Amerindians must have say in mining practices
-Minister Rodrigues

Stabroek News
August 22, 2003

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Measures must be put in place to curtail the negative effects of mining and Amerindians living close to concessions should be properly trained to play a vital role in this area, says Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues.

Speaking at the opening of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission’s (GGMC) fifth National Conference on Mining and Quarrying yesterday, the minister told the gathering that with changes in the industry over the last 15 years, the effects of mining operations were mostly directed to the residents of nearby indigenous communities.

In recent years, much concern has been voiced over the pollution of rivers and creeks, which are the primary sources of water for the hinterland communities, and about the build up of tailings from mining operations, especially in the upper Mazaruni River area.

These complaints were engaging the attention of the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, Rodrigues said. Nonetheless, she pointed out that mining was one of the growing contributors to the economy, providing many jobs.

“Mining has changed considerably over the last decade and a half...and whether we are equipped to deal effectively with the monitoring and evaluation of this age-old activity, whether we can ensure everyone adhere to their commitments, is something that is engaging the attention of all of us”, Rodrigues said.

With respect to complaints about pollution, the minister told the gathering that, “in some cases, this information was found to be authentic. In others this was not the case. But what we know for sure is that measures must be put in place to curtail the negative effects of mining.”

“It is my view that since the Amerindian communities are the ones who live close to the mining concessions they can play a vital role and they are willing to do so. However, the relevant agencies and ministries must facilitate transforming enthusiasm to reality. They must be given opportunities for training, so that they [the Amerindians] can return to their communities as mines officers and wardens. This is a win-win situation,” Rodrigues told her audience.

In developing the capacity of Amerindians, the minister pointed out that the cost would be less for coastland officials travelling to and from Georgetown.

“Some Amerindian communities are themselves engaged in mining activities on scales that in my view are not considered to be traditional mining. In fact, the ministry is only made aware of these activities when something goes wrong or when we visit. And we have had cases when the community asks that mining permits not be granted in certain areas and, a few weeks later, we receive a letter from them granting permission...the need for money can sometimes put pressure.”

Nonetheless, the government has been encouraging these communities to seek advice when they want to be involved in mining ventures. Rodrigues explained that while the State retains all subsurface rights in Guyana, the government has taken an administrative decision not to grant mining permits for those areas described in the Amerindian Act as Amerindian land. This may only be done if the community requests it.

“From all indications, the GGMC intends to work very closely with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, not only to deal with issues that may arise from time to time, but also to gain a better understanding of the communities so that they can be involved. We have been able to make some progress over the last year. To this end, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the GGMC have met to discuss this issue.

In one case, we met with some of the leaders of some of the Amerindian communities to listen to their suggestions and brainstorm issues such as monitoring, benefit-sharing, improving relationships... these discussions must now accelerate, and the necessary plans for training must be formulated. Improved community relations must not only be seen as a priority for the GGMC and the Ministry Amerindian Affairs, but also for the miners in the mining companies. Community acceptance and support are essential for sustainability. It would be more beneficial...for mining communities to support the development of a trained local workforce.”

Rodrigues said miners, especially those who were not from Amerindian communities, the GGMC and the indigenous communities must recognise they had much to learn from each other and to acknowledge the potential for mutual benefit in establishing sound relationships.

This, Minister Rodrigues said, included recognition of cultural differences, and opportunities for economic independence through employment, training and business enterprise.

“We live in a society where consultation is the name of the game. The time is now ripe to reshape and refine how we interact with each other in our quest for establishing enduring partnerships.”

Most of the 125-plus Amerindian communities are located in the remote parts of Guyana; hence more often than not the mining concessions are located in close proximity to these communities.

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