Guyana

Indigenous Peoples in Guyana

Indigenous peoples – or Amerindians as they are identified both collectively and in legislation – number some 78,500 in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, or approximately 10.5% of the total population of 746,955 (2012 census).They are the fourth largest ethnic group, East Indians being the largest, (40%), followed by African Guyanese (29%) and self-identified “Mixed” (20%). The Chinese, Portuguese and Whites constitute tiny minorities. Amerindians refer to these non-indigenous people as “coastlanders” since most of them are settled on the coast in Regions 3, 4 and 6. As a former British colony, Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America.

The Amerindians are grouped into nine Indigenous Nations, based on language. The Warao, the Arawak and the Carib (Karinya) live on the coast (mainly in Regions 1 and 2). The Wapichan, the Arekuna, the Makushi, the Wai Wai, the Patamona and the Akawaio live in villages scattered throughout the interior (mainly Regions 7, 8 and 9). Amerindians constitute the majority of the population of the interior, in Region 1 (18,000) where they represent 65% of the residents, and in Region 9 (20,000) where they constitute 86%. The natural resources of these regions – rainforests and minerals, including bauxite, gold and diamonds – are legally under the control of national government agencies or are within titled Amerindian Village Lands. The poorly regulated exploitation of these resources by multinationals as well as by illegal miners and loggers is one of the challenges faced by the indigenous peoples. Their primary concern is therefore to achieve full recognition of indigenous land rights (Native Title) so that they can defend their ancestral territories (customary lands) from mining and timber companies.

Land tenure as a key issue:

The land tenure situation of Amerindian communities is their major perennial concern. The Independence Agreement from the United Kingdom (1965) included a land titling process. Recommendations regarding this process from the Amerindian Lands Commission (1967-1969) have never been fully taken up by successive governments. Requests made for collective district titles have been dismissed, resulting in the fragmentation of traditional territories into small areas under individual village titles. The process has also been a protracted one, and many communities are still without title.

The Constitution of Guyana in its Preamble recognises “the special place in our nation of the indigenous peoples” and recognises “their right as citizens to land and security and to their promulgation of policies for their communities”.2 There is a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs (MoIPA – formerly the Ministry of Amerindians’ Affairs MoAA); and Guyana endorsed the UNDRIP in 2007. Guyana is one of the few countries in South America that has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

The land titling process made little progress in 2018. By far the year’s most positive development for Amerindians was the government’s Hinterland  Employment  and  Youth Services programme (HEYS). Most other news was of election promises from 2015 still unfulfilled, indeed not even started.

Amerindian communal land rights

The coalition of APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) and the AFC (Alliance for Change), which won the national elections in 2015, has reduced its efforts to resolve the perennial arguments over land rights. The Amerindian Land Titling project (ALT, USD 10.5 million),a Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) project funded by Norway under a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and administered by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), was intended to complete the formal land titling promised to Amerindians under the 1965 Independence Agreement. Communal land titling had stalled under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government.Ninety-seven (97) Amerindian Villages had paper titles by 2009, or approximately two-thirds of the eligible communities with at least 250 inhabitants during the five years preceding the titling process. The government has provided inconsistent figures for land titling since 2009.

Contrary to the simple procedure specified in the State Lands Act of 1972 and subsidiary Regulations of 1974, the PPP complicated the hinterland titling process in 2010 by dividing it into two stages, without legislative backing, and requiring a hitherto unnecessary physical demarcation of boundaries,to be undertaken only by accredited surveyors. There being no accredited Amerindian land surveyors, the survey crews were Chinese and coastlanders, who often disagreed with the Amerindian communities over boundary locations. Completion of land titling thus became a fraught and uncertain process. Without any publicity, the incoming coalition government closed the ALT unit in mid2015, so no Amerindian titles were issued or extended between 20162018.The UNDP recruited a new international adviser in September 2018 and a new phase may be agreed for hinterland land titling to restart in 2019.

 

Notes and references

  1. 2012 Census, Compendium 2 at http://bit.ly/2TphLwE
  2. See Constitution of Guyana, Preamble, Cap.1:01, p.26 at http://bit.ly/2TkiKxZ
  3. See Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund, “Amerindian Land Titling” at: http://bit.ly/2Tp3FLo
  4. The PPP has been the ruling party on several occasions, most recently between 1992 and 2015 (ed.)
  5. See Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), version 3, Appendix V: Status of Amerindian lands, the Process for Amerindian Lands, May 2010, pages 118-119 at http://bit.ly/2ThsMjo
  6. See Kaieteurnewsonline at http://bit.ly/2SMvCwr and Stabroeknews at: http://bit.ly/2SIQNQ8

GUYANA  IW 2019

Indigenous peoples – or Amerindians as they are identified both collectively and in legislation – number some 78,500 in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, or approximately 10.5% of the total population of 746,955 (2012 census).1 They are the fourth largest ethnic group, East Indians being the largest, (40%), followed by African Guyanese (29%) and self-identified “Mixed” (20%). The Chinese, Portuguese and Whites constitute tiny minorities. Amerindians refer to these non-indigenous people as “coastlanders” since most of them are settled on the coast in Regions 3, 4 and 6. As a former British colony, Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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