Georgetown, Guyana – (October 1, 2017) Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, today, said that the administration is fully committed to transforming the lives of all Guyanese, including the Indigenous peoples by creating empowerment and employment opportunities, preserving their culture and providing basic social services. The Minister made these comments as he joined with residents of Mainstay/ Whyaka, Pomeroon-Supenaam (Region Two) for their Heritage Day celebrations as Indigenous Heritage Month comes to an end.

Minister Harmon told villagers and attendees that since taking office in 2015, President David Granger and his Government have been working to provide a better life for Indigenous peoples, as they are one of the country’s most vulnerable populations. He noted that the Government had identified numerous challenges and barriers to development and took up the mantle of reducing and eradicating these so that the hinterland residents can benefit from a better quality of life.

“When President David Granger came into power in 2015, he said that the Government of Guyana, accurately assessing the total lack of development and the cosmetic programmes throughout our hinterland communities by the previous administration, found that they did not address the basic needs and true development of our Indigenous peoples. The President at the National Toshaos Conference (NTC) of 2015 said that the hinterland must no longer be regarded as bush but as part of one nation. The hinterland, however, was facing a human development crisis. Public security, public works and public education programmes were lacking,” Minister Harmon said.

Citing the Report on the ‘Study on Indigenous Women and Children in Guyana’, which was conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and released last week, Minister Harmon said that while the Government acknowledges the findings of the study, it has already begun to implement policies and programmes, which will, over time, improve the lives of the residents of hinterland communities. The study, conducted in 12 communities across Guyana, found that the Indigenous population is seriously disadvantaged economically, hence accounting for their high poverty rate when compared to the rest of Guyana. Additionally, it found that most primary aged students, in the 12 communities, depend on the school feeding programme for one proper meal per day.

“Recognising those situations, the President had proposed certain matters to the NTC and what he proposed to them was a ten-point plan of action in 2015. Those were education programmes, poverty reduction programmes, infrastructure extension programmes, energy development programmes, employment and youth service, happy household programmes, Indigenous Peoples’ Land Commissions, Language, Cultural and Sports Commissions, tourism development service and public service provisions schemes. Since 2015, your Government, along with the National Toshaos Council, have been aggressively working to get these achieved,” Minister Harmon said.

He noted that the Government, through the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, will continue to work with all Indigenous communities to ensure that issues, which hinder their overall development are addressed.

Further, Minister Harmon said that the land, which was handed over to the NTC last month by the Government for the construction of its Secretariat, will not be in the form of a lease, but it is rather a grant from the Government to ensure that the Council is able to work for the development of the people it represents.

Minister Harmon, however, pointed out that while Government will work to improve the quality of life for all Guyanese, individual responsibility is also important and every citizen must play their part in the process.

This was supported by Mr. Joel Fredericks, Toshao of Mainstay/ Whyaka and Chairman of the NTC, who said that the villages are willing to work with the Government to brainstorm solutions, which can have a positive impact on the lives of the indigenous peoples as it recognises that a collective effort is needed. “Let us all work together so that we can all celebrate not only as Indigenous peoples, but as Guyanese people with this administration for taking community development another level. Let us work together and let us build every community and village for the betterment of all Guyanese,” he said.

Issues were raised by the community with regard to the state of roads and lack of electricity to which Minister Harmon said that the Government will be budgeting for the road works in its 2018 National Budget while the issue of electricity to the villagers will be raised at Cabinet for further action.

Meanwhile, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mr. Sydney Allicock said that the Ministry has been assiduously working to implement programmes and projects, which can significantly improve the lives of Guyana’s First peoples. Minister Allicock said that the Government is moving away from the tradition of providing handouts to Indigenous peoples as was done by the previous administration but is instead investing in initiatives, which are conceptualised by the villages and communities for their benefit.

One such investment in the communities has been the Hinterland Employment Youth Service (HEYS) and the Youth Entrepreneurship and Skills Training (YEST) programme, which have been working to help young people to become self-employed. The Ministry has invested $991 million towards youth development initiatives for the Indigenous communities across the country. To date, a total of 1,800 youth persons have graduated from the HEYS Programme, with another 100 communities standing to benefit in the coming months.

“Let us be strong enough to applaud the good things and bold enough to discuss the negative things. We should be part and parcel of our own development. Let us continue to celebrate our victories. Let us celebrate together, let us celebrate for one another and let us build on the positives and work on the negatives,” he said as he urged unity in the communities for the economic and social wellbeing of all involved.

The Heritage Village celebrations saw hundreds of people from all walks of life gathered to enjoy and participate in the cultural activities. Apart from the cultural display by the villagers, colourful arts and craft items and delicious Indigenous delicacies were on sale. Ministers Harmon and Allicock tried some of the delicacies, while meeting and greeting those in attendance and observed the wood chopping, wine drinking and other competitions.

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