Miareman Uyunpayami! (Greetings! In the Makushi language).
Today we get another opportunity to pay tribute to our Mother – the Earth – and her true champions. It is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2016.
As Indigenous Peoples, we see the Earth as the centre of all that we are and do. She provides us with food, drink, medicines, shelter and the hope of fulfilment of all of our life’s aspirations. After we die, she continues to be good to us. She converts us in a manner which allows us to continue to support other forms of life.
This is the reason for our cultures, customs and practices. The understanding of our Mother’s love and service to all life forms, hence, our love and service to her by the very way in which we traditionally live.
This was the only education which we had at one time in our history. It was all we needed to survive in harmony with all life forms. We accept that, education in its universally accepted form is absolutely necessary if we are to survive in today’s world; we continue to believe too that our traditional education is equally important to us.
It is true that, we have moved away from some of our customs; that we have lost some of our values along the way. Despite this, however, the rest of the world is slowly coming to the realisation that the indigenous peoples of the world have from time immemorial been preforming the role of the earth’s caretakers. Even before environmental scientists were produced by the universities of the world, our environmentalists were at work.
They have used the oral tradition to pass on through the generations their understanding and appreciation of value of the natural environment. Indigenous peoples have always mined for minerals, harvested trees, hunted and fished. What they never did was to damage the environment or pollute the creeks and rivers or kill animals or fish until they became extinct.
The sad reality of today, is however, that, the same people who have preserved the natural environment, the pristine standing forests are the ones hardest hit by climate change and challenges in finding meat and fish protein to enrich their diet.
Miners have come; loggers have come and so have hunters and fisher folk. Hugh hole are left in the lands. Some places are now bare of forest cover. This is the collateral damage left behind through the collective efforts of small and medium scale miners and forest producers. Vector borne diseases beat our indigenous peoples into the ground. Our forest floor has been uprooted and our wild life which remains has migrated. Our rivers and creeks have over the years become unsafe. No longer can we boast of having pure drinking water and fish in abundance. We are paying the price for the development of a few.
This is the result of less than prudent management by some. This was supported by domination and control of our indigenous peoples by others whom we trusted but who sadly betrayed our trust. This was the work of some who believed that to divide our indigenous peoples for narrow gains was useful to them.
A lot has changed within recent months. The indigenous peoples of Guyana are now in a better and stronger position where self-determination has received life. There is no longer political interference into the internal governance of indigenous villages and communities in this country. Guyana now has a listening government. The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs supports in every way possible the 212 villages and communities for which we are responsible. Our indigenous population is growing faster than any other race group in Guyana. The needs of our indigenous population are correspondingly increasing.
The management capacity of our people is constantly receiving attention and enhancement. Agricultural investment opportunities are being actively pursued. Food and water security are among Government’s priority in our indigenous villages and communities. Clean renewable energy sources are being actively considered.
The Government of Guyana intends to continue listening to our indigenous peoples and to appropriately respond to their recommendations. Accordingly, the issue of land continues to be a matter of serious concern. The establishment of the Hinterland and Indigenous Peoples’ Land and Life Commission which is soon to come will address this question as a matter of urgent priority.
Government believes that, a strong legislative framework is critical to achieving the full respect for the rights of our indigenous peoples and the protection of the resources upon which they rely for sustenance. This Ministry is engaging the National Toshaos’ Council in this regard. This is the first stage. As a Ministry, we shall engage all stakeholders in a wide consultative process as we seek to ensure strong laws which guarantee the rights of Guyana’s indigenous peoples and equally safeguard other interests which may touch those rights.
We see great value in our languages, traditions, customs and practices. We believe that the traditional knowledge of our indigenous peoples ought to be preserved and protected. We expect that, when the comprehensive intellectual property rights legislation becomes a reality, traditional knowledge will feature an intellectual property and be accorded protection under the law.
We shall, as indigenous peoples, continue to live in the vein of our traditions. We believe that this is invaluable to us and to the world in which we live. We ask all Guyanese to join us in observing International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. We encourage everyone to recognise the importance of a clean, green Guyana.
It is with the foregoing in mind that, the formal education of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples is receiving the full attention of the Government of Guyana. His Excellency President David Granger has made it clear that, he expects that the early formal education of indigenous Guyanese children would, in the not too distant future be imparted to them in their respective first languages.
More indigenous young people are pursuing studies in disciplines which will allow them to work towards remedying some of the adverse circumstances which result from irresponsible mining and logging practices. They are pursuing disciplines which will allow them to work towards the preservation of our environment and wild life as well as mapping their traditionally occupied lands ascribing traditional names to water ways, mountains and sacred sites..
Education is a right; it is not a privilege. Indigenous peoples of Guyana have the same rights as all other citizens under the constitution and the laws of Guyana. What were not adequately available are opportunities.
Revised government policies and access to information through internet connectivity and the establishment of training programmes such as the Hinterland Employment and Youth Services seek to address this need.
Even as indigenous peoples of Guyana continue to enjoy the right to formal education, we recognise the equal importance of having the traditional education of the indigenous peoples of Guyana incorporated into the formal education curricula. This will help in providing a national appreciation of indigenous peoples’ cultures, customs and practices. It will also help with a national understanding of the importance of land to indigenous peoples and a comprehensive appreciation of our importance to the preservation of the environment and sustainable livelihood.
Today is a day for all Indigenous Peoples and all citizens of the earth to reflect on the importance of our source of life and the importance of education – both traditional and formal – to the process of achieving sustainable livelihood for all of humanity.
Happy International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Jan 19, 2017