The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs is responsible for over 200 villages in the hinterland. It sees the area as one with major development potential in every aspect.
Under the purview of Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock, and Minister within the Ministry, Valerie Garrido-Lowe, a number of progressive initiatives were undertaken to foster tourism, empowerment and economic development during 2016.
National Toshaos Council
In August 2016, the National Toshaos Council (NTC) held its 10th annual meeting. Issues and policies which affect indigenous peoples were discussed with government officials and various organisations. The conference was one with a difference and lots of success, according to the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Council Joel Fredericks and Lennox Shuman, respectively.
The NTC chairman said, “It is the first time in history as I know, the NTC has ever chaired their own conference.”
Meanwhile, Shuman pointed out that the NTC provided the platform for indigenous peoples to discuss their issues independently. “We had the opportunity to control the agenda and our programme for the first time I think in the establishment of the NTC’s history, and that I would say is a marked departure from previous years,” the Vice Chairman explained.
One of the major successes of the conference was the commencement of the review of the Amerindian Act of 2006. Consultations were held among the 212 community leaders to strengthen the Act, which many of the leaders claim lack substance. Extensive consultations in indigenous communities countrywide are expected to commence in 2017.
The Hinterland Employment Youth Service (HEYS) Programme is one of the most successful for the Ministry. The programme has been meaningfully impacting the lives of nearly 2000 youths in 112 indigenous communities across Guyana. However, the programme has experienced a number of hiccups that includes payment of facilitators and beneficiaries. Minister Garrido-Lowe, who is the brainchild of the programme has since apologised for the inconvenience caused and promised to rectify the issue by the end of the year.
“I apologise for the delay, but I would like them to bear that in mind too, and we are working on making sure that for next year at least, this must not continue, I am not in agreement with it,” Minister Garrido-Lowe stated.
Despite the challenges, the Minister has pointed out that due to the training, youths are now motivated to do more for themselves and are drifting away from the ‘dependency syndrome’.
In Regions Seven and Eight, HEYS youths have already produced a variety of quality furniture including tables, chairs/rocking chairs, desks, cupboards, bed frames, and stools among other items.
Additionally, Indigenous women in the village of Wiruni, Upper Berbice River, Region 10 are gravitating towards fields that men traditionally dominated. Minister Garrido-Lowe noted that women are pushing themselves to accumulate knowledge in electrical engineering and auto mechanic.
Minister Garrido-Lowe, in October 2016, visited the small village of Korosima. This village in Region One is a satellite to Whitewater. Minister Garrido-Lowe was the first government official to ever visit the small indigenous community. The village consists of about eight families who only speak their native Warrau Language.
Minister Garrido-Lowe vowed to do whatever it takes to give the families living there a ‘good life’. This will be done through the provision of formal education, and health services, transportation and possibly potable water.
Both Ministers Allicock and Garrido-Lowe have on numerous occasions touted that indigenous youths are losing their culture. There have been efforts to revive and maintain indigenous culture through the resuscitation of their language that is dying. In June 2016, the sum of $2M was handed over by Minister Garrido-Lowe to Ronald Manano, Toshao of Kamwatta Hill, Region One for the revival of the Warrau language among youths.
The project will, according to Minister Garrido-Lowe, help youths understand “where they came from and where they want to go.”
Additionally, in Whitewater, under the Warrau language project, 50 youths graduated from one year of study of the language. The Minister pledged that the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs would continue to support the revival of indigenous languages across the country.
The Umana Yana which was burnt to ashes on September 9, 2014 was rebuilt in July 2016. The 55-foot high structure has served as the venue for a number of historical and cultural events for over four decades. Minister Allicock noted that the building lends the opportunity for Guyanese to appreciate the first people of Guyana. “It will allow better recognition and appreciation for the people in the hinterland.”
The Umana Yana was not the only thing that was rebuilt in 2016 under the stewardship of the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry. The Ministry managed to have the 4,300 ft. Surama airstrip in Region Nine resurfaced. The airstrip was reconstructed on a budget of over $5M and features a specialised EBS soil solutions surface sealer, which lengthens the life of the airstrip, cuts maintenance costs and reduces the impact of dust pollution.
The hinterland airstrip project is a small part of a ten-point plan proposed by President David Granger for the development of the hinterland.
Additionally, the Ministry managed to launch a ‘Sustainable Development Framework’ (SDF) that requires indigenous communities to produce a 10- year development plan. However, whatever plan the communities identify, must fall in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).
According to Minister Allicock, the framework will ensure that effective and efficient financial and technical support is directed to the indigenous villages for social, economic and cultural development.
Further, Minister Garrido-Lowe said the framework will develop strong village economies and at the same time, maintain indigenous peoples’ culture and traditions. “Most times, the care is making sure that the funds are spent, not really that something has been developed,” the minister noted. She is of the view that the SDF will help produce plans to build better communities.
In 2016, close to $280M in Jubilee grants was donated to indigenous villages to undertake projects that would benefit their community. The distribution of jubilee grants as part of activities for the 50th independence anniversary celebrations, replaces the presidential grant for the year.
Some communities that received grants include:
Port Kaituma – $1.4M,
Savannah Blackwater – $1.2M,
Unity Square- $1M,
Varasina – $1M,
Aruka Mouth -$1M
Mainstay – $1.5M
Santa Aratack -$1.2M
Wiakabra – $1.5M
Moco Moco -$1.5M
St Ignatius -$1.5M
By: Isaiah Braithwaite
The resurfaced airstrip at Surama Region Nine
Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe (centre to the back) along with the 50 youths who graduated from the Warrau language project
Hinterland youths with furniture they crafted whilst participating in Hinterland Employment Youth and Services Programme