Delano Davis, Toshao of Toka village in Region Nine, believes that more needs to be done to educate indigenous persons about the laws which govern their land and other rights.
In fact, he recommends that in the coming years indigenous students must be given scholarships to study law.
Davis spoke with the News Room on the sidelines of the 13th National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference which is ongoing at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.
He said “[legal minds] is something which is lacking in these communities, where we don’t have the legal understanding of the laws that govern the country” and even at the community level.
Davis believes that with a better understanding of local laws, indigenous communities will be better able to represent themselves.
“That (law) is something that is important. Recently I travelled and I learned that that is something where the indigenous people can start from to have proper representation…where they can form themselves into groups and negotiate and get proper deals for the communities,” he told the News Room.
Davis explained that his village applied several months ago for their land to be extended since the population has significantly increased, but no movement has been made. He believes with more legal minds, the village will be able to press their case further.
The indigenous communities often find themselves in land conflicts with miners and the state.
A report published by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) in August detailed the challenges faced by indigenous residents in Region Seven with having their cases heard in the High Court.
The report titled “Ina Nono, Ina Uko ’manto’ Eina Pata, Eina Komantok” or Our Land, Our Life, said the month of October marks 21 years since several communities of the Upper Mazaruni area of Region Seven filed court challenges seeking collective title over their customary lands.
The report had stated that there is destructive mining across the region, generating resource conflicts, water pollution, environmental damage, deforestation, flooding and illnesses.
According to the Department of Public Information (DPI) which is covering the NTC Conference this week, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), with permission from the Indigenous Village Councils will take its Constitutional Reform education programme to the hinterland communities.
The education programme is a collaboration between OPM, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Guyana.
The Indigenous leaders were given copies of the Constitution of Guyana but related that some parts of the document are not easily interpreted and need to be simplified.