Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sub-regional Meeting of Indigenous Peoples from North America and the Caribbean: Follow-up to the III Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas (ILSA)

Dear Indigenous Peoples' Representatives,

Greetings from the Summits of the Americas Secretariat (SAS) of the Organization of American States (OAS). This Secretariat is pleased to announce, in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Inuit Circumpolar Council [ Canada ] (ICC), a Sub-regional Meeting with Indigenous Peoples' representatives from the English-speaking countries of the Americas to be held in Ottawa ,Canada, on Monday, December 13, 2010.

The main purpose of the Sub-Regional Meeting of Indigenous representatives from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean region is to provide an opportunity to follow-up on the implementation of the April 2009 Declaration and Plan of Action of the III Indigenous LeadersSummit of the Americas (III ILSA) "Implementing the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas for Present and Future Generations" and the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the Inter-American System. It will also provide an opportunity to begin preparations for the IV ILSA in the context of the initial planning stages of the Sixth Summit of the Americas .

The Seminar will be open to the participation of anyone from the general public interested in this theme. If you would like to participate, please fill out the Registration Form and email it toamontilla@oas.org, with a copy to celestemckay@me.com, before December 8th, 2010. Please note that each participant must cover his/her own expenses.

For those who cannot attend the event, the Summit Secretariat is pleased to announce that theSummits Virtual Community (SVC) will be available for all those individuals interested in contributing to discussions. This Community offers its visitors the opportunity to register and participate in forums and discussion groups, as well as obtain materials, such as documents, videos, links, etc. In the SVC, the visitor can also share comments and opinions with other people who are interested in common themes. To participate in the Indigenous Peoples Group, please click here or visit: http://svc.summit-americas. org/groups .

Updated versions of the agenda and other relevant documents will be disseminated shortly. More information about this meeting will also be published in the Summits of the Americas Information Network at: www.summit-americas.org/cs_ meet.html and on the AFN's website at www.afn.ca.

For more information, please contact Andrea Montilla (AMontilla@oas.org or at 202.458.3347) or Celeste McKay (celestemckay@me.com or at 613.858.7070).

Kind regards,

Summits of the Americas Secretariat of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)

Organization of American States (OAS)

Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)

This sub-regional event is made possible in part through the generous support of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation



Monday, November 1, 2010

Amerindian leaders and free speech

GUYANA - “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”

As many people will recognize the above quotation comes from Section 146 (1) of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, and is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens of this country. Or at least to most of them. As this newspaper discovered last week, however, it may be that sometimes the indigenous inhabitants of this nation are the beneficiaries of only an abridged form of this right which everyone else takes for granted.

As we reported on Friday, on the previous day one of our reporters was ordered to leave the premises of the International Conference Centre where the National Toshaos Council Meeting was under way. We had first become aware of a problem last Tuesday, when another of our reporters was waiting in the lobby to talk to Toshaos after the meeting was over. She was told by Press and Publicity Officer Kwame McCoy from the Office of the President that the meeting was closed. On being informed that she was not seeking to go in but just to meet Toshaos afterwards, he indicated that she could not stay where she was either, and would have to wait outside the gate. He drew the analogy of barging into somebody’s house uninvited – hardly, one would have thought, the most appropriate parallel to draw in the circumstances.

Mr McCoy notwithstanding, she did return after the conference was over and spoke to a group of Toshaos, none of whom had any problem communicating their views. There was an eleventh Toshao, however, who informed her that they had spoken to the Chronicle already, and had been instructed not to speak to this newspaper because it carried “false reports.”

As mentioned above, the second reporter went on Thursday, and while he was ordered out – again beyond the gate – it was not before he had seen an NCN reporter and cameraman interviewing two Toshaos. Mr McCoy was seemingly unfazed by the contradiction, and proceeded to tell the reporter that the “media” would only be invited to press conferences. This was the “President’s event,” he said, and only those whom the President had invited could stay.

