THE PPP/C administration has been putting much emphasis on Amerindian development. Amerindians have historically been disadvantaged by both the colonial and PNC administrations, but they remain a proud and resilient people. Despite the economic hardships, Amerindians remain the largest growing segment of the population and now constitute roughly 10 per cent of the total population.
Among the several measures taken by the PPP/C administration to enhance Amerindian development are skills training, especially for women and young people. Only recently, several sewing units were established by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs aimed at creating job opportunities for Amerindian women by way of the sewing of school uniforms provided for under the government’s school uniform programme. According to Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, not only will the sewing machines be provided by the government free of cost, but the women will also receive training in garment construction so that they could speedily get into the business of having garments made for sale, especially in remote villages.
In addition, several other interventions were made in support of economic activities through the provision of capital items. Last year, 112 tractors, along with ploughs and harrows were procured at a sum of $446 million to boost agricultural production and ensure food security, especially in light of the risks associated with climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 2,000 youths were trained last year as Community Service Officers (CSOs) which, in addition to contributing meaningfully to community development, also allowed for more money to be circulated in Amerindian villages. The programme, which was initiated by the PPP/C administration, was terminated by the APNU+AFC regime shortly after it took office in May 2015.
In his message to mark Amerindian Heritage Month in October last year, President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali pledged his wholehearted commitment and that of his administration to improving the lives of Amerindians. An updated Amerindian Act will be put in place, which will become the principal legal instrument for the protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights, including guarantees of entitlement to lands and rights over their lands. The updated Act will entrench provisions that will promote greater inclusion in decision-making and higher levels of integration in national development. The Act will provide for an enhanced role in the management of Amerindian communities by, and for Amerindians both in terms of control over their resources, environmental protection and sustainable development.
These are all forward-looking initiatives by the PPP/C administration to institutionalise democracy and governance at the community level. The government has already implemented a host of measures to improve the standard of living in hinterland communities in the critical areas of education, health, housing and infrastructural development.
Only recently, the Ministry of Education has identified two hinterland schools which will be upgraded to senior secondary schools and to be in a position to offer the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE). The two schools identified are the St Ignatius Secondary School in Region Nine and the Port Kaituma Secondary School in Region One. This is indeed a bold step in terms of the democratisation of access to advanced quality education to Amerindian children who for decades suffered from a sub-standard quality of education, prior to the ascension to office by the PPP/C administration on October 1992.
It is worth mentioning that prior to 1992 there were no secondary schools in the hinterland regions that were offering the Caribbean Secondary Examinations Certificate (CSEC) at the General proficiency level. The St Ignatius Secondary School was the lone secondary school that was offering a limited number of subjects, but only at the basic level, an indication of the level of indifference and neglect displayed by the then PNC administration towards Amerindian children. It was not until the PPP/C came to power in October 5, 1992 that new secondary schools were built and others upgraded with adequate living quarters for teachers and dormitory facilities for children, that the education tide shifted in positive ways.
Amerindian development is high on the PPP/C’s agenda. In 2021, over $300 million in presidential grants were paid out to boost village economies and enhance the lives of Amerindians through a variety of projects in areas such as agriculture, cattle and poultry rearing, cash-crop farming, tourism ventures and the upgrading of buildings and roads.
Amerindians and hinterland communities are now an integral part of our national development process and even as the country is poised to benefit from higher levels of earnings, thanks to the emerging oil and gas sector, the government is committed to ensuring that such revenues are utilised to upgrade the physical and social infrastructure of communities in all the 10 regions of Guyana, including our hinterland and Amerindian communities.