Region 8 Land Tenure Report highlights continued insecurities with land rights from Indigenous Peoples of Guyana and calls for action

A new study by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) provides detailed evidence of the land tenure insecurities and conflicts affecting indigenous peoples of Region 8. The report, entitled Our Land, Our Life: A Participatory Assessment of the Land Tenure Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Guyana – Report for Region 8 was officially launched today (May 3) at the Regency Hotel, Georgetown.

The report which takes a close look at the land rights situation of 22 indigenous villages and communities in the Potaro-Siparuni region finds that most villages of the region are dissatisfied with the fragmented land titling approach to their customary lands and are calling for a collective territorial title throughout the region. The report sets out a series of grassroots proposals for action to address indigenous peoples’ land claims and grievances with specific recommendations for Village Councils, the National Toshaos Council and the government of Guyana.

In 2011, the APA was tasked by its members to conduct participatory studies on the land rights situation facing indigenous communities. The aim is to help Village Councils clarify their land tenure situations so that they could provide clear data to advance their land claims and provide information for national projects and initiatives that address indigenous peoples’ lands and forests.

Surveying the boundaries of Kurukubaru

Traditionally the villages of the Potaro-Siparuni, Region 8 have collectively owned and used the resources of their customary lands. However, since the start of formal demarcation, many of these communities, as in other regions, were given individual village titles. This report finds that fragmentation and flawed demarcation exercises, among other things, have caused disputes between some villages. Evidence presented in the study also shows that the current land tenure security of some villages and communities is under threat from commercial extractive activities, particularly from the mining as a result of inaccurate boundary demarcation.

According to the report, bullying, violence and human abuses by miners continue to contribute to the insecurity of many residents in places like Mahdia, Echerak and Wailang. Additionally, pollution from commercial extractive businesses like mining and logging continue to harm the environment and livelihoods of the surrounding communities. These activities have had environmental consequence in important areas like Siparuni, Potaro, Tipuru and Moruwa.
“One of the most important findings that came out of this study was that there are areas like Moruwa that people use for their hunting, fishing, gather and farming,” explained Michael Mc Garrell, native to Chenapou Village (Region 8) and researcher on the study. According to him, many communities from the North Pakaraimas and Lower Potaro use the Moruwa Valley even though it is not within the titled land. Mc Garrell also explained that the area is currently under threat from mining and forest interests that will affect not only the valley’s environment but the lives of many people who use the area.

In 2016, the APA released a similar report on the land tenure situation in Regions 1 and 2. As in the 2016 report, this most recent study found that indigenous lands rights were violated by flawed national laws like the Amerindian Act 2006; problems with the way in which land is allocated by State authorities to mining, logging and protected areas as well as a lack of consultation and redress in relation to indigenous land tenure. In fact, 14 of the 15 titled villages that have been demarcated said they were not consulted and did not benefit from free, prior and informed consent during the land titling process and the result is faulty demarcation.

Recipients of Our Land, Our Life: A Participatory Assessment of the Land Tenure Situation of Indigenous Peoples of Guyan

The Region 8 report recommends that the Government of Guyana recognises and secure a proposal by the villages for a communal “one block” territory. This would be a step forward in resolving resource disputes by the villages. Additionally, it recommends that logging and mining concessions that have been allocated on Amerindian titled and untitled customary lands without proper consultation is cancelled. This recommendation would also include cracking down on illegal mining and forestry activities that impinge on customary lands.

The report also recommends the reviewing and amending of the 2006 Amerindian Act so that it will align with articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and related international human rights treaties to which Guyana is a signatory. According to the report, the Act has made tenure security worse for Amerindian Villages as it favours the rights of private leaseholders occupying the land before a title is granted. The legislation’s “save and except” clause places commercial property rights of miners, loggers, and agricultural leaseholders above the tenure rights of indigenous peoples.

To that end, the APA welcomes recent moves from various stakeholders to kick-start the revision process of the 2006 legislation so that steps can be taken to address the issues faced by the villages and communities of Region 8.
In its concluding analysis, the report posits that positive change for the indigenous communities of the region will require the continued inclusion of Amerindian communities and organisations in the revision process of the Amerindian Act 2006 and other laws. It also stresses the need to amend processes for issuing mining and logging concessions or establishing protected areas in Guyana to respect the full customary rights of indigenous communities to their lands, territories and resources.

Link to report below:

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