Amerindians file action against extension of Kaieteur National Park

Stabroek News
July 13, 2000

The Amerindian community of Chenapau has filed an action against the National Parks Commission and the Kaieteur National Park Board seeking protection of their constitutional and traditional rights. The application was made on behalf of Chenapau's Captain Anthony Melville, the inhabitants of the village, the Patamona people and all the Amerindian peoples of Guyana by lawyers Rex McKay, SC; Miles Fitzpatrick, SC; Melinda Janki; and Arif Bulkan.

The lawyers have made the application for declarations that the Amerindian peoples are entitled to enjoyment of their historic and traditional rights, privileges and freedoms in the Kaieteur National Park without let or hindrance; that the Kaieteur National Park (Amendment) Order 1999 is unconstitutional; that in extending the Kaieteur National Park the minister has exceeded his jurisdiction and abused and exceeded his powers under the Kaieteur National Park Act; that the Government of Guyana by virtue of the terms of the said Order has acted in derogation of the rule of law. Other declarations sought are that the fundamental rights of the Amerindian inhabitants of Chenapau and of the Patamona people guaranteed by Articles 40, 142, 145 and 149 of the Constitution of Guyana have been contravened; that the fundamental rights of the Amerindian inhabitants of Chenapau and the Patamona people to protection from deprivation of property have been contravened in that the minister extended the boundaries of the Park without saving and protecting the rights of the Amerindian peoples; that the fundamental rights of the Amerindian inhabitants of Chenapau and the Patamona and other Amerindian peoples to the freedom of religion were contravened since they are prohibited from worshipping and taking part in religious and spiritual activities within the extension; that their rights to the protection from discrimination on the grounds of race were contravened by the extension of the Park which deprived them of rights, privileges and freedoms which are recognised under the laws of Guyana as pre-existing rights which are solely held by Amerindians as the indigenous peoples of Guyana.

Declarations are also being sought that the power conferred on the minister by Section Two of the Kaieteur National Park Act is null and void in that it purports to allow the minister to extend the Park without protecting the rights of the Amerindians; that the minister has no power to establish the Kaieteur National Park Board separate and distinct from the National Parks Commission; that the Board was unlawfully constituted. The people of Chenapau are also seeking injunctions restraining the defendants from taking any further steps to interfere with the exercise by the people of Chenapau of the traditional rights, freedoms and privileges held by them from time immemorial.

The matter is returnable for July 31.

Chenapau Village lies on the fringe of the park's boundary. The villagers normally use the area within the now extended park to hunt fish and plant agricultural produce. This has been curtailed since the extension.

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