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Amid the pomp and ceremony at the opening of the National Toshaos Conference on Monday, there is great division among the indigenous leaders sitting at the Conference Center and the decision by the Irfaan Ali-led Government to exclude the outgoing council in the planning of the meeting has drawn the ire of its former chairman, Nicholas Fredericks who has accused the administration of being disrespectful.
Fredericks in a public missive bemoaned the lack of respect being shown by the government for Amerindian leaders as he and others boycotted this year’s conference. “The NTC is intended to be an institution for indigenous peoples. The NTC Rules of Procedure that had previously been adopted states unambiguously that: “10. The NTC is an independent body representing the collective voice of the Toshaos. The [Executive Committee] and its members shall act accordingly and shall at all times uphold the independence of the NTC.”Myself and my fellow outgoing executive committee members have worked hard to ensure our independence as a body. However, this independence is undermined by the failure of the Government to ensure that the NTC has the funds to allow us to coordinate and organize the Conference ourselves,” Fredericks said in a statement on Monday.
He noted that as the outgoing chair of the NTC executive, “I expected and hoped to guide the planning of this year’s Conference with my fellow outgoing executive members. Instead, the planning for this Conference has not included us. We as former leaders have been sidelined and the agenda does not allow for the current toshaos to run the Conference themselves,” Fredericks noted.
He added: “I am not attending the Conference this week because my concerns were not addressed in a timely manner and did not confirm my participation and travel arrangements. I met with Ministry of Amerindian Affairs staff as early as June 24 to raise concerns that the outgoing executive were not being given control over the planning for the conference and that the draft agenda did not allow for the toshaos to run the meeting themselves. I requested that the outgoing NTC be involved in the planning process for the Conference; that the toshaos run the Conference themselves; that at a minimum the toshaos should be given sufficient time during the Conference to meet and discuss matters amongst themselves; and that indigenous groups should be invited to participate in the meeting. I was informed that my concerns would be relayed to the Minister, but I did not receive any positive response,” Fredericks detailed.
He said two days ago, on July 9, he enquired if he was allotted a space on the agenda to address the Toshaos but the staff of the ministry could not give him a positive answer on his request, and despite calling the Ministry three times that day, he said he received no confirmation of his travel. “The short notice and lack of information about any travel plans means that today (Monday) I am home in my village instead of attending the Conference.”
“I continue to be concerned about the lack of respect for the NTC as an independent representative institution for indigenous peoples. This is manifest in its unwillingness to cede control over the planning of the Conference to the NTC and its refusal to allow our toshaos to run this Conference themselves. I hope that our toshaos will find time to engage and share information and experiences with one another during this week. I encourage our toshaos to stand strong in representing the rights of our people. I urge toshaos to demand answers from the ministers at this Conference: when will our outstanding land claims be resolved and all of our traditional lands finally be legally recognized? When will the government respect our right to FPIC and give us the time and space to properly consider the draft LCDS and proposals in it (such as the carbon markets one), and to submit our own proposals and inputs to it? How will the government implement the recommendations of international human rights treaty bodies, especially when it refuses to meet with affected villages to discuss the matter? All of these questions and more demand answers, and I support all toshaos who are brave enough to stand up and ensure that the government actually address all of our concerns,” Fredericks concluded in his statement.