Moruca residents raise issues of land rights, renaming of Amerindian Act…during consultations
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Member of Parliament and Ministerial Adviser to the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Mervyn Williams
Member of Parliament and Ministerial Adviser to the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Mervyn Williams

AS consultations continue for the revision of the “Amerindian Act 2006”, a team of officials from the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs journeyed to the Moruca Sub-district of Region One (Barima-Waini) to get feedback from the Toshaos of villages within that sub-district.

The consultations lasted two days, and were well attended, not only by villagers but by Toshaos as well, almost all of whom had prepared extensive presentations to highlight their concerns with and provisions they would like to see added and or amended with the Act.
Following this round of consultations, the Department of Public Information (DPI) caught up with Member of Parliament (MP) and Ministerial Adviser to the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Mervyn Williams, to gather a brief on the feedback received from the villagers.

“There are a number of issues people feel strongly about what may resonate as an issue in one quarter, but may be different in another,” he said, “But the overarching call is for a change of the name of the legislation, and for the replacement of the word Amerindian, with the word Indigenous.”

Residents pay rapt attention to a presentation by Member of Parliament, Mervyn Williams

Williams said this word change has been a major point raised at all the consultations held so far, and that has stood out to the Government, but they cannot make that decision unilaterally, as they would need the view of all the villages that would be affected, which these consultations allow them to gather. This is being taken into consideration.

The MP disclosed that the other hot-button issue for these villagers is that of land. “That is touched principally by titling issues, application for extensions and so on. It is touched by mining operations where, for example, the issue of Chinese Landing is in the news… The issue is that mining is affecting those communities. So, heavy on the agenda for villages which have deposits of mineral resources, is the issue of land tenure and titling, and mining operations,” Williams explained

Under concerns for mining operations, issues were raised with regard to environmental consideration, and as such, persons called for stronger veto power for villages, with respect to mining operations. “The law provides for a voice for the Indigenous Peoples, in the event of medium- scale mining coming to their areas. They would, as we heard, there’s a call for stronger legislation that treats with mining generally; from large right down the line to small-scale mining.”

This particular provision attracted a lot of attention on the first day of consultations in the Moruca Sub-District, with many of the village councillors and Toshaos attesting that while they have the right to refuse small and medium-scale miners, large-scale miners, if refused, can be granted permission from the subject minister; something these residents wish to see changed. Indigenous leaders, and the Indigenous population at large, had been calling for some amendments to the Act to be carried out even before the coalition government took office; a point that MP Williams highlighted at the previous round of consultations held at Lake Mainstay. “They said to us that they are not disagreeing that the Amerindian Act is not a good thing. However, we have been told over and over again that there are issues that people believe are not adequately represented in the legislation,” he said.

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