Most Region Seven villages say deficient titles block them from using traditional lands
Indigenous communities in Region Seven have now documented what they say is evidence showing that their titled lands do not cover the areas they have traditionally used.
And they hope a new document produced by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), with funding from the Norwegian and British governments, will help to plead their case against violations by mining companies and others.
On Thursday evening, the APA, together with representatives of the Arecuna and Akawaio people who inhabit some of the villages, launched the Land Tenure Assessment for Region Seven.
The communities say their history, culture and livelihood are embedded in the lands they now do not have access to.
The problem they say is that when they receive titles to their lands, they realised it did not cover the areas they have traditionally used.
“The majority of communities reported that they were not consulted with regards to the issuance of their titles (and) the right to FPIC (Free Prior and Informed Consent) was not respected or applied,” said Laura George, the Governance and Rights Coordinator at the launch of the report Friday at the Regency Hotel in Georgetown.
“We hunt, we fish, we gather resources, we farm, beyond titled lands…it is not just commodity, but our homes,” she said of the lands.
George is herself an indigenous woman from Region Seven.
In their recommendations, communities say they want the Government to legally recognise and provide them with secure title all lands that the Akawaio, Arecuna, Carib, Arawak, Patamona, and Warrau peoples of the Mazaruni, Cuyuni, and surrounding areas have traditionally owned, occupied and used and where they hold close attachment to the land.
These areas include lands upon which their foreparents depended and which people continue to occupy and use for farming, hunting, fishing and gathering today, as well as spiritual sites, cultural heritage sites, and other areas of historical importance.
Chairman of the Upper Mazaruni District Council, Mario Hastings, said that what evidence now documented, it is time the Government works with the communities to address the land rights issues.
“We wish to remind that in cases where titles may have been issued, these were done without consultation and without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous peoples.
“This has resulted in severe challenges and rights violations, since our right to own, use and occupy our traditional lands is contravened in many ways,” said Hastings.
“Our hunting, fishing…farming, (and) gathering grounds lie outside of our titled lands.
“Our sacred sites outside of titled lands are being desecrated by mining which is done without consent,” he added.
Further, Hastings lamented that “fragmented titles enabled by deficient laws do not recognsie our collective rights, nor support collective decision making.”
Devroy Thomas, a representative of the Awakaio people and Nilza Thompson, a representative of the Arecuna people who live in Region Seven, attended Thursday evening’s ceremony.
They said their people were active participants in the process to produce the report.
“Our peoples in Region 7 face significant challenges and pressures, both external as a result of their situation as border communities with Venezuela but also internal, including the decades-long issue of mining and related land conflicts, establishment of hydro-power projects, and the more recent moves to have certain areas earmarked for outsider-imposed (termed by some as ‘colonial’) forest conservation projects,” Jean LaRose, Executive Director of the APA, states in a foreward to the report.
“These activities have resulted in uncertainty about formal legal ownership of much of these lands and pressures to relinquish them.
“Communities hold no doubts however as to their traditional ownership and rights to these very lands,” she added.
The APA says the State must listen to communities and accept the information contained in the report in order to fulfil its obligations to the indigenous peoples of the Upper and Middle Mazaruni and the Upper and Lower Cuyuni in their quest for recognition of their land rights.
Among the proposals, communities have called for a revision of existing laws, policies, and governmental practices to fully respect indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories, and resources, as well as their right to FPIC.
They further call for indigenous peoples to be granted titles to the full extent of their traditional lands and allow for titles to larger territories to be held collectively by multiple villages through a district council, which the Upper Mazaruni villages are seeking.
The villages and communities call on their village councils, the National Toshaos Council, and indigenous advocacy organisations to take unified positions and proactive approaches to ensure that indigenous land and resource rights in Region 7 and throughout Guyana are protected. (Reporting by Neil Marks)