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The Office of the Leader of the Opposition salutes the Indigenous People of Guyana and the world at large on this momentous occasion.
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2023 is being observed under the theme: “Indigenous youths as Agents of Change for Self-determination.”
Youths in general and Indigenous youths in particular, have very important roles to play in the advancement of our country. Many new or mounting challenges have come to the fore, such as global climate change and the expansion of the extractive industry into pristine areas and into the lands of the Indigenous People.
Our constitution provides for the preservation and promulgation of Indigenous culture among other things. Our national focus in this regard must be to create the enabling conditions, tools and incentives, for the oral traditions to live on, inspiring as it has historically, a lifestyle that is a natural mitigating agent in itself, to the dire effects of climate change. The traditions, culture and customs of our Indigenous Peoples are the essential enablers of our pristine forest cover, remaining fresh water and clean air.
Indigenous youth have been aggressively pursuing tertiary education in every field of endeavour. Indigenous youths have been positioning themselves in every profession at the highest levels in this country. Our Indigenous youth are doing the work required of them. The national leadership must now demonstrate respect for the rights of our country’s First Peoples. Self-determination is a right. Free Prior and Informed Consent is a right. Ownership of lands is a right. These rights are too often trampled upon. It appears at times that Self-determination as an Indigenous Peoples’ right could only be the product of an earth shaking revolution. This should not be.
Indigenous youths in Guyana today have nothing to celebrate on this day, save and except their own personal accomplishments, which are many and varied.
The worst tragedy to befall this Great Land of Guyana took the lives of twenty (20) Indigenous youths. The government has avoided at all cost, the acceptance of responsibility and liability for this tragedy. The government has done everything within its capability to avoid judicial examination of culpability and compensation. They have opted instead for what appears to be a complete shutting down of these issues by charging an Indigenous teenaged girl with twenty (20) counts of murder. Administrative responsibility is avoided.
What many informed Guyanese citizens see as a massive, if not deliberate, mis-carriage of justice in the matter of an allegation of rape against a senior government official by an Indigenous teenage girl only rubs salt in the wounds of an already wounded section of our population.
The callousness of the PPP in handling the Upper Mazaruni Land issue and the violation of the rights of the Carib people of Chinese Landing in Region One among other matters, is a clear signal that the government sees Indigenous Peoples only as a voting block with no rights.
All governments led by the PNC have treated our First Peoples with respect, upholding their dignity, guaranteeing their rights, ensuring their cultural advancement and securing their economic well-being. All future governments, of which the PNC is part, shall continue to do so, magnifying the importance of our First Peoples and involving their participation at the highest levels of government.
We are pursuing a people centered approach to national development. Our Indigenous Peoples are integral to this process. Their rights are our foremost consideration.