One would have thought that it hardly needed explaining to someone in the publicity field that the term ‘media’ applies to the state as well as the private media, and that inevitably the government must face accusations of manipulation of information if the independent press alone is excluded. While the President can invite anyone he pleases to an “event” which is strictly private, like a dinner in State House, perhaps, this one did not fall into that category; it involved persons who hold public office in the interior, and who had gathered in what is a public venue for discussions on issues affecting their communities.

Of course, it would be perfectly normal for the media to be excluded from the actual deliberations, provided, of course, that the principle was applied to all of them without exception. Outside the immediate context of the sessions themselves, however, it is not for the President let alone a Press and Publicity Officer to decide which press and broadcast entities should be allowed to interview Toshaos after they emerge from the auditorium. Toshaos and their councillors, like every other citizen of this nation, have the right of freedom of speech, and can complain or give praise as they see fit to whomsoever they see fit.

As we reported on Friday, the Guyana Times had carried a story two days earlier based on interviews with some Toshaos and Councillors about their dissatisfaction with the way the lands for their particular villages were being demarcated. This apparently untoward piece of information deriving as it did from an unexpected source, concentrated the minds of the relevant officials wonderfully, and that very same afternoon Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai, flanked by 11 Toshaos appeared in front of the press – all of whom were invited on this occasion – to extol the demarcation exercise and denounce the offending Toshaos who had voiced their criticisms so publicly, as well as castigate the newspaper which had given them a hearing.

It is doubtful that this little bit of theatre on Wednesday afternoon convinced all the other 166 Toshaos and senior council members that those who had spoken out had no genuine concerns and were just being ‘negative’ for the sake of it, although perhaps some of them might have been so persuaded. However, what it did do was illuminate for the outside world the fact that the government seemed set on controlling the information coming out of the conference, and on presenting an image of satisfied Amerindians committed to the regime.

A major reason for this was given by Stabroek News’s Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud in our Friday report, namely, that there were clearly “diverse views among the Toshaos over the issues discussed, and that the government did not want these to be ventilated in the media for fear of unsettling certain donors.”

But there is something else too. Hovering as we are on the cusp of an election, the PPP’s interest in the indigenous constituency on whose votes it is partly dependent for its overall majority is at its height. In recent times there has been a great flurry of activity on the part of the government in relation to the interior communities, and they are finding themselves the beneficiaries of all kinds of state resources. Since there is no Jagan name and at this point one presumes, no Bharrat Jagdeo either to provide propulsion for the party’s next bid for office, the PPP is concerned about keeping its ‘constituents’ solid in their support. The problem with Amerindian villages is that they are very far flung, so what better way to communicate with the leaders than take advantage of a National Toshaos Council Meeting which was probably being held in any case quite independent of election exigencies.

What the government clearly decided, however, was to insulate the indigenous leaders as far as possible from any ‘contamination’ by outside entities like the independent media, so that what the Toshaos read about their meeting would not contain anything negative, and those who had complaints or views which differed from the ones which the ruling party was anxious to promote, would not come to the attention of the other participants. Perhaps it was hoped that this would influence their outlook when they returned home, so that they would become unwaveringly positive about the government when they spoke to their villagers, whether or not they had initially harboured concerns about certain issues.

If so, then it would be to treat the Amerindians not as adults, with the constitutional rights of other adults, but as youngsters, whose speech must be monitored for appropriateness, and in this instance, for conformity with the received wisdom. It is impossible to conceive that every representative who attended the meeting had absolutely no concerns, no complaints or no unease about something or the other. Life is simply not so well ordered. Whatever these might be, there can be no justification for abrogating the right of any indigenous leader to communicate them to the outside world, even if they did not represent the feeling of the conference as a whole. The point about criticism in an open society is that the opportunity should be given for it to be expressed and then if desired, answered, not that it should be suppressed altogether in the first instance, as appears to have been the intention here.

When the next National Toshaos Council Meeting rolls around, one hopes that the government will ensure that there is no trespassing on the Amerindian leaders’ right to freedom of expression.

Source: Stabroek News