Land and Territorial Rights

Region 1 &2 forestry map showing the amerindian communities in pink with green representing logging concessions

Region 1 &2 forestry map showing the amerindian communities in pink with green representing logging concessions

Securing full ownership and recognition of the lands, territories and resources they have traditionally used and occupied is the primary concern of the indigenous peoples of Guyana.  In 1969 the Amerindian Lands Commission recommended that approximately 24,000 square miles of land be titled to Guyana’s indigenous peoples after these communities had themselves identified about 43,000 square miles as theirs during a two year survey carried out by the Commission. However, only a small part of this was identified in 1976 and 1991 during two separate government titling initiatives. 

Titles were limited and issued without due process or adequate prior consultation with communities regarding the extent of their traditional lands, creating ambiguities and title difficulties that are still unresolved today. The government has issued a number of titles and has demarcated some of them since.  Presently, it states that about 12,000 square miles have been titled and demarcated.  Official titling efforts, however, have often created more problems for communities rather than helped resolve them, due to defective titling and demarcation procedures (see below). Some of the “new” titles issued recently by the government are not really new since communities were already in possession of title documents from a previous titling exercise (ie in 1976 or 1991).  In fact some of these “new” titles issued after demarcation show a reduction in the amounts of land previously “granted” (sic).

Toshao Lewis Larson of Isseneru, Region 7 shows the media a map of his village with numerous mining blocks

Toshao Lewis Larson of Isseneru, Region 7 shows the media a map of his village with numerous mining blocks

Competing interests such as mining and logging continue to operate almost unchecked in many parts of the interior of Guyana, creating social and environmental problems for communities.  It is common for title descriptions to allow existing mining concessions previously granted to non-indigenous miners to continue within the area claimed.   In some cases, these concessions and permits almost completely take over the lands described in the titles. In many other areas (e.g. Region 7, Region 8 and Region 9), mining and logging concessions are encroaching on ancestral (but untitled) lands without the free, prior and informed consent of customary landowners that have claimed the areas affected since the 1969 Amerindian Lands Commission, and indeed before that.

Map of Campbelltown, Reg. 8 with mining blocks in pink, the yellow line is the village boundary

Map of Campbelltown, Reg. 8 with mining blocks in pink, the yellow line is the village boundary

The current legislative framework for recognizing indigenous peoples’ land rights is inadequate, and the process it sets out has created conflicts and lengthy delays in recognizing land rights in the country.  In many cases, communities have received no reply from the relevant Ministry or have been told that there is ‘no record’ of their territorial claims, title applications or applications for extensions in title.

Under the existing Amerindian Act, Guyana does not recognize indigenous peoples’ territorial rights. Land rights are granted to individual villages, rather than peoples or groups of main villages that have over time jointly shared extended areas for hunting, fishing, and gathering, thus ignoring customary law and tenure systems.   Legal rights to FPIC and control over land and resources under the Amerindian Act only extend to titled village areas, and thus often exclude large tracts of traditional territories of indigenous peoples. Untitled communities have limited rights to their traditional lands, and rules for consultation or FPIC do not apply to them.

The 2006 Amerindian Act sets out a procedure for the recognition of indigenous land rights according to a ‘phased’ approach, wherein villages are granted titles; then these areas are demarcated; and only after this can the village request an ‘extension.’ As many of the cases in the attached document attest, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has on many occasions reduced the areas requested, telling communities to request an extension later. In other cases, the Minister has rejected extension requests, stating they are too big without justifying her statements.  Villages have also been pushed to agree to a smaller village title instead of pursuing the larger claims they have made. Numerous villages have even reported that after finally receiving a title the described area has been significantly reduced during the physical demarcation exercise.   The Amerindian Act sets out deadlines for responses by the Minister to requests for extensions (1 month for an initial response; 6 months for investigation; and 6 more months for deliberation and a final decision). These are regularly not met, however.