Training of 27 facilitators for revised Amerindian Act kicks off
Stabroek News
August 27, 2002

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The process to begin the revision of the Amerindian Act pushed off with a training session for facilitators yesterday and Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues says that in another year's time a new act should be laid in parliament.

However, some Amerindian leaders, present at the opening of the training session, felt that the time was too short for the briefing of the communities about the current act which is to be followed by consultations to allow for recommendations from some 200 Amerindian communities spread throughout the hinterland.

Addressing the trainees at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre on High Street yesterday, Rodrigues said that the process for the revision of the act was "set up in such a way that by the end of one year the new act would be laid in parliament."

In urging that all involved do their best to make it become a reality, she appealed for persons not to frustrate the process.

Congratulating the minister and others involved in the decision-making process for making the revision of the act a priority, President of the Amerindian People's Association Tony James said the process must, however, be acceptable to Amerindians. It must respect their rights - including the right to land, empowering of communities and protection of the Amerindian way of life as guaranteed by the new constitution.

He added that it must be compatible with international standards, Guyana's international obligations and at the same time with developments taking place in the 21st century.

Noting that attempts were made on two previous occasions, in 1988 under the previous government and then in 1993 under the present administration, and nothing came out of them, James called on the trainees to make sure that the current process is completed.

He pledged the support and cooperation of the APA in ensuring the process was successful.

The training programme, organised by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs with financial support from the German Government and the World Bank, caters for 27 participants from the regions who will be trained as field facilitators and will explain the language of the existing act to their respective communities after the training.

The training seminar will be held over a two-week period. Trainees will be exposed to participatory techniques appropriate for orienting communities in preparation for the consultations with the technical team; an overview of international best practices and recent experience in indigenous rights, as well as relevant international law; and explanations of the existing Amerindian Act and recent recommendations for change.

Chief of the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), Christine Lowe told reporters that while the organisation welcomes the beginning of the process, she felt that laying a new act in parliament in one year was too short a period.

She noted that there were only 27 persons being trained as facilitators and given the location of Amerindian communities in far-flung areas of the country, they would have to cover over 200 communities. She said it would be a lot of work for them as they would not only be required to serve their communities but others as well.

Lowe also feels that in the spirit of democracy, the recommendations or draft document should go back to the communities to ensure that the new act is what they want.

Captain of Whyaka/Mainstay Yvonne Fredericks also expressed concern about the time frame "given the logistics of accessing Amerindian communities."

While participants may not have all been chosen by the Amerindian captains and may have been selected because of political affiliation, James urged all the participants "to see this process through an Amerindian eye."

James' remark brought a swift response from Rodrigues who said that the trainees were picked by their respective communities and her ministry had nothing to do with selection. Some administrative regions, she said, responded in a timely manner while others had to be reminded of the training programme.

Giving a background to the revision of the act, Rodrigues said that for the most part, it was an outdated piece of legislation and its revision was long overdue. The act came into being in 1902. Several attempts had been made to begin the revision process, including the setting up of a parliamentary committee under the then minister, Vibert de Souza. For many reasons it was not realised.

The government, she said, recognising the importance of the act unanimously agreed to start the process. It is her firm view, she said, that the process should be participatory and democratic and that was the reason why it could not be completed in less than a year.

Advising the trainees that their job was to explain the provisions in the current act, she said they were not to tell people what they should recommend. She added that while it was important that they know what exists in other countries, they should also note what was applicable and needed in the Guyanese society. (Miranda La Rose)