APA accuses Govt officials of bullying Amerindian leaders

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An Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) report has disclosed that Government officials sometimes pressure indigenous community leaders to give up their request for a land title or a title extension, accentuating that rules are sometimes bent to deny allocation of the titles.

The report launched on Friday at the Cara Lodge Hotel in Georgetown, stated that village testimonies pointed to Local Government authorities pressuring some Community Development Councils (CDC) chairpersons to drop plans to apply for a communal title (for example: Barabina, where GLSC pushed for individual land titles) and to withdraw their title applications in Canal Bank, Citrus Grove and Oronoque.
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According to the report authorities sometimes use biased rules and strange criteria to deny or limit land title to communities, highlighting that the former Ministry of Amerindian Affairs told some untitled communities that they cannot get a title under the 2006 Amerindian Act because their population is “too small”. One of these communities is Fathers Beach.
It stated that long delays in obtaining land titles may be linked to opposition by miners, loggers or other outsiders.
“Villages suspect that long delays in official processing of their titles and strange behaviour in the handing over of title documents, may often be due to interference by miners or loggers that hold permits or are making claims on lands owned or claimed by a Village,” the report revealed, stating that: “In some cases the former MoAA has admitted that changes to title boundaries and delays in granting titles were due to competing mining claims and interests (e.g., Kariako).”
There were reports that there are no legal safeguards to protect community land and resource rights outside title areas from being sold or given to third parties. The report stated that villages may wait years and even decades—in the case of the village Kariako— to have their land title or title extension applications processed.
In the interim, their customary untitled lands can be occupied and damaged by mining and logging businesses, leaving villagers feeling that they have no effective legal protections under current national laws to stop this.
Additionally, many of the villages complained to the authors of the report that individual village titles are undermining their way of life. Many villagers feel that the existing system of titling and demarcating individual Villages is harmful to the Amerindian way of life, the report said.
“By breaking up indigenous peoples’ territories, individual titles have undermined customary tenure systems and traditions of sharing more distant forests, hunting and fishing grounds among several neighbouring Villages. Many feel that hard boundaries and demarcation lines have caused unnecessary conflicts especially where they don’t follow agreed customary boundaries between villages. For this reason, villages are calling more and more strongly for a collective inter-village approach to land titles, title extensions and demarcation,” it added.
It has been reported that one/third of communities in Regions One and Two have no secure legal tenure at all. The report disclosed that 13 of the 42 communities surveyed (31 per cent) have no collective land title of any sort while 29 (69 per cent) of the communities has title.
The report explained that other than Big Creek, all of the untitled communities are registered as Community Development Councils (CDCs). Six communities (Father’s Beach, Barabina, Citrus Grove, Blackwater Savannah, Powaikoru, and Canal Bank) have applied for communal land title as an Amerindian village, but have received no positive response from Local Government authorities.
It also stated that a former minister dismissed the CDCs’ efforts to secure title while the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) officials had advised residents to apply and pay for individual title or leaseholds (eg Barabina), it stated.
However, it noted that several untitled communities do not know how to apply for communal title or what their options are to obtain secure tenure rights, including Almond Beach, Big Creek, Imbotero, Koberimo, Arakaka.
Currently, only two former CDC communities (Eclipse Falls and Four Miles) are included in the UNDP’s Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) work programme.
Almost all the surveyed villages considered that their land title is inadequate and limits their ownership of community land and customary resources: “All but one of the 29 titled Villages surveyed are not satisfied with their land title area because their existing legal boundaries do not cover vital customary lands, settlements, spiritually important sites and traditional resource areas.” It added that of the 29 titled Villages visited, 19 have families living in settlements, household clusters or homesteads outside their existing legal title boundary.

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