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As Guyanese of diverse origins join hands with Guyana’s first peoples in observance of Heritage Month, this may be an opportune time to highlight some of the challenges facing Indigenous peoples. Such problems include those contrived by politicians in Georgetown.
First, it must be stated that it is an indisputable fact that the ruling People’s Party (PPP) regime has displayed nothing short of contempt and disrespect for Indigenous Guyanese. The fact that Guyana’s first peoples were on this land 12,000 years before the ancestors of President Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo arrived on these shores makes no difference to the architects of PPP policies. The only fact that is of any interest to the PPP power-wielders is the reality that Indigenous Guyanese compromise some 10 percent of the population – that translates to about 78,000 votes. That is all that the PPP cares about.
The current state of affairs is far more than unfortunate; some people may even characterise the treatment of our first peoples as sinful. The dismissive attitude of the PPP government towards Indigenous Guyanese may have at least four points of origin.
Based on the tone of pronouncements made by PPP officials, one may reasonably deduce that the PPP is of the erroneous view that Indigenous Guyanese are a single homogeneous group. This belief is false. Indigenous Peoples are communities of culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct peoples. The Makushi in the Rupununi are culturally distinct from the Arawak in Orealla. The Carib in Siparuta have different needs from the Arekuna in Western Guyana. One size does not fit all – government policies that may apply to one community will certainly not be applicable to all.
The PPP regime has always displayed a patronising attitude towards Indigenous Guyanese. Officials visit Indigenous communities during elections’ seasons and give pitiful handouts as though the PPP is doing a favour. The PPP continues to make no moves whatsoever towards sustainable hinterland development.
Officials of the PPP government are totally disconnected from the problems faced by Indigenous peoples in the hinterland. The Minister of Amerindian Affairs is in no position to determine their particular, respective needs. The Minister’s air-conditioned office, and her fancy, chaffeur-driven vehicles are so far removed from the realities of hinterland life, that she is simply not qualified to make some decisions. As such power to make many day to day decisions must be taken away from central government and given to local leaders in the various communities.
The legislative framework and legal system are stacked against the interests of Guyana’s first peoples. And, the PPP regime has shown no inclination to change the status quo.
The fact that the governing clique wants the situation to remain as it is may be understandable if one puts oneself in the shoes of greedy, self-serving, politicians who have a collective mindset of dominance and discrimination. After all, the current circumstances of Indigenous subjugation serves their selfish interests.
Hinterland Indigenous residents face existential challenges that coastal residents know nothing about. The lack of basic services and opportunities is startling considering the fact that Guyana has been independent for over half a century. As such, the people who occupy the corridors of political and economic power cannot place blame for poor hinterland conditions on our colonial past. By now, the occupants of political office should have, and could have made things right for Guyana’s first peoples.