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Having listened to the portion of Mr. Jagdeo’s interview with Vice News, during which he spoke to Indigenous Guyanese issues. He said the following among other things:
“When we assumed office in 1992 Indigenous People had titled lands, about 6%. By the time we left office in 2015 we had titled Indigenous communities with lands that amounted to over 14% of Guyana.”
“We are one of the few countries in the world that gave the Amerindian communities on titled lands subsurface rights…so now they have subsurface rights in as part of the legislation that we passed.”
In Parliament, we went and created an Amerindian Act when there was none. In that Act we gave the communities greater self-government…sub surface rights, um, greater access to forested lands and a pathway to getting titled lands.”
I believe that it is necessary, in the interest of the history of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples that I address Mr. Jagdeo’s statements above.
Land titling and the Amerindian Act:
Editor, there was an Amerindian Act even before Independence. That Act was promulgated in 1951. The 1951 Amerindian Act was adopted by Independent Guyana. The Amerindian Act of 1951 was amended on 21st April 1976 to facilitate the titling of the first set of Amerindian Villages in Guyana. The amendment was by way of inclusion of a schedule of the sixty three (63) Villages and two (2) Districts which became titled owners of their lands for the first time in Guyana.
The Amerindian Act of 1951 (amended in 1976) was further amended in 1991. On this occasion, the amendment was also by way of inclusion of a schedule of Villages which were also now made titled owners of their lands for the first time. The 1991 amendment titled an additional ten Villages and two Districts. This took the titled Ameriandian lands to a total area of 9,915 square miles or 11.9% of Guyana’s lands. The records will show that, the PPP in their 23 years issued first time titles to a grand total of 2,829 square miles of lands to Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples. This represents 3.4% of Guyana’s lands. What the PPP did was to issue Land Titles under the Land Registry Act (5:02), replacing Absolute Grants issued in 1976 and 1991 in accordance the State Lands Act (62:01). In short our people were given titles to lands for which they already held legal inalienable titles (Absolute Grants).
The action taken to title Amerindian lands in 1976, 1991 and onward to current day, flows from the work of the Amerindian Lands Commission. The Amerindian Lands Commission Act, Chapter 59:03 of the Laws of Guyana defined the composition, scope and functions of the Commission. It was passed into law on 20th May 1966 and had an effective date of commencement of 26th May 1966. Between 2015 and 2020 the Government of Guyana received several reports from Indigenous Peoples in the Villages regarding the validity of Absolute Grants issued pursuant to the 1976 and 1991 amendments to the Amerindian Act. They allege that visiting PPP activists (some of whom are ministers of government today) told them that Absolute Grants were not a valid form of title to lands. This of course in untrue.
It is true to say that, the Amerindian Act currently in force was promulgated in 2006 and that it repealed and replaced the Amerindian Act of 1951 (amended in 1976 and 1991). It is not true to say that there was no Amerindian Act prior to 2006.
The Indigenous Peoples of Guyana have long advocated for rights to subsurface mineral. Their advocacy in this regard was rejected and omitted from the Amerindian Act of 2006. The State Lands Act was never amended to accord this much desired right to Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples. It cannot be fair to cause Guyana’s international partners to believe that our Indigenous citizens enjoy a right which they do not and have never enjoyed.
It is widely believed by Indigenous Peoples that, the PPP is avoiding a national review of the Amerindian Act because of the strong advocacy for subsurface rights among other things which the PPP is unwilling to grant.