Amerindians and Guyana's development
THE four-day meeting of Toshaos concludes today
February 13, 2004
But for the 150-plus captains or heads of the country's Amerindian villages, who came together at the Hotel Tower, today really marks the dawn of a new beginning.
After their in-door deliberations, the Toshaos will be returning home with fresh verve to work among themselves, and with government and non-governmental organizations, to move their communities forward.
Unlike the predictions of some, Guyanese Amerindians are an irreversibly nomadic people destined to a primitive, doomsday lifestyle opposed to development the way western civilization knows it.
A January 2001 essay on Sustainable Development and the Guyanese Amerindians by C. Bates contended that policies being implemented by the government and non-governmental organizations were "destined to go the way of countless other primal societies when faced with the development strategy designed to facilitate the enhancement of consumerism.
"Their only options appear to be the object of eco-tourist attraction, relegation to the rank and file of the labouring masses, whose salaries could never purchase the freedom and dignity they once had as autonomous communities, or confront the government concerning their priorities. Currently they are somewhere between doing all the above."
To refute any contention that development in Amerindian communities is moving ahead at a pace that is altogether satisfactory would be wrong. The areas that Amerindians occupy represent more than half of Guyana's land mass. Yet, the majority of Guyanese inhabit the coastal strip - and that's where the development of the country has traditionally been taking place.
Attention has been turned to the hinterland. Yet, even at this stage of hinterland progress, Guyana's indigenous population can lay claim to having already moved into the mainstream of national life.
Amerindians qualify ever so often as teachers, medexes, nurses, engineers, and in a wide range of other careers. Many belong in the country's political arena and other macro-level decision-making positions, and thousands are grasping opportunities that prevail in the fields of health, education, agriculture, tourism, art, mining, - you name it.
Many Amerindian villages have been granted titles to their ancestral lands, not only giving them a major say in the exploitation of natural resources in those villages, but also guarding against discrimination of any kind.
This year's budget is expected to almost double the amount of money government allocates to Amerindian development and nongovernmental organizations are also intensifying socioeconomic projects in Amerindian areas to help transform their lives.
One expects that by the time another national Toshaos meeting convenes, the representatives attending the current session will have had much more to report on developments in their communities.