The regression of Indigenous land rights

first_imgThe issue of Indigenous land rights must be contextualised and dealt with separately from any other land claims, and not just because Amerindians are Guyana’s first peoples from whom the entire country was initially “stolen” by the European settlers. The demarche for returning “stolen” lands was first initiated by the natives of the Americas themselves, and in Guyana the process of addressing Amerindian land rights commenced under the British Empire with the establishment of the first “reserves” as they were dubbed. These were provisioned for by the Amerindian Ordinances of 1902 and 1904. Later, it was Stephen Campbell who continued the fight for land ownership in the years preceding independence, by securing the promise that the young Guyanese State would establish an Amerindian Land Commission geared towards investigating land claims and formulating subsequent proposals. This resulted in the publication of the 1969 Land Commission Report which paved the way for the titling of the first 10 Amerindian villages in Guyana. So the legal battle for land rights does not only predate the reclamations for land by other peoples brought to Guyana by colonisers, but is also embodied in the self-determination and self- representation of Amerindian peoples who took it upon themselves to engage successive Governments on the matter. In fact, upon closer observation, the earliest stages of this expression of self-representation stemmed from the negotiations and trade between the free Indigenous peoples of Guyana and the first Dutch settlers – Amerindians were and continue to be free peoples. It is what distinguishes Amerindian land titling from the context of African land reparation, which is a consequence of slavery in which the stakeholders are not the same, and in which the British Crown still has a responsibility to play. Further, Amerindian land ownership is guaranteed by an international framework which revolves around the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), before which it was already the object of a pledge by the Government of Guyana and enshrined in the Amerindian Act no 6 – 2006. This is the context enveloping Amerindian land rights – a context which because of its historical specificities, must continue to be treated on separate grounds from the issue of African and other land claims. It is this foundation that later facilitated the LCDS funded Amerindian Land Titling Project which was set up specifically to respond to Indigenous land rights, and which by its mandate alone, annuls the relevance of any Commission of Inquiry purporting to investigate land claims. In refusing to comply with the framework encompassing Amerindian land rights, the coalition Government is actually trespassing on international guidelines and national legislations, which might eventually become cause for legal disputes and the decimation of trust between the State and Amerindian peoples.President Granger’s recent clash with the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) depicts the coalition’s refusal to acknowledge the specificities of Amerindian land titling, moving Amerindians one step closer to marginalisation. Former People’s National Congress (PNC0) Executive Vincent Alexander’s recent pronouncement in the media, reinforces the President’s position. Alexander insisted at a public forum that all Guyanese claims to lands must be dealt with in one same manner and through a single outlet. Incidentally, his approach also echoes Eric Phillips’ racist banter in the media which commenced about a year ago and sought to discredit the legitimacy of Amerindians to land ownership.Upon closer examination, this narrative leaves no space for cultural diversities to coexist in Guyana, and the recent upheaval by PNC friendlies against Amerindian land rights is allowed to penetrate the public sphere unsanctioned, because it favours the coalition’s agenda which is one set on reformulating the history of this country.In the PNC’s reformulated history of Guyana, multiculturalism is crushed by policies which induce the forceful assimilation of citizens to a national identity forged from the imaginary – what Benedict Anderson calls an “imagined community” – in the belief that this is the means to achieving “national unity”. But the causal effect of bulldozing one’s way through the process of nation building produces the opposite result: a society which appeals little to the sentiment of belonging of cultural groups and minorities, and citizens in general.The establishment of a CoI into Amerindian land titling without obtaining the majority consensus of Amerindian leaders is an affront to Indigenous land rights and sets a dangerous precedence for all those who in the future would attempt to diminish the legitimacy of these special rights. It officially marks the deliberate regression of Indigenous rights in Guyana.last_img

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