Address by His Excellency Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali President of the Republic of Guyana

Amerindian Heritage Month 2020 is being commemorated this year in unusual circumstances. While the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has tempered this year’s observances, it has failed to totally cripple our ability to honour and celebrate with our Amerindian brothers and sisters.

My fellow Guyanese, and in particular my Amerindian brothers and sisters, I am happy to greet you at the start of Amerindian Heritage Month though under difficult circumstances.

Today we commence celebrations with all of you- the Akawaios, the Arecunas, the Arawaks, the Caribs, the Patamunas, Wai Wais, Warraus and the Wapishanas… all of you who form a valuable part of the rich heritage of our homeland.

Whether you live in the mighty Pakaraimas, the sprawling Savannahs of the Rupununi, in the Upper Mazaruni, the Cayuni, the North West District, in the rainforest or along our rivers, you are the ones who first inherited this land and who have treasured and protected it for generations. I want to assure you that your Government will never underestimate the value of this heritage, neither will we ever take you for granted.

It is for this reason that we have always recognised your rights to land, territories, self- determination and economic empowerment.

Our strong commitment to your inclusion in nation building is already being reflected in our actions. Today, five talented Amerindians were sworn in as members of the National assembly to comprise the 12th Parliament of Guyana.

I join in commending the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, the Honorable Pauline Sukhai and her Ministry for their resourcefulness – considering the limitations of time, money and social restrictions – in organising today’s virtual launch.  I applaud their innovative efforts in finding creative and virtual ways of celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month 2020.

The theme this year… “Fostering traditional practices for a safe environment” is fitting in the context of the challenges presently facing our country. This theme emphasises the key role which cultural assets, including indigenous knowledge, traditions and customs, and lifestyles, can play in ensuring a safe environment. Indeed, as we confront the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous traditional practices will form part of the arsenal of measures intended to stem the spread of the virus.

While there are many threats still to be tackled in your villages as in many other parts of Guyana, the foremost threat at present is that posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in this regard, I assure you that your government remains resolute in ensuring the safety of indigenous communities.

I have directed the Minister of Health to fast track hinterland interventions and measures and he has advised me that following sweeping consultations currently underway with Amerindian leaders, emergency measures will be announced shortly.

Amerindian Heritage Month 2020 also marks the return to comprehensive Amerindian development which was placed front and centre by previous PPP/Civic administrations.

 Sadly, over the past five years, there was an unfortunate regression in your development which we shall immediately reverse. Not only will we reverse the backward steps imposed be the Coalition government, but we shall unlock a new era of rapid transformation for the hinterland communities and our First Peoples.

And we will not wait for the COVID-19 Pandemic to subside. My Government will soon initiate a virtual consultation with the National Toshaos’ Council to chart the course of the delivery of our Manifesto promises.

Guyana’s First Peoples can be assured that under my administration, your economic and social empowerment will be non-political and non-negotiable:

As promised in our Manifesto:

•           We will ensure greater participation by villages in government projects and increased representation of Amerindians on Government Boards;

•           The Amerindian Act will be revised and strengthened in consultation with local leaders to reflect your evolving needs;

•           Food production will be expanded, and food processing will be increased to bolster hinterland food security;

•           Skills training relevant to the oil and gas sector will include Amerindians, and business facilitation mechanisms will be enacted to allow indigenous communities to tap into the opportunities created by the local content policy;

•           Amerindians can look forward to improvements in social services. Health facilities will be increased, upgraded and better equipped to provide enhanced and more accessible health care across the hinterlands.

•           Indigenous children can look forward to a higher quality education, including through the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT), the provision of more and better-trained teachers and the award of scholarships.

•           Hinterland water infrastructure and the electrification programme we started, will be expanded through the use of alternative energy technologies such as Solar and Hydro power. 

We know that land is central to indigenous peoples’ development. That is why previous PPP/C Administrations made Amerindian Lands Demarcation and Titling an absolute priority. The PPP/Civic Government wanted to ensure that indigenous peoples are not deprived of their rights to the lands which they occupy, utilize and to which they are entitled. And so, my administration will immediately restore the Land Project and establish a special mechanism to resolve land disputes.

The protection of Amerindian rights, the preservation of their culture and their political, economic and social empowerment will always be central pillars of the PPP/Civic Government policies. We will ensure that Amerindians are not left behind in the transformative developments which will sweep our country into a modern future over the next few years. Amerindians, like every other ethnic group that makes up our diverse society, are guaranteed equitable benefits from national development under my Administration.

That is why the benefits for your empowerment which were so heartlessly snatched away, will be restored:

•           Community Development Plans (CDPs) will be reintroduced to ensure that you are able to determine the sustainable livelihoods that you desire;

•           We will rehire those 2,000 Community Service Officers (CSOs) who were dismissed by the Coalition Government, and we will restore the School Grants that were taken away.

•           We will return to our ground-breaking partnership forged through the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and advance the innovative “OPT IN” feature which allowed villages to benefit directly from the proceeds of Carbon Trading Services.

During our campaign, we listened to you, as we did in communities across the length and breadth of our country.

You told us what you want for infrastructure and we will deliver.

You told us what you want for education and we will deliver.

You told us what you want for economic development and livelihoods and we will deliver bigger and better than we did before.

Your call for remuneration for Toshaos and leaders will be honoured.

Your call for the establishment of a permanent well-staffed, well-equipped and fully supported Secretariat building will be honoured.

The Firearms of your farmers and leaders will be returned, as will your dignity and respect.

You will benefit from a special budgetary allocation for housing and home improvements, and government at every level will function with the inclusion of qualified and talented Amerindians, as we have already done in the 12th Parliament.

My brothers and sisters of the Hinterland, though this Heritage Month finds us under the crushing burden of the COVID 19 Pandemic with tremendous and regrettable loss of life among us, it also comes at the brink of our social and economic transformation as a nation.

My Government takes its obligation to ensure that the benefits to be derived from our new-found Oil and Gas resources in the coming years, are equitably distributed among all of our peoples, with no policy to take away and deprive Amerindians of their rights to empowerment.

We value your contributions. We honour your heritage and sacrifices, and we will do everything in our power to help you realise your dreams and aspirations.

This historic year of the preservation of our cherished democracy, offers renewed hope for all of us. Hope of a better quality of life and a more secured future for all; hope for a better Guyana.

I wish you a remarkable Heritage Month and may God bless us all.

Amerindian Heritage Month 2020 is an occasion to renew our unflinching commitment to Guyana’s indigenous people, to protect their way of life and to ensure a safe environment. My government will work assiduously to secure a safe environment for our indigenous peoples – safe from crime; safe from pollution, safe from disease and safe from want.

I am pleased therefore to be associated with the theme and focus of this year’s Amerindian Heritage Month. I urge that we continue to join hands and hearts. I urge that we continue to see each other as brothers and sisters, occupying a common space, facing common problems and collectively solving them.

This is our country; ours to build; ours to defend and ours to protect. Though the seasons may at times change, though life’s radiance may at times be dulled by grief and tragedy, we know that every new day brings the promise of change and a chance to do better.

I extend best wishes to all Guyanese but especially our indigenous community on this the launch of Amerindian Heritage Month 2020. May this month continue to highlight your ineffaceable contributions to nation building! May this month celebrate your culture and the promise of betterment which the future brings!

With these words of recognition and hope, it gives me great pleasure to launch this year’s Amerindian Heritage Month 2020. May God bless and protect us all!

I thank you.