The National Toshaos Conference got underway on Monday, with National Toshaos Council (NTC) Chairman, Nicholas Fredericks urging the village leaders from across the country to put aside differences and focus on seeking tangible solutions for their respective constituencies.
The conference, which will last for five days, got underway at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre on Monday morning. Fredericks made this call during the opening ceremony of the conference, which was also attended by President David Granger, his Ministers and the Opposition.
“Toshaos, I urge you to continue to make that representation on your people’s behalf. We’re here for one week for a very important occasion and discussion,” Fredericks, who took over as Chairman last year, said.
Fredericks also noted the importance of leadership within Indigenous communities and the role it plays in justifying the holding of the annual NTC, since the very point of the exercise was to achieve tangible results.
“Use the opportunity that presents itself to us now, so we can maximise the opportunities that are being provided to us. It is a time where we have to focus. And not be distracted. We are here for a week. Let us ensure we have full interactions.”
He also spoke about land titling and its importance to the Indigenous peoples. Hence, Fredericks was happy that the project was extended. Government has been criticised previously for its slow pace in giving out land titles in accordance with the Amerindian Land Titling and Demarcation Project.
It was subsequently announced that the project, which was funded by the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund, will be extended to 2021. These and other matters are expected to dominate discussions during the five-day summit.
Previous NTCs have had their share of controversy, as the Toshaos Council took strong action when they believed that the Government was either undermining their work or not delivering on promises to the Indigenous people.
In 2017, the 11th Annual NTC Conference saw several members of the NTC Executive stage a walkout over what they described as an attempt by Government to “undermine” the issues being put forward for discussion.
Then Vice Chairman of the NTC, Lenox Shuman, had told Guyana Times that Toshaos were supposed to have presentations, and as they were trying to consolidate their position with Government so that they could have meaningful action, there was no Minister present until the evening.
At the time, pressing issues had included getting the Government to release the guns collected from Amerindians during the gun amnesty, which Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan had promised to return.
Last year, Shuman had taken the Government to task and even revealed that the Indigenous community wanted to have “mass mobilisation” over issues with the way Government was addressing their concerns.