President David Granger on Tuesday remained unfazed as yet another group of Amerindian leaders rejected Government’s decision to establish a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into land rights, on the grounds of lack of consultation among others.
The National Toshaos Council (NTC) – a body comprising of all Toshaos of Guyana and a representative group of the Indigenous Peoples of Guyana – views this decision as a “blatant attempt” to dispossess the Indigenous people of their lands.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had announced that the CoI would seek to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by free Africans and Amerindian land titling claims.
But the NTC, in a statement on Tuesday, argued that the two issues are unique and need to be addressed separately.
“While we support reparations and repatriation of African Lands and addressing that issue with a great degree of urgency, the Indigenous Lands issue cannot and should not be viewed in the same light, nor can it be addressed under the same framework,” the body emphasised.
The NTC called for the establishment of two separate entities to deal with the two different issues as it voiced its refusal to cooperate with the current lands CoI.
“We call on His Excellency for a complete repeal of the mandate of this Commission and to establish the Indigenous Peoples’ Lands Commission,” the NTC said.
The organisation noted that failure to do so would demonstrate that Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples are being marginalised by the Government of Guyana.
The Amerindian leaders reminded that it was the Head of State who made the promise, during the NTC Conference of 2015, to establish a “Hinterland and Indigenous Peoples Lands Commission” that will address all Indigenous land issues.
“We are forced to remind His Excellency of that commitment and to immediately seek for him to hold that commitment to the Indigenous Population of Guyana,” the NTC said.
The body added, “We are also keen to remind His Excellency of the APNU’s manifesto within which his party committed to protect Guyana’s Indigenous Population as mandated by Guyana’s Constitution, clearly informed by Article 149(G), to respect Guyana’s Treaty obligations including ILO169, and to recognise the various International laws that were made for the protection of the indigenous peoples, both in Guyana and Globally.”
The NTC also highlighted that in the Amerindian Act of 2006, as a matter of law, there exists a process that speaks to the issue of Amerindian Lands. Also, under the Amerindian Land Titling Programme, informed at great lengths by the Amerindian Act, Guyana’s Constitution, and International Law, there exists a very robust framework that speaks to Amerindian Lands. This framework was developed by all key stakeholders from the Indigenous Fraternity and the Government of Guyana through agents from Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Forestry Commission, Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry, Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association, Guyana Women Miners Association, and the United Nations Development Programme.
Meanwhile, the NTC also complained of “severe” lack of consultations on the matter – an assertion which President Granger has denied.
The Head of State told reporters on Tuesday that the statement was “inaccurate”.
“The proposal to establish a body was announced by me in August last year at the National Toshaos Council meeting I think there had to be some consultation and persons who are on that commission are from a wide section of the community. There was consultation,” he said.
President Granger also alluded to the fact that Attorney David James, a former Legal Adviser to the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) is a commissioner, to support his claims of consultation.
But the APA had also come out criticising government’s land CoI.
Other organisations including the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, The Amerindian Action Movement, South Central Peoples Development Association, and the National Amerindian Development Foundation, have all protested the merging of the two issues under one blanket.
“We see no basis for any link between these disparate issues, and consider that the announced course would only result in further delay on desperately needed action on Indigenous land rights,” the bodies had expressed in a joint statement.
The Chairman of the Commissioner is Reverend George Peter Chuck-A-Sang, and the members are David James, Carol Khan-James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb and Paulette Henry.