Research finds lack of protection, recognition of Indigenous lands in Guyana 

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A research project on indigenous land tenure in Guyana was launched on Thursday and reveals a number of discrepancies as it relates to the protection and recognition of indigenous lands.

The research titled “OUR LAND, OUR LIFE: Participatory Assessment and Geographic Database of Indigenous Peoples’ Land Tenure in Guyana” took nine years to be completed.

It reveals findings gathered from indigenous villages in Regions 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9. The research was conducted by the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) and also included 49 local indigenous researchers.

The research commenced in 2012 after funding became available from the European Union and the United States Department for International Development, while technical support was provided by the Forest People’s Programme and the Rainforest Foundation US. Human rights lawyer, Lan Mei has also been working with the APA for the past three years to provide legal support.

Executive Director of the APA, Jean La Rose said after they received numerous complaints from villages about not fully understanding the documentation for their lands, the APA felt it was pertinent to do the research.

Executive Director of the APA, Jean La Rose

The research will now serve as a record to represent issues indigenous villages face when it comes to their lands. The majority of the participating villages reported having conflicts over their lands.

Chairman of the National Toshaos Council, Nicholas Fredericks during brief remarks at the virtual launch on Thursday, said land titles that were given to communities were not done in a proper and fair manner. He explained that the titles were given to leaders without them understanding what was in the documents.

According to Fredericks, it is time indigenous people demand justice for their lands.

KEY FINDINGS

Key findings from the research include a lack of protection and recognition for indigenous people’s customary tenure systems and failure to recognise collective territories.

According to APA’s Governance and Rights Coordinator, Laura George, as far back as 1969, indigenous people recommended to the Amerindian Lands Commission that their customary lands be protected.

“Our customary lands means that it is our customary tenure on how we use and manage our lands. For example, the resources we use are shared with several villages within a territory to hunt, fish and farm; to gather resources and we also are able to protect our waterways and sacred grounds,” George explained.

She stated that failure to recognise this form of land tenure is a violation of their rights. The research also revealed confusion over village title boundaries and mapping problems. George explained that in some instances, there is an overlapping of mining concessions where indigenous lands should be available.

Further, even though the government has recognised village titles, some villages still encounter problems with mistakes and inconsistencies in maps and demarcation.

“An example is, Kako is missing entirely on the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission database of indigenous village land titles,” George said, adding this is as a result of failure to include villages during mapping and demarcation exercises.

She said this also leads to conflicts with miners, loggers and ranchers and has resulted in villages not being able to access land and resources for hunting and fishing.

George said extractive mining activities are also causing damage to land, including cultural heritage sites.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendations from the research include a revised Amerindian Act that will include international standards for the protection of indigenous people’s rights. The research is also recommending that villages in a district be able to hold collective land title over their territory and ensure that land titles correspond with customary lands.

Villages are also asking for effective participation before and after consent are given in granting of concessions, projects, programmes, legislation and policy reforms.

An improved land titling process is also being recommended as well as the correction to mapping errors. The research will also be available in the various indigenous languages.

The APA also launched a new Geographic Database to host spatial data pertaining to indigenous peoples’ lands in Guyana. The database is the first of its kind in the region and will be updated by the APA and partnered indigenous representative institutions, including the North Pakaraimas District Council, the South Rupununi District Council, the Upper Mazaruni District Council, and the Moruca District Council.

PPP TO EXPEDITE LAND TITLING

Meanwhile, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government has budgeted $630 million in this year’s budget to expedite the process of Indigenous Land Titling.

“Since our government resumed office, we spent the last few months of 2020 preparing the groundwork for re-energising the Amerindian Land Titling programme to achieve its original target to title 68 villages,” Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh said, as he presented the 2021 National Budget on February 12, 2021, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).

The Amerindian Land Titling process was facilitated by the Amerindian Act of 2006 that provided for land titling and extensions. This led to the establishment of the Amerindian Land Titling project, which commenced in 2013 and ended in 2016 under the auspices of the Government of Guyana and the United Nations Development Fund.

The project had funding of $2.2 billion (US$10.7M) provided from the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund. Subsequently, the project was extended from 2016 to 2018 and subsequently from 2019 to 2021.

It was reported that of the 68 interventions identified, 21 demarcations have been completed and 18 certificates of titles issued, while 45 investigations were completed – 32 for extensions and 13 for new villages.

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