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Many persons are displeased with the revert of the Ministerial portfolio ‘Indigenous Peoples Affairs’ to ‘Amerindian Affairs’ under the new People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government.
As far back as 2005, indigenous groups in Guyana have been pushing for the renaming of the ‘Amerindian Act’ [then Bill] to the ‘Indigenous Peoples Act’. It stemmed from belief that categorising an Act or any representative body tasked with defending the rights of indigenous peoples as ‘Amerindian’ is discriminatory.
In a study on Guyana’s indigenous peoples conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), it was explained that the term Spanish word “Indio” meaning ‘Indian’ in English was a misnomer applied by Christopher Columbus to the native peoples of the Americas because he mistakenly believed that he had reached India.
From 1838 to 1917, some 288,000 East Indians arrived in British Guiana and the term Amerindian was used to distinguish East Indians and Indians. The report noted that beginning in 2015, the official and preferred term has been “indigenous peoples” to correct the historical misnomers.
Guyana’s major Indigenous action organizations, the Association of Padawong Amuk (APA), the Guyanese Organization of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP) and The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG) were equally critical that the name of the ‘Amerindian Act’ discriminates against Indigenous peoples.
In the National Assembly in November 2010, at the second reading of the Amerindian Act of 2006 (Commencement) Bill, former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson [Opposition member at the time], had advocated on behalf of indigenous peoples for the change of the name. He had argued: “The report of the consultations indicated that the majority of the indigenous communities preferred the Act to be called the ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Act’ and not the ‘Amerindian Act’. The reason being is that word Amerindian is the name that was imposed on them by the Europeans and it was not what they had wanted to be called. As usual, the Government used the draconian approach not to change the name of the Act.”
When the coalition took up office in 2015, immediately, former President David Granger renamed the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs. The step was one of several recognized by the United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, held on September 28-29, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.
However, at the swearing-in ceremony of PPP/C Ministers of Government on Wednesday, it was announced that Pauline Campbell-Sukhai has been reinstated to her former posts as ‘Minister of Amerindian Affairs’.