APA meets with President Granger on Lands Commission

Representatives of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) met with President David Granger and his team on June 14, 2017, and discussed the APA’s concerns on the recently established Commission of Inquiry on Lands. Though called at short notice, the APA was able to quickly put together a team to meet with the President and the organisation appreciates the resulting constructive dialogue that took place in this meeting as well as the President’s acceptance of the APA’s proposal that the COI suspend further action on indigenous lands until adequate consultation has occurred with indigenous peoples and representative organisations such as the National Toshaos Council.

Over the past five months, the APA has been consistently expressing its concern first about a move to establish a joint lands commission and then later the actual establishment of the Commission. Among the concerns listed by the APA is the inappropriate linkage between indigenous land rights and ‘ancestral lands’ for Guyanese of African ancestry while acknowledging the Government’s prerogative to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate ‘ancestral lands,’. Other concerns include the seeming duplication of activities between the COI and revision of the Amerindian Act which would address many of the same issues and in the most appropriate manner, and the Guideline pertaining to the demarcation and titling of indigenous lands, which adopted by the ALT Project Board and endorsed by the wide range of stakeholders, governmental and otherwise, who were part of its development. The APA was also very concerned by possible delays in the approval of titles for indigenous lands that had been attributed to the COI, including those previously approved by the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and pending signature by the Office of the President. We continue to hope that these and other pending titles will be processed expeditiously and transmitted to the communities who are eagerly awaiting news of the same.

The Amerindian Peoples Association’s team (right) in discussions with President David Granger (Photo Credit: GINA/DPI)

In February, the APA first wrote to the Board of the Amerindian Land Tilting and Demarcation Project then to President Granger asking for a meeting to talk about the very concerns listed above. On May 4, President Granger met with the APA through its Executive Director, Jean La following which she again documented the APA’s concern in a letter to him. The APA’s Executive Committee had been meeting in Georgetown during the end of May and therefore sought another with President Granger but this did not happen. However, when President Granger said he could meet with the APA on June 14, the organisation seized the opportunity to do so. The APA has always recognised that indigenous rights issues are not the domain of one organisation or group alone and has also consistently sought to have discussions with like-minded representative groups and individuals and to present common positions that come from multiple sources when possible.

In our meeting, the President acknowledged that his government had overlooked some issues in seeking to address the long-standing matter of Amerindian land and went further to state that these issues could be corrected or improved. In having the meeting with the APA the President said he hoped “to discuss how the Inquiry could proceed in an acceptable manner to indigenous people and to all Guyana”. In making his five-point proposal, he noted that he would also have to meet with the National Toshaos Council and other organisations to not only inform them of these proposals but also to listen to their concerns and other proposals they may make. The APA, recognising that it could not make decisions on behalf of those who do not form part of its constituency, took note of the President’s proposal and made a request for the suspension of all COI activities related to indigenous land until there is more dialogue with all parties concerned and until all agree on the way forward. President Granger agreed to this, and the APA, therefore, looks forward to all being engaged in resolving issues of concern and to common positions in moving forward.