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Former Adviser to the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Mervyn Williams said the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government’s decision to remove Marbel Thomas from her duly elected post as Toshao of Campbelltown is a frontal assault on indigenous leaders, and must be condemned by all.
“This is a frontal assault against indigenous leaders in general and indigenous women leaders in particular. The fact that this assault was committed by an indigenous woman is an insult to all women everywhere,” Williams, a former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament, told Village Voice News.
His comments came less than a day after news spread that the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, on Wednesday, removed Thomas from the helm of the Campbelltown Village Council over allegations that she breached the Amerindian Act by allegedly making decisions without first consulting residents. Toshao Thomas has long rejected the allegations as spurious. On Wednesday, she said the decision was self-serving and political in nature.
“It is unforgiveable especially given the fact that there is no clear evidence [of] any violation of the Amerindian Act by the Toshao. Not a single violation was definitely identified. The only sin Toshao Marbel committed was to stand up in defence of her people and their resources,” Williams told Village Voice News.
Toshao Thomas’ leadership came under attack after a resident miner discovered gold in a section of the village in September, 2020, resulting in a “gold rush.” It was explained that once the discovery was made, residents from Mahdia, Linden, Georgetown and other parts of the country flooded the village, and that she said, was a cause for concern. Realizing what was happening, the Village Council sought to put systems in place to effectively manage and monitor the area, where mining was taking place but this was seen as a threat.
A Petition was signed to have her removed as Toshao of Campbelltown, a village located in Region Eight.
During her visit to the village on Wednesday, Minister Sukhai told residents that her decision was in keeping with Section 28 (6) of the Amerindian Act, and was based on recommendations of a committee, that was instructed to examine the operations of the Village Council in wake of the petition.
“The Council was elected in 2018, there is no evidence provided to indicate that meetings were held as legally required even prior to the pandemic in 2020. The minutes that were actually presented lack authenticity and verification and therefore cannot be relied on…,” the investigating team said as it justified its recommendation.
Further, the Amerindian Affairs Minister told residents that the team had also concluded that the Village Council spent large sums of money without the approval of the village in breach of the Act. It was also concluded that the decisions of the Village Council were made without consultation. “The committee is of the opinion that as required by Section 10 [of the Amerindian Affairs Act] there was no evidence that the village council acted collectively on making decisions as it regards to mining; further to this, there was no evidence of adhering to a procedure as it regards management of mining on village lands,” the team submitted.
In the petition, it was contended that Toshao Thomas had taken control of lands where gold was found and it was later discovered according to the committee, that she along with the Deputy Toshao, Samantha John; Assistant Treasurer, Vincent Xavier; and Councilor Juliet Xavier had interest in the mining area.
But Toshao Thomas rejected both the findings of the investigation and the decision of the Amerindian Affairs Ministry. “The entire report, to me, is false,” Toshao Thomas said as she refuted claims that the Village Council under her leadership failed to conduct general meetings with the residents of Campbelltown. “We [the Village Council] provided evidence to confirm that meetings were held; we provided the investigators with our financial records, which had been made public,” she said. Further, she dismissed claims that the Village Council bought a canter for little over $2M without first consulting residents, emphasizing that the minutes of the meeting is there to show.
The indigenous leader maintained that the attack on her leadership is as a result of measures instituted to safeguard the resources and people of Campbelltown. She made it clear that no level of intimidation would stop her from defending and protecting the rights of her people.
Williams said not only were the findings flawed but the investigative team was not duly constituted as required by law on the basis that there was no representative from the Regional Administration. “The excuse was that there is no regional council in place. The fact is that the Regional Chairman is still in office. More importantly, the Regional Executive Officer is the Chief Executive Officer of the Region. The REO is also legally the Returning Officer for all village elections held or to be held under the Amerindian Act. In that regard the REO may delegate anyone,” Williams contended while noting that Region Eight has a functional administration.
He added: “The exclusion of a regional representative in a region which the PPP did not win speaks to the political nature of the stage setting which ultimately culminated in the unlawful removal from office of Toshao Marbel Thomas, an act of shameless political vindictiveness.”