‘Indigenous heritage is a national treasure’ – says President

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President David Granger Saturday evening formally opened the Indigenous Heritage Month celebrations at the Sophia Exhibition Centre, where he said that the newly elected National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) can be assured of the fullest cooperation from the Government as the two institutions must work together towards a better quality of life for the Indigenous peoples and Guyanese as a whole.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, President Granger said that already, the groundwork is being laid to ensure that inequalities in public education, incomes, and access to public services between hinterland communities and the rest of the country are eliminated.

“Indigenous peoples are now assured of a government, which aims at eradicating their impoverishment. The newly-elected National Toshaos’ Council can expect the fullest cooperation from the central government. We have urged the development of Village Improvement Plans (VIPs) to ensure the integrated development of indigenous communities,” the President said.

On this note, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mr. Sydney Allicock, in his remarks, said that the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs is working with the Villages to develop their VIPs in an effort to map development.

“We have to know what resources are available, what we need and how we can achieve our targets. These plans are the basis upon which we will develop our villages, seek and justify funding and have knowledge of our potential. So far, 57 VIPs will be completed by the end of this year. Every Village will equip themselves with the VIPs,” Minister Allicock said.

Meanwhile, the Head of State said that Guyanese citizenship guarantees equal rights and equal opportunities for all as he noted that the elimination of inequality, particularly between residents of the coastland and the hinterland, is essential to ensuring first-class citizenship for everyone.

He noted that the Plan of Action for Hinterland Development, which was laid out in his address to the Conference of the National Toshaos’ Council in 2015 is still valid and relevant as it is aimed at reducing inequality between the indigenous peoples and the rest of the population by eradicating poverty, promoting employment and economic prosperity and by enhancing access to public services.

“The government, therefore, is taking steps to improve hinterland educational access, attendance and attainment.  Access to hinterland education is evidenced in the construction, extension, repairs and renovation to schools and dormitories at Assakata, Bartica, Bina Hill, Itabac, Kato, Kaibarupai, Kamarang, Kamwatta, Katoka, Nappi, Port Kaituma, Santa Rosa, Waramadong and Warapoka,” he noted.

The President said that school attendance has increased as a result of the hinterland schools’ feeding programme and transportation; daily school meals were provided to 25,843 students from 204 primary and nursery schools in 2017. The Public Education Transport Service (PETS) –popularly known as the 3Bs Initiative – has distributed 28 buses, 9 boats and 1,184 bicycles to provide free transportation, countrywide.

In this regard, President Granger said that the performance gap between coastland and hinterland regions is being closed.  These efforts have seen 566 students winning scholarships in 2017, 73 of which have been able to pursue studies at the Guyana School of Agriculture, Guyana Technical Institute, Guyana Industrial Training Centre and Carnegie School of Home Economics.

He noted that the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) is providing training and seed capital to engage in economic enterprises  and grants have been provided to 3,795 young persons, stimulating 2,000 small businesses, including partnerships.

“Village infrastructure is the backbone of the economy. The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs is supporting improvements in the hinterland road transportation system – including at Annai, Kabakaburi to Akawini, Karasabai, Kariako to Kokerite, Masakenari and Tiger Pond.

“The availability of all-terrain vehicles, boats, outboard engines and mini-buses has made life easier for more than 5,000 persons, including school children and the elderly. Bridges are being constructed at Rupanau, Tuseneng and on the Kako-Waramadong road.   Aerodromes – at Bimichi, Eteringbang, Iwokrama, Kamana, Kurupung and Paramakatoi – are being rehabilitated to support the movement of people and goods. Access to public services, particularly those relating to energy, health, information and water supply, has been made easier,” President Granger noted.

The Government has also spearheaded language classes in Arawak, Carib and Warrau, which have so far benefitted 280 students in Kwebanna and Waramuri. This programme will be expanded to Wakapoa and Mainstay and eventually to other communities.

The Head of State noted that a mix of sustainable energy solutions – hydro, solar and wind –  is being examined to meet the energy demands of hinterland communities with the pioneer 400 Kw solar power system in Mabaruma spearheading government’s drive to establish solar farms.

Further, primary health care has been expanded. The construction of doctors’ quarters, maternity waiting rooms, health posts, x-ray rooms and sanitary blocks and the deployment of medical personnel to hinterland communities attest to the government’s commitment to improving the health and well-being of indigenous communities, he said.

Government is improving hinterland water supply.  Water improvement projects are ongoing in Oronoque, Kako, Kamwatta, Koberimo, Chinoweng, Paramakatoi, Mabaruma and Port Kaituma.

A ‘frontline village policy’ has been enunciated for the security of villages in light of the influx of migrants from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” the President said.

He noted that Indigenous Heritage Month celebrates the rich customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples and these customs and traditions are valued by all and are a national treasure that benefits the nation.

Chairman of the NTC and Toshao of the host village for Heritage celebrations this year, Mr. Nicholas Fredericks, in his remarks, said that the NTC is pleased with the response of the Government thus far but he noted that there are always areas for improvement.

“It is our humble call to open your doors to the NTC as you have been doing and we want to compliment you the Ministers and Ministries for accepting the proposals of the indigenous peoples and we would like to see more. There is always room for improvement.

“This month is important to us especially as it relates to the reflection and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ contributions towards the development of Guyana. As we enter into the month of September, we call on the Government and the different agencies to work with us to bring an end to the long lasting issues that we have been facing,” he said.

The event was also attended by Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo and his wife, Mrs. Sita Nagamootoo, other Ministers of the Government, members of the diplomatic corps, members of the various Indigenous cultural groups, among others. (Extracted and modified from Ministry of the Presidency)

(Ministry of the Presidency photos)

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