At Indigenous women's caucus --
Exploitation of Amerindians blamed on lack of jobs, opportunities By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
August 17, 2002

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PROGRAMME Administrator of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Ms. Jean La Rose, has expressed concern that the lack of job and educational opportunities for Amerindian peoples, and in particular their women and 'girl children', may be responsible for much of the exploitation levelled against them.

In Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine, for example, a recent study showed that the incidence of rape and other forms of abuse levelled against Amerindian women and girls in areas where mining activities were taking place was found to be appalling, she said.

The APA official called for urgent action, including the empowerment of Amerindian women, to be taken to address these and other problems affecting the indigenous peoples.

"We must not rest until the fundamental rights section of the Constitution is assented to, and until the Indigenous Peoples Commission is set up to the satisfaction of the communities," she affirmed.

Ms. La Rose made these remarks as she addressed the opening ceremony of the National Amerindian Women's Conference on Thursday at the Ocean View Convention Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.

These findings, she said, were contained in a recent study done by the APA in conjunction with the North South Institute of Canada.

"It is my feeling that these forms of abuse are not only related to mining, but happen, perhaps in varying degrees, in other sectors. And we feel that a concerted effort must be taken to address these issues."

La Rose said that while it must be acknowledged that there have been some improvements over the years in these areas, a lot of work still needs to be done to make a real difference.

"Many of our women still do not have the opportunity to pursue a higher level of education than the primary level, and even if we do, how many of our communities can absorb us back to utilise our speciality?" she asked.

La Rose said that there is need for specialised training, for scholarship opportunities to reach the communities, and for the communities to be able to utilise the expertise of trained personnel, while providing the incentive to do so.

Ms. Jean La Rose (centre) APA Programme Administrator addressing the National Amerindian Women's Conference. She is flanked by Ms. Joanna Simmonds (left), APA Staff Lawyer and Ms. Yvonne Pearson, Vice-President of the body.
And on the issue of jobs for the Amerindian people, she noted that even though the possibility might exist in come cases, for them to tap traditional resources to eke out a living for themselves, what is required are the technical and managerial skills to manage their forests in a sustainable way.

She stressed the need for an approach to sustainable utilisation of their forests, which process should incorporate the knowledge passed down by their indigenous forefathers.

"This is one area where it may be that our women can play a vital role in becoming more self-sufficient, and therefore less reliant on others," La Rose suggested.

On the issue of health care for the Amerindian peoples, the APA official expressed concern that despite Guyana's status as being one of the countries with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS, it is still not known how, and to what extent, the Amerindian population is affected.

She contended that many of the illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria affecting Amerindian communities have a direct relationship to the economic opportunities available to them.

Other issues addressed were the review of the Amerindian Act; the National Development Strategy (NDS); Amerindian cultural values and norms in the light of serious concerns about the erosion of values, and the threat to their languages.

And in relation to legislative and policy issues, La Rose noted that there is yet a lot of work to be done in this regard.

"While I sat on the Constitution Reform Commission and made some recommendations for the way the Constitution must address Amerindian issues, most of these issues were not taken on board," she lamented.

Albeit, all is not lost, she said, since two provisions dealing specifically with Amerindians are set to address a few of these issues. These include the provision in the fundamental rights section addressing Amerindian ways of life, and the establishment of the Indigenous People's Commission.

In closing her presentation, La Rose charged the delegates: "In all aspects of our lives, it is important that at all levels of the decision making process, whether it is at the community, regional, national and international levels, we must be part of, and influence the decision-making processes that affect our lives. This is therefore the charge that I leave you with."

The three-day conference, which brings together Amerindian women from all the regions of Guyana, is to endl today.

Resource persons include: Ms. Vanda Radzik of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Ms. Joanna Simmons, Staff Lawyer, APA; Ms. Yvonne Pearson, Vice-President, APA and Tauchao of Mainstay/Whyaka; Attorney-at-Law, Ms. Anande Trotman; Mr. Vidyartha Kissoon of Help and Shelter and Ms. Karen De Souza of the Working People's Alliance party.