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…Shuman, Norton, APA decry PPP/C reverting to ‘Amerindian Affairs’
Indigenous leaders in Guyana are not pleased with the revert of the portfolio name of the ‘Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs’ to the ‘Minister of Amerindian Affairs’ and have thrown their support behind a petition calling for this to be undone.
On Wednesday, at the swearing-in ceremony of 19 new Ministers under the new People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, it was announced that Pauline Campbell-Sukhai has been reinstated to her former post as ‘Minister of Amerindian Affairs’. When word of this reached the public, many indigenous peoples in Guyana expressed their displeasure noting that, though some Guyanese still refer to themselves as ‘Amerindian’ by choice, the term has colonial connotations.
A petition, already signed by some 500 persons is currently circulating on Facebook hoping to catch the attention of the Ministry in question and politely requests that the portfolio name be reverted to ‘Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs’ and that the Ministry’s name reflects that.
IT MISREPRESENTS US
In an interview shared with the Village Voice, Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), Lenox Shuman said that the name change should not have been done without consultation with Guyana’s Indigenous people who have long expressed their disfavor with being termed as ‘Amerindians’.
While some do not comprehend the concerns of indigenous Guyanese in this regard, Shuman explained that the term comes from ‘American Indian’ given to Guyana’s indigenous peoples by colonizers, many of whom took advantage of and killed Guyana’s First Peoples.
“We’re not Americans, nor are we Indians. So, to continue to use that term, it misrepresents who we really are,” he said. “
Furthermore, he said that the United Nations (UN) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) recoginse indigenous people as the ‘First Peoples’ globally and this should be the standard in Guyana. The LJP Leader has noticed that a number of ministerial officers have been reverted to their old names such as the Ministry of Works; the Ministry of Housing and Water; the Office of the President and the ‘Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’. However, he does not agree with such changes without consultation.
He put forward: “This continuous flip-flopping of Ministries and altering the names of Ministries it does not bode well for a population that already does not have the requisite information or do not have access to information. So, what I wanted to propose when we go to Parliament is that to rename a Ministry should be an act of Parliament not an act of Administration. That way there is continuity in how that Ministry operates.”
LEAVE POLITICS OUT
Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Jean La Rose said that the reverting of the Minister’s portfolio to the word ‘Amerindian’ should not be made into a political decision but one that’s in the best interest of indigenous Guyanese.
She, too, noted that the word ‘Amerindian’ has connotations of colonization. “A lot of people may not recognise that we don’t have an Amerindian language but we have an Arowak language; we have a Carib language and the nine difference peoples that make up the indigenous peoples of Guyana,” she said, adding:
“Even before the revision of the Amerindian Act 2006 it was an issue that was brought up but the then government, which is the PPP government, thought the name should not be changed and therefore it has remained in the Amerindian Act and people are using it. I think this is not an issue that should be seen for any political party to treat it as their choice. It has to be the choice of the people and if the people say we want ‘indigenous’ that should be the case.”
La Rose also used the opportunity to explain to public that though the APA stands for the Amerindian Peoples Association, a decision has already been made to rename it to the Association of Padawong Amuk but the Constitution first has to be changed to allow for this.
She said that the APA was pleased when the name was changed in 2015 to state the ‘Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs’. 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. However, La Rose maintained that the matter is not political but a cultural issue.
Former Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton, has also lent his voice to the concerns raised. He told the Village Voice: “Let it be accurate. We, the indigenous peoples’ have never been Indian. Indians are from India. We are indigenous to this part of the World…’Amerindian’ is a misnomer.”
While others may not see the matter as intentional, Dr. Norton believes that it is as he noted that the displeasure of indigenous Guyanese with the term has long been made clear to the current Administration. “We’ve been through this before,” he said. “I think it is intentional because of the fact that history points in the direction of the error that was made by [Columbus] that came and thought he discovered the Indians and called the people Indians. We are not making any effort to genuinely correct that error.”
Meanwhile, the petition congratulates Minister Campbell-Sukhai on her new appointment but calls on her to refrain from, and advise against renaming the Ministry as ‘Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ and to address the requisite Guyanese as Indigenous Peoples, and not as Amerindians.
“Until we derive a label authentically indigenous and empowering to our peoples collectively, we choose to identify as Indigenous Peoples of this beloved country as enshrined within the Preamble of our Constitution. It promotes solidarity with our brothers and sisters of other nations and also fulfills the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and similar declarations and conventions,” the Petition states.