The 10th annual National Toshaos Conference (NTC) opened on Monday with a strong call from Indigenous Leaders for the conference to address several outstanding land issues, find ways to strengthen the Amerindian Act and increase stipends for Toshaos and Councillors.
NTC Chairman Joel Fredricks led the charge and said the time has come to put an end to the many years of indigenous people having to battle land issues.
“I believe this is the time when leaders can sit with the President and his government to talk about land issues… these are still issues that are burning within indigenous communities,” he said.
Fredricks said it was important that the government engages indigenous leaders to address these issues and he extended the NTC’s willingness to facilitate the process.
“We need to walk away with positive answers on the issues of land rights and land ownership for indigenous people’s” he added.
Fredricks said there is the need for the Amerindian Act to be strengthened to allow for a better standard of living for indigenous people.
Again he asked for the NTC to be a key player in consultation, which he anticipates will take place during the tenure of this coalition government.
The government was also called upon to increase the stipends for Toshaos and Councillors. The Chairman said the current offering is inadequate to support the work they carry out at the community level.
President Granger committed to addressing the matter of stipend at the Cabinet level.
The NTC Chairman said there is also the need for the Council to be provided with a plot of land in the capital city so that a secretariat can be constructed.
He said it was fitting as Guyana celebrates its 50th independence anniversary and asked President David Granger to give special consideration to the request.
To this end, President Granger agreed to ask Cabinet to consider granting the land. He said the time has come to establish a permanent administrative arrangement for the NTC.
Among Fredericks’ other request were for more solar panels to be provided to indigenous communities.
Minister Sydney Allicock and Minister Valerie Garido Lowe both supported the call for strengthening of the Amerindian Act and conversation on land titling issues.
President Granger said his there is need for the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs to be gloved with the authority to act decisively and deal with the issues affecting Amerindians.
As such, he recommended the establishment of a permanent five member authority to report to NTC but implement policies of the National Assembly.
Toshaos and leaders from 212 Amerindian Communities are attending the conference and will spend the next five days exchanging ideas with the political directorate.
This year’s conference is being held under the theme: “Guyana’s First Peoples, Progressing Our Culture and Land For Life.” (by Kurt Campbell)