act.

According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) press release Jagdeo said Amerindians had not been part of mainstream society due to “location because many of them live in the hinterland location far from the coast; so what we have sought to do over the years was try to correct some elements of that disparity, every community has access to a school, they have a health hut, almost in everyone of these community we have health workers who are being paid by the government.”

He also told the guests at the dinner hosted after the Guyana Shield Regional Meeting that Amerindian children can now benefit from secondary level education within many of their communities as dormitories have been built at central locations and their needs funded by the state. Many students have also benefited from hinterland scholarships where they are given the chance to attend schools in the city. Some have also been able to further their studies overseas with about 40 students pursuing studying in several fields such as medicine and engineering both locally and abroad.

The president acknowledged that there remains the need to improve incomes as most indigenous families depend on subsistence farming due to their location. Jagdeo said he hopes this issue can be addressed through the avoided deforestation model that lobbies for compensation for standing forests.

Regarding mining, which has been a topical issue with the visiting delegations and local indigenous communities, Jagdeo said many of the Amerindian communities are titled; giving them veto over small and medium-scale mining. “We are one of the few countries that have actually come forward with sub-surface rights because they mainly had the right to use the land, the forest etc to hunt and fish traditionally … but this act (New Amerindian Act) has now given them a veto power,” he said. He added that if the communities agree to mining on their land a tribute must be paid to them, further; if a large deposit of any mineral is found the community must be consulted and must benefit from it.

As regard land claims, Jagdeo said since 1992 about 13% of land claims have been processed, an improvement from the six to seven per cent that had been previously processed. “We are hoping that it will exceed some 20 percent of the land, that is titled land, that they will have all of these rights come forward on the communities. It a bit difficult now because of its cost, I was told that it costs $250,000 to demarcate sometimes one community,… so funding is an issue now but I think because of the commitment we made we have to find the money to complete the demarcation, that includes land traditional plus requests for new lands, expansion,” he said.

Meanwhile, President of the Association of Amerindians in French Guiana, Charles Jean Auberic said he too is cognisant of the president’s proposal on climate change and indigenous people’s rights and wanted to share his experience and expertise. Also, Leon Wijngaarde, President of the Organisation of Indigenous People in Suriname said Amerindians have not always enjoyed their rights and he hoped that Jagdeo would press the issue with the Surinamese president.

According to GINA, Ecuador, Peru and Columbia were also represented at the meeting which was held from April 13 – 17.

Source: Stabroek News

No comments: