An apparent bias in handling mining encumbrances on Indigenous ancestral lands

first_imgDear Editor,Amerindians mining for their daily subsistence in Chenapau and surrounding area is nothing new. With the geographical specificities of their region, and the climatic conditions currently affecting farming, waterways and other sources of subsistence in the village, there should have been leniency from authorities in handling the situation. Additionally, the people of Chenapau are forced to comply with restrictions imposed by the Kaieteur National Park management, including limitations for hunting and fishing.Amerindians in general, do not have sources of steady or monthly incomes, in comparison to other Guyanese inhabiting the coastal regions. Instead, they live off of the land, an inalienable component of all Indigenous cultures.Considering these attenuating factors, there was subsequently no need to force 21 persons from Chenapau, including a mother and her baby, on a plane to Georgetown, detaining them at the CID headquarters and shaming them nationally. Reports from concerned citizens who intervened on their behalf, indicate that no decent dietary and housing accommodations were provided by authorities.The Kaieteur National Park relies heavily on the participation of Chenapau villagers for its proper function and maintenance. In addition to sharing a common boundary with the village, management is aware of the needs of Amerindians with respect to the use of natural resources. So the decision taken to charge them is a rather drastic approach, forcing us to question the apparent bias in handling mining encumbrances on Indigenous ancestral lands.I refer to Minister Simona Broomes who mines on Tasserene proposed-title land, as well as friends of the coalition who are being granted permits to mine over vast lands overlapping Amerindian ancestral lands, despite the legislations in place, including the Mining Act Chapter 65:01, which guarantee the protection of subsistence rights of Amerindians. In 2015, Minister Broomes claimed ownership of three mining blocks in Tasserene, and alluded to the possibility of selling the mines to a third party, therefore wilfully complicating the land titling process and obstructing Indigenous land rights regardless of her responsibility to serve the people of Guyana. A hotel proprietor close to the regime was also granted mining permits in Tasserene, and is currently accused by villagers of polluting waterways close to habitations. The Government, despite being solicited, is mum on these impediments to land titling.It must be noted that Indigenous affairs are guided inter alia, by internationally recognised minority rights and that technically, we owe the preservation of our forests to them, and not to the Protected Areas Commission established only in recent years. As a matter of fact, even the Protected Areas Act 2011 provisions for Indigenous rights. Before the establishment of the Kaieteur National Park in 1929 by the British Empire, the Indigenous peoples of South America were already guardians of our natural resources. Equally interesting to note is that while Amerindians struggle to make a few dollars, the Kaieteur National Park generates millions in annual revenues (G million in 2014).Guyana’s First Peoples account for less than eighty thousand individuals, and only a fraction mine for their subsistence, with the remaining majority relying on agriculture. Small-scale mining often involves traditional mining, since not all Amerindians can afford to invest in mechanical mining. Consequently, mining conducted by Amerindians cannot equate to the environmental impact by medium- and large-scale mining conducted by those in the business, such as Minister Broomes. Yet, the Minister continues to be given free pass to infringe on Akawaio land rights. Is she protecting the environment? Is she protecting the water ways? Or is she simply reflecting the unethical policies guiding Indigenous rights in Guyana?If Amerindians are barred from mining for their survival needs on the pretext that they are a hazard for the environment, then it can be defended that all miners who are granted permits to mine on proposed-title lands after villages submit official requests for ownership, are equal hazards to the survival of Guyana’s First Nations.A look at the history of South America would teach us that those who least threaten our natural resources, are the First peoples who we all met when we came; the true guardians of the forests and savannahs.Sincerely,Anna Correialast_img read more