Grossly unfair to accuse government of not addressing Amerindian rights


PLEASE permit me to respond to a letter written by one Charrandass Persaud in the Kaieteur News of Sunday August 26, 2012 under the caption “How can Government lay claim to lands owned and occupied by the natives for over a hundred years?”
I wish to state simply the following:

1. The ownership and occupation of lands in Guyana by Amerindians are for over 1,000 years and not “for over a hundred years”.
2. Toshao means ‘Village Chief’ and not ‘Village captain’.
3. C. Persaud said that he recently visited, “The mining villages of Kamarang and Jawalla’. Is he aware that Jawalla is also a mining village where some 65 land dredges are currently engaged in gold and diamond mining? A relevant question which C. Persaud should have asked the Jawalla Toshao is, what is the Jawalla Village Council doing with the village’s money earned from gold and diamond production and what is the village’s financial status? Also, when last was a financial audit conducted by the Jawalla Village Council authorised by a village general meeting?
4. Any miner who wants to carry out mining activities on Amerindian titled village lands must obtain the consent of at least two-thirds of villagers who are entitled to vote at a village general meeting and not “The Village Council” (Section 48 (1) of the Amerindian Act 2006).
5. The GGMC issues permits or licences for mining operation and not the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The claim by C. Persaud that miners with permits from the GGMC are conducting mining activities on Jawalla’s Village lands without the blessing of the Jawalla Council clearly shows that the Jawalla is not doing its works by vigorously enforcing Section 48 of the Amerindian Act. It must therefore be noted, that any miner with a permit from the GGMC to conduct mining activities on titled Amerindian village lands must first receive the permission from Village residents before mining can take place. It must also be known to both Amerindian and non-Amerindians that gold, diamonds or any other precious minerals remain the sole property of the state.
6. In relation to water pollution of the Upper Mazaruni River, did C. Persaud ever ask the Jawalla Toshao, where is the outlet for polluted water caused by mining activities on Jawalla’s Village lands? I am certain that the polluted water finds its way into the river. But why is only the Jawalla Toshao complaining about river pollution in the Upper Mazaruni? Why is the Kako Village Toshao not complaining including the Warawatta Toshao? Are the gold rewards satisfactory? At the moment there are about 15 river dredges from Warawatta to Jawalla.
7. C. Persaud claims that the ownership of land in the villages of the Upper Mazaruni is in dispute. This is a blatant lie, since each of the villages is titled and communally-owned since 1991. Further, a village council manages the affairs of each village guided by the Amerindian Act 2006. It must be noted, however, that generally villages do not comply with the Provisions of the Amerindian Act.
8. The Government of Guyana is not depriving the Amerindian communities from the ownership of their lands. The problem with the Upper Mazaruni communities including Jawalla is that they deprived themselves of their ancestral land ownership outside of their titled boundaries when they rejected, and continue to do so, the Government’s land demarcation exercise which would have enabled each of the villages to qualify for ancestral land extensions.
9. The Upper Mazaruni communities took the government to court over their land claims where the matter is currently languishing in the High Court for now over 12 years. The Government is willing to address the land issues of the Upper Mazaruni communities but is constrained to do so because of the court matter and neither can the government interfere with the judicial process of the state.
10. The ownership and control of lands by the government which we all know as ‘State lands’ must be viewed within the context of our past colonial history. When the British took over Guyana from the Dutch in 1814, all lands were subjected to control and ownership by the ‘crown’ through legislation and policy. State lands are governed by the State Lands Act, and Section 3 of the said Act authorises the President of Guyana “to make absolute or provisional grants of any state lands of Guyana, subject to such conditions (if any) he thinks fit”. Through this section of the state lands Act Amerindian communities are given titles.
11. In 1991 there were 74 titled Amerindian communities where Amerindians owned six percent of Guyana’s land mass. Today there are now 96 titled Amerindian communities where the ownership of Guyana’s land mass by Amerindians is now 13.9 percent
12. Mr. Editor, it is therefore grossly unfair for any Amerindian or non-Amerindian to say that the Government of Guyana is not addressing the issue of Amerindian Rights to their ancestral lands.