THE Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) is urging a swift end to a 20-year-old court matter regarding a land claim by the Indigenous peoples of the Upper Mazaruni, who are seeking legal recognition to their traditional and ancestral lands. The court action was filed against the Government of Guyana some 20 years ago and the
APA said this October 2018 marks the 20-year anniversary. In a release, the APA said in 1967, the Government of Guyana instituted an Amerindian Lands Commission, tasked with mapping and suggesting titles to be issued to Indigenous communities. In 1991, title was granted individually to each community, though they had requested holding collective title to their traditional territories. The Villages of Paruima, Waramadong, Kamarang (Warawatta), Kako, Jawalla and Phillipai in the Upper Mazaruni have long sought legal title over the area defined by the 1959 Amerindian District as one Akawaio/Arecuna district. Dissatisfied with the then government’s disrespect for their rights and for their wishes, the Arekuna and Akawaio peoples brought a landmark case to court to fight for their rights as indigenous peoples of Guyana. However, the case has not yet been given a definitive ruling some two decades later, the APA stated. “In 2008, when they appeared in court again, the issue was adjourned. When they met in 2012 and the community brought forth an anthropologist to provide expert evidence on their claims to their ancestral lands, the government’s defence team disqualified her as a witness and caused the matter to be adjourned once again. Fast forward to 2017: the government filed a submission in defence of their claim.”
The APA said: “This is now 2018, exactly 20 years later and the communities are still awaiting a decision from the High Court. It seems as if the government has not prioritised these issues and it begs us to question if the stalling of this issue trivialises Indigenous peoples’ rights, especially as related to their lands, the APA questioned. The government has been issuing mining concessions on these lands throughout this 20-year legal battle. They continue to issue mining rights to outside miners over this traditional Akawaio and Arekuna territory without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), even though this legal dispute is ongoing,” the APA charged.
Jose Antonio Oliveros Febres-Cordero
The APA asked if it is ethical to continue giving concessions on lands that are still being contested in the court. “The government has been receiving revenues for lands in the areas, even though they have not yet settled the matter with the Indigenous peoples in the Upper Mazaruni area and this is cause for worry. Does this mean that they are deliberately stalling this process to continue profiting off of these lands, or is it a case of incompetence in Guyana’s judicial process?”
Furthermore, the APA said as “we mark 20 years of fighting for the land rights of the Upper Mazaruni Akawaio and Arekuna peoples, we are hereby calling on the Government of Guyana by way of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and Ministry of Legal Affairs to finally put this issue to rest by granting the rights of the Indigenous peoples in the area. We are asking for them to prioritise this issue and really show to the Indigenous peoples of Guyana, that they are really on our side.”