Amerindians preparing for 600-mile land rights march to Georgetown

By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
August 23, 1999

The Amerindian people of Guyana are continuing to plan for their historic 600-mile march from Rupununi to Georgetown to show solidarity with their colleagues of the Upper Mazaruni who have filed a land rights suit against the government.

The march is set tentatively for October and is expected to last over a period of approximately one month. The journey is being planned to culminate on the day of the next hearing of the case scheduled for October.

Chairman of Region Nine (Upper Takatu/Upper Essequibo), Muacir Baretto, told Stabroek News last week that the trek will give the indigenous community the opportunity to further forge a bond among the nine Amerindian tribes of Guyana.

"This is an exercise which we are looking to ourselves for a oneness in our purpose. This is a chance to experience the hardship of the struggle and then focus on what the sacrifice is all about," the regional chairman declared.

He said that the Guyanese people should note that this course of action has nothing to do with politics and the march should not be deemed an act of protest.

The Amerindians in the Rupununi region have been meeting in small groups to discuss the march but the plans will be formalised when the Region Nine Touchaus Council meets on September 22, Baretto said.

The trek will begin in the deep South Rupununi in the traditional territory of the Wai Wais. It is estimated that the journey from there to Lethem will take about ten days then the contingent will head towards Georgetown via Mabura and Linden.

Some of the food for those on the march will be supplied by villages along the path to the coast, Baretto disclosed. He stated that an advance party of skilled hunters and fishermen will precede the marchers to ensure a ready supply of meat.

Giving a background to the unprecedented undertaking, newly appointed Chief of the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), Ian Melville, told this newspaper last week that it resulted from the procrastination on the part of successive governments in addressing the issue of Amerindian land rights.

He recalled that an Amerindian Lands Commission was set up over thirty years ago to deal with the matter but its recommendations were never implemented by successive governments.

Melville said with some pressure from the Amerindian movement some land titles were handed over by the various governments since.

The GOIP Chief pointed out that the total area of land given to Amerindian communities is a fraction of the 24,000 square miles recommended by the Amerindian Lands Commission.

The government continues to act arbitrarily by giving out concessions to miners and logging companies without consultation with the Amerindian people, Melville asserted. "We continue to be marginalised."

He said according to the International Convention of the United Nations and the Organisation of American States on indigenous peoples, the right to land is based upon the occupation and usage of such land to make a living.

"This is what all indigenous people are standing by. In Australia and New Zealand they took the governments to court and got back their land by reason of their usage of the land," Melville stated.

He said in the case of the Amerindian people of the Upper Mazaruni, his organisation is making a call on government to deal with the matter expeditiously.

"People may want to make political mileage over the situation. Some may want to denigrate the Amerindian leaders for doing this. But this is an act to show we are finally coming together as a people to make it known we are dissatisfied over the way government is going about settling Amerindian land claims," Melville declared.

The Amerindian captains of Paruima, Kamarang, Kako, Phillipai, Jawalla and Waramadong in the Upper Mazaruni filed a lawsuit in October last year against the government of Guyana citing discrimination in relation to land rights.

They said they had written the past and present governments twenty times on the issue but to no avail. This is the first time that Amerindians have moved to the court in defence of their ancestral land.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples