The Opposition APNU+AFC coalition today said it remains fully committed to the full realization of Indigenous rights as embodied in international conventions and in the Constitution of Guyana.
The message from the party came as Guyana joined the rest of the world in observing International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
In keeping with this year’s theme – ‘The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge’, the main opposition said it will work to ensure that Indigenous women participate fully and effectively in community decision-making, such as in the use and management of land resources, and in community governance.
Laying out a menu of measures during a press conference today, APNU+AFC Member of Parliament Juretha Fernandes said the opposition will also work to ensure that Indigenous Peoples’ right to maintain, control, protect and develop their language, collective intellectual property over their traditional knowledge, cultural heritage, and cultural expressions is fully respected.
According to MP Fernandes, steps will also be taken to have traditional knowledge incorporated into the government’s development plans so as to eradicate poverty and improve Indigenous Peoples’ standard of living, while simultaneously fostering training and search programmes on indigenous traditional knowledge.
She assured that the coalition will push for the review of the Amerindian Act to be placed high on Guyana’s legislative agenda, and for the consultative process to be reinitiated by the Government.
In response to a question, MP Fernandes said while tremendous progress was made to advance the rights and development of Indigenous Peoples under the APNU+AFC Administration (2015-2020) in the areas of education, culture, language and land allocation, she believes the country has since regressed.
She accused the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai of being out of touch with many of the issues facing the indigenous people of Guyana.
“I think overtime she has become disconnected to the actual needs of the Indigenous people,” the APNU+AFC MP told the press.
Weighing in on the issue, former Member of Parliament Mervyn Williams accused the current government of not advancing the rights of indigenous people.
“Pauline Sukhai had to be pushed through public pressure to convene a conference of the National Toshaos’ Council. Pauline Sukhai is being pushed publicly to recommence the national consultation that would lead to a new or revised Amerindian Act,” he contended.
On the issue of land rights, Mr. Williams said indigenous lands are being exploited by miners and the rights of indigenous people are being trampled.
Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton concluded that it is not the government’s intention to create sustainable indigenous communities but rather “dominate and control.”
In her message to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Minister Sukhai said the Government has made significant strides in creating opportunities for sharing experiences and facilitating dialogue on pertinent issues among Indigenous Peoples.
To make her case, Minister Sukhai alluded to the implementation of the Amerindian Act of 2006, although there have been continuous calls by indigenous groups in Guyana for the legislation to be revised.
“The said Act provides for the ventilation of challenges and issues faced by our indigenous population through the National Toshaos’ Council Conferences. With the funding and support of the Government of Guyana, these conferences provide a unique opportunity for Amerindian leaders to interact with Government, share experiences and make representations on behalf of their people at the highest national forum,” she noted.
She also explained that there are programmes geared towards the realization of the rights of indigenous men and women through the promotion of free, prior and informed consent.