Reshape the Amerindian Heritage Pageant

Stabroek News
August 22, 2001

Dear Editor,

Many Guyanese coastlanders will no doubt welcome some of the activities for Amerindian Heritage Month reported in SN of 19 August. The success of the Etuchingpang organised by the Amerindian People's Association (APA) shows the thirst for knowledge about the indigenous culture.

It is however a shame that the only way that the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs could showcase how far Amerindian women have come is the staging of a Miss Amerindian Heritage Pageant, which is only open to unmarried childless women between 16 and 25. It is a shame that the only way that the Ministry could pay tribute to the Amerindian women is by reinforcing the sexist and racist stereotypes which have resulted in many Amerindian girls being trapped in prostitution and work conditions which are almost like slavery.

Surely Amerindian women have come much further than parading around to 'win' competitions which are judged on chauvinistic, eurocentric standards. There are hundreds of Amerindian women who are caregivers, farmers, teachers, nurses, home makers who are role models of people surviving and regaining their heritage. Aren't they deserving of some recognition? Is the Ministry saying that the Amerindian girls who were raped and forced to give birth are excluded from being recognised as worthy of representing their heritage? Isn't the Minister herself a tribute to how far Amerindian women have come?

What about the Amerindian men, how far are they? Is there any tribute going to be paid to show how far they have come?

So many coastlanders are contemptuous of Amerindian people. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs should use every opportunity to challenge our ignorance and to re-educate us.

Yours faithfully,

Vidyaratha Kissoon