-say way of life threatened by private developers
By Ariana Gordon
RESIDENTS of Nappi and its satellite villages of Hiawa and Parishara in Central Rupununi want the authorities to urgently process their request for land extensions. They say their way of life is being threatened by private developers.
These residents of the indigenous communities in the savannahs to the front of the Kanuku Mountains are worried that their only means of survival is being restricted.
A visit to the communities on Saturday saw frustrated villagers protesting. They bore placards demanding that their fundamental rights as Indigenous peoples be respected by all.
“This issue involves areas of land that we have been seeking as extensions to our titled village lands,” former Toshao of the three villages, John Alfred, told Guyana Chronicle. Alfred explained that several letters about the issue have been sent from the communities to the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, but the community is yet to hear from subject Minister Sydney Allicock.
“We hope now that he will listen to our request,” said Alfred, who was supported by approximately 40 villagers.
Alfred said the road the villagers use to go fishing, hunting, and gathering resources has been ploughed up by the holders of private land leases, and the residents of the three conjoined villages are allegedly being prevented from “passing through the area.”
“Our fishing pools have become stagnant because a huge dam was built across the creek where we fish. We are asking the minister to please tell us about our request for land extension, and how this will be dealt with, given what is happening now…this area being titled to others,” Alfred said.
Guy Fredericks, another former toshao of the villages, told Guyana Chronicle that the issue of land extension has been going on for too long. He demands that those who hold government office remedy the situation.
“We are being prevented from doing the things we have done for years unrestricted. We can no longer walk here, because private persons have come and set up property here. We are Indigenous people; we are accustomed to hunting, fishing, carrying on our cattle rearing, but now we are being limited,” he said.
He noted that restrictions imposed on Amerindians are not just limited to land use for the purpose of hunting, but fishing as well. Fredericks said the private land lease holders have created a dam that now blocks water from flowing as it did from the Takutu River.
“The water is stagnant, we can’t fish…. Our palm trees are dying, and we have many uses for the palm trees,” he told Guyana Chronicle.
“We are being prevented from doing the things we have done for years unrestricted. We can no longer walk here because private persons have come and set up property here. We are Indigenous people; we are accustomed to hunting, fishing, carrying on our cattle rearing; but now we are being limited.”
Like his predecessors, current Toshao, Walter Henrico, said he wants the matter of land extension for titled lands to the Indigenous peoples of the three communities be resolved.
“We have never been restricted,” he said, noting that Indigenous peoples have occupied the three villages for a long time, and have hunted and fished in the area without restriction.
“Now we are being forced to stay within certain boundaries. We have been asking for extensions for a long time. The previous government had received letters from us, and then there was the change of government, and the same thing is happening. Nobody is talking to us!” Henrico stated.
According to the residents, Minister Allicock had visited Nappi after taking office, and had promised to look at the request by the residents for the extension of their lands. Thus far, he has not communicated with the leaders of the communities.
Another letter was delivered to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs within the last month, but there has still been no acknowledgement of the letters by that ministry.
“Nobody is saying anything to us…we are excluded. These areas that are now restricted have traditionally been used for generations by indigenous people,” the Toshao said.
A 76-year-old Makushi woman told the Guyana Chronicle: “Something must be done to put an end to the situation.” She spoke in her native language, but former Toshao Alfred translated. The woman said she was born and raised in Nappi, and there was never a restriction on where hunting or fishing can be undertaken.
She called on the administration to respect the human rights of the indigenous people, and their fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana.
“This is frustrating…I am not used to this…there is no fresh water,” she told Guyana Chronicle. The Makushi woman said she is concerned about the future of her grand and great-grandchildren. “This is not only about us…it is about our children…the other generations to come. They want to carry on like we did, but can’t because of this (restriction).”
A visit to the property of a private land lease holder, whose name is unknown, revealed that a high dam was indeed placed across the creek used by the Indigenous people of Nappi, Parishara and Hiawa.
When approached, a watchman could only state that the owner of the property and the manager were not around; the watchman could not state when the manager would return.
The house appeared to be an elaborate ranch-style house, and several animals were grazing on the property. Asked if the property was being used for tourism purposes, the watchman said, “I don’t really know you know…the boss man isn’t here.” He provided a contact number for the manager, but contacts with the manager proved futile.
The leaders of the Makushi communities told Guyana Chronicle that they would not sit idly by and allow their traditional lands to be taken away from them.
“We will be coming to Georgetown to have our plight heard by the authorities. This will not be taken lightly,” one resident told this publication.
Additionally, the residents have expressed concern about Lethem attaining township status in a few months’ time. “Why the rush for township?” the residents asked, as they voiced their displeasure with what they believe to be mounting restrictions on them. “Address our issues first,” one resident shouted, as she demanded a speedy resolution to the problems facing Nappi.
“The Lethem boundary has been demarcated without the free and informed consent of the people of Nappi,” one placard had written on it.
Attempts to contact Minister Allicock on the matter on Saturday proved futile.