Celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month What the people say about...
Story by Edlyn Benfield
Stabroek News
September 3, 2001

Christine Lowe - Teacher at the Headstart Nursery school, and Chief of the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous People (GOIP): `I feel that September 10 should be declared a national holiday especially since we are the first people to inhabit this country. There is a need for the provision of economic opportunities through proper investments in the various communities. The prices being offered for our craft do not reflect the quality of the items. I also feel that systems need to be put in place in order to facilitate continuous employment for the people.'

Logan Melville - electrical engineering student at the Government Technical Institute: `This is the beginning. I would like to see more activities of this kind so that persons living in other parts of Guyana, especially on the coastlands, can be exposed to the depth of our culture. Better accommodation is needed for students who come from the hinterland to pursue studies in Georgetown since often they have to stay at the David Rose Hostel for boys or are sent off to guardians who do not understand their peculiarities. This can make them very uncomfortable because it will take some time before they can adjust to a strange environment. After I graduate, I plan to return to Lethem and gain employment at the Hydropower Plant there.'

Ashton Simon- President of the National Amerindian Development Foundation (NADF): `Recognition must be given to the contributions made by the Amerindian people to the development of Guyana. We are disturbed about the intrusion of the Garimpeiros - illegal Brazilian miners -who penetrate the border and invade Amerindian land to carry on their activities. However, the members of my organisation together with the people of Region 8 have cultivated a border protection plan which will be presented to the President some time during this week for consideration and hopefully, implementation. Our education system requires expansion particularly at the secondary level because students in the majority of post-primary institutions in the hinterland are limited to three basic subject areas: English, Mathematics and Social Studies.'

Hilary Rodrigues- Administrator of the Amerindian Hostel: `We've come a far way. There are constraints but from all inclinations, the Government is attempting to alleviate some of the problems being encountered by the Amerindians. I am of the view that through the tourism industry, the lives of the indigenous people can be improved. Guyana has great potential particularly in the interior where natural beauty lies. However, there needs to be more public awareness, so that people become conscious of what we have to offer. At the hostel, we provide for destitute Amerindian brothers and sisters, also, persons who travel from the interior for medical attention and do not have relatives living in Georgetown can stay there.'

Patricia Peters - craft designer:`Amerindians should be accepted as part of regular society. We need to have appropriate systems put in place to adequately educate our people. Our teachers need exposure to a variety of subject areas so that the capacity to offer instructions in a wider range of subjects will be expanded. Meanwhile, I think that the government is working hard towards expediting progress among the Amerindians.'

Marlon Atkinson - agri-mechanical engineering student at the Government Technical Institute: `The Amerindian society as a whole needs more input from the government. In Moruca, North-West where I come from, there are no job openings for the field of study I am pursuing. So, when I have completed my studies, I cannot return there to furnish my newly acquired skills to my community. Sufficient land is not available because most of it is taken over by forest and the equipment needed to cultivate the land in order to develop the right farmlands is not easily obtainable. Persons are limited to certain areas of study only, such as, forestry. Further, we need better roads and transportation facilities.'

Leon Couchman - mechanic and musician, owner of the `Scorpio' Family Band: `Skilled Amerindians, for instance loggers, are grossly underpaid. That means that they often do not reap the full benefit of their products. This is exploitation, and it must end, so that everyone can be treated equally. We need to establish unions equipped to represent the interest of our people, specifically in this regard and provisions by way of the law should be made in order to inhibit this negative practice.'

Pamela Mendonza - member of The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana: `I believe that all ten regions of Guyana should be included in the commemoration of Amerindian Heritage month. There are many talented indigenous people such as local calypsonions and gifted craft designers, and they should be recognised. Sustainable markets for our beautiful craft work, both locally and at an international level, need to be instituted - and the items should be purchased at prices which complement their quality. More Amerindians need to be in the forefront, as was the late Stephen Campbell, who was the first ever Amerindian parliamentarian - elected to the legislative council in 1957. It should be noted too, that he initially entered parliament on September 10, of the said year.'

Terrence Ramascindo - businessman, owner of a transportation service: `There is great room for improvement in our standard of living. Access to modern teaching materials, including text books and other apparatus is vital to our enhancement as a people. We have the capacity to contribute to certain sports, namely - football, basketball and cricket but exposure is essential. In my opinion, if more of the leaders for our village councils are educated, then we are definitely on the right track. To do this, we have to start with the young people.'

Toushau (Amerindian word for `Captain') - Dr George Norton - ophthalmologist and member of the GOIP: `I have always advised the members of this group to take a leaf from the book of the African-Americans, who have endured as many struggles as ourselves but have managed to achieve a certain status and as such command the respect of their American counterparts from other ethnic groups. Also, like the Afro-Guyanese who celebrate emancipation Day in total traditional style, similarly we should celebrate Heritage month with a true cultural flavour. We also need to make certain major changes. For instance, the performance of a Brazilian cultural piece during our commemoration exercise should be viewed as negative and the Toushaus should be seated alongside the dignitaries at functions such as these. I have a serious difficulty with our language being referred to as a dialect when in fact it has been our main source of communication from the inception, independent of the introduction of English. The Wai Wais, Arawaks, and so on, are not tribes but nations - the term `tribe' originated with colonialism and the reduction of our people in numbers. People speak of the Holocaust of the Jews but they never mention the massacre at `Wounded Knee', a creek in the United States where the Amerindians were forced to walk and died by the thousands. Finally, I must say that it has been confirmed that we are the most studied but least understood people, and because of this we are often taken for granted.'