Amerindians urged to emulate Grameen Bank
-individual versus communal titles raised

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
October 1, 1999

Amerindian village administrators should establish community-based banks to help residents get involved in building their own homes, as well as for investments which will ensure improved living conditions.

The suggestion was made at a panel discussion on whether Amerindians should be granted individual instead of communal titles. The panel discussion was hosted by The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG) on the subject 'The Way Forward for Guyana's Indigenous Peoples in the New Millennium' and was held at Hotel Tower on Monday afternoon.

TAAMOG President Peter Persaud emphasised that the time had come for individual titles to be granted to Amerindians. However, legal expert on indigenous affairs, Fergus MacKay, who was listening to the arguments noted that in making decisions regarding individual titles, the history of the loss of ancestral land should be considered.

MacKay, who is of Maori descent revealed that the indigenous peoples of the United States lost in excess of 70% of their land after they were allotted individual titles, an indigenous nation of Chile lost 99% of its land and the Maori of New Zealand lost 70% under similar conditions.

He suggested the establishment of community banks similar to the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh to help indigenous peoples. MacKay urged that instead of fighting for individual titles other ways and means of obtaining resources, such as the project established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the North Rupununi should be considered.

The two other panellists, Amerindian Affairs Minister, Vibert De Souza, and Jean La Rose of the Amerindian People's Association (APA) felt that communal titles should remain in effect.

De Souza felt that Amerindians needed to stay together as a unit for protection of land and property. La Rose noted that traditionally the Amerindians lived communally. Noting that land titles was one of the burning issues affecting Amerindians, La Rose stated that some communities had communal titles to the land where they live, but there were many others who did not.

Persaud opined that in going into the new millennium governments will have to change their perception of Amerindians. Amerindians, too, he said, will have to change the perception of themselves.

La Rose noted that people had been asking why Amerindians were given special rights. She said that Amerindians never sought any other than what they were entitled to--the right to education, their cultural values and economic systems among other basic human rights, which they are urging the Guyana Government to include in the Constitution.

Stressing the right to equal education, La Rose said that a common complaint was that often, children in the hinterland could not relate to the curriculum which was designed mainly for the coastal population. She stated that the exploitation of Amerindians at various levels, including the payment of low wages and prostitution, could only be overcome through education.

De Souza argued that Guyanese Amerindians are the only Guyanese who are given special rights. He said that other Guyanese could not enter an Amerindian community and obtain property, but an Amerindian could leave his/her community and obtain property elsewhere. Whether it discriminates or not, he said, the Amerindian Act of the Laws of Guyana gives Amerindians special treatment. No other ethnic group in the country is singled out for such treatment.

He noted that because the Amerindian Act is archaic a parliamentary group was identified to look at the revision of the Act. He said that the group is awaiting the outcome of Constitution reform before proceeding with the revision.

The discussions attracted a gathering which included the Surinamese Ambassador to Guyana Dr Humphrey Hasrat and members of other Amerindian organisations and interested persons.

Dr Hasrat urged respect for the country's indigenous peoples pointing out that unlike other peoples of the world, Amerindians have suffered the largest genocide that has occurred in this part of the hemisphere. He encouraged Guyanese to think in terms of where value may be found in tradition and not to copy the European way of thinking in almost everything that is done.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples