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The Struggle for Recognition of the Indigenous Voice: Amerindians in Guyanese Politics

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In Guyana’s racialised geography, Amerindians live in scattered villages in the vast hinterland that covers 90% of the country. Amerindian iconography is appropriated in state-making, even while Amerindians themselves are consigned to a patron–client relationship with the dominant ‘coastlander’ society. In the late 1950s, Amerindians made up only 4% of the national population but voted as a bloc in the national elections of 1957, 1961 and 1964, rallying around Stephen Campbell, the first Amerindian member of the legislature. Their unified position allowed their political leaders to negotiate a commitment to the settlement of Amerindian land claims as a condition of Independence in 1966. After losing its parliamentary majority in 2011, the coastlander-based party in power has been working to disrupt cohesion among Amerindian community leaders. The government uses a variety of funds to reward community leaders who will sign pre-prepared resolutions at the statutory National Toshaos Council meetings, and denies funds to leaders and communities that protest at government neglect and mismanagement of the traditional areas claimed by the indigenous peoples.
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The Struggle for Recognition of the
Indigenous Voice: Amerindians in
Guyanese Politics
Janette Bulkan a
a University of British Columbia , Vancouver , Canada
Published online: 22 May 2013.
To cite this article: Janette Bulkan (2013) The Struggle for Recognition of the Indigenous Voice:
Amerindians in Guyanese Politics, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International
Affairs, 102:4, 367-380, DOI: 10.1080/00358533.2013.795009
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The Struggle for Recognition of the
Indigenous Voice: Amerindians in
Guyanese Politics
JANETTE BULKAN
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
ABSTRACT In Guyanas racialised geography, Amerindians live in scattered villages in the vast
hinterland that covers 90% of the country. Amerindian iconography is appropriated in state-
making, even while Amerindians themselves are consigned to a patronclient relationship with
the dominant coastlandersociety. In the late 1950s, Amerindians made up only 4% of the
national population but voted as a bloc in the national elections of 1957, 1961 and 1964,
rallying around Stephen Campbell, the rst Amerindian member of the legislature. Their unied
position allowed their political leaders to negotiate a commitment to the settlement of Amerindian
land claims as a condition of Independence in 1966. After losing its parliamentary majority in
2011, the coastlander-based party in power has been working to disrupt cohesion among Amerin-
dian community leaders. The government uses a variety of funds to reward community leaders
who will sign pre-prepared resolutions at the statutory National Toshaos Council meetings, and
denies funds to leaders and communities that protest at government neglect and mismanagement
of the traditional areas claimed by the indigenous peoples.
KEY WORDS: Amerindians, coastlanders, reserves, mining, Venezuelan land claim, Rupununi
Uprising, proportional representation, government-organised non-governmental organisations,
Guyana Action Party
Introduction
From the early 20th century, use of the term Amerindianto refer to the indigenous
peoples of Guyana in northern South America began to supersede the earlier use of
Indian. This usage was perhaps to differentiate the original lords of the soil
(Menezes, 1988) from the East Indian indentured servants imported from 1838 to 1917
to labour on the sugar cane plantations after the abolition of African slavery.
Amerindianis now used both as a term of self-ascription and to refer to the surviving
Janette Bulkan founded the Amerindian Research Unit at the University of Guyana and was its
Coordinator from 1985 to 1999; and was afterwards Senior Social Scientist at the Iwokrama
Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development in Guyana from 2000 to 2003.
Correspondence Address: Janette Bulkan, Assistant Professor, Forest Resources Management,
Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Forest Sciences Centre, 20212424 Main
Mall, Vancouver V6T 1Z4, Canada. Email: janette.bulkan@ubc.ca
The Round Table, 2013
Vol. 102, No. 4, 367380, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00358533.2013.795009
Ó2013 The Round Table Ltd
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nine indigenous nations.
1
In 2005, the three national indigenous non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) unsuccessfully recommended that the term Indigenous Peoples
be used in place of Amerindianin the revised Amerindian Act then before Parliament
(Stabroek News, 2005). The ruling party, characteristically, refused to make any sub-
stantive change to the Bill. However, it did not advance their cause that two of the three
Amerindian NGOs involved had (and have) retained the term Amerindianin their
own names.
2
A racialised geography persists in Guyana. In the stratied coastal-dominated econ-
omy and society, about 86% (mainly African, East Indian and Mixed) of the popula-
tion occupy 5% of the land area. Amerindians use the term coastlandersto refer to
these non-indigenous, settlerpopulations. In his book on race relations in Guyana in
the 1960s, the anthropologist Andrew Sanders perceptively noted:
In Guyana the distinction between the Coast and the Interior is more than merely a geo-
graphical one. It dominates the Coastal societys conception of its country The town
is a bright, exciting place, full of interesting people. At the other extreme the Bush is a
dark, dangerous, uninteresting place, inhabited by erce animals and backward, furtive
Amerindians. (Sanders, 1987, p. 11)
Not much has changed in the intervening half century. The coastlander approach to the
interior lands in which Amerindians form the majority population remains extractivist,
exploitative, and rent seeking in orientation. At the same time, Amerindian iconography
continues to be appropriated as national symbols: timehri (rock) paintings is an airport
name; the Umana Yana is a traditional Amerindian house built in Georgetown, the capi-
tal, in 1972; pepperpot, made with Amerindian cassareep (boiled cassava juice), is the
national dish; Amerindian words are used to name new ferries (Stabroek News, 2012b),
and so on. The national ethos remains that of assimilation of Amerindians into national
society.
This article deals with intra- and inter-community politics in the hinterland, and with
politics between hinterland peoples and coastlanders. The focus is especially on two
periods: when Amerindians perceived that they could hold a balance between two dom-
inant coastlander political parties during 19531965, and the present day, when the
party in power strives to prevent the emergence of an Amerindian political bloc.
The Colonial Period
The Guiana coast and its peoples were claimed by both the Spanish and Portuguese
colonial powers but left alone, on account of inhospitable terrain and scattered acepha-
lous populations with little extractable wealth. Dutch traders took advantage of this
opening from the 1580s to establish trading relations with host Amerindian groups. In
time they beat off rival European contenders and consolidated their foothold on the
mainland. From initial interactions as equals, the Dutch over time began to set the terms
of their relationship with their indigenous hosts. The Dutch decided whom they would
recognise as Amerindian leaders, and those men were in turn conferred with presents
and tokens of authority at triennial events (Menezes, 1977). As a plantation economy
built on African slave labour was instituted on the reclaimed coastlands, the Dutch
encouraged Amerindian settlements in the vicinity to serve as a cordon sanitaire.
368 J. Bulkan
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Colonial records suggest some ad hoc inter-Amerindian community cooperation in
forming the colonist-sponsored Amerindian militias to capture escaped African slaves
and to help suppress slave revolts. The antipathy between these two races has not been
entirely overcome in race-conscious Guyana. After the British annexation in 1803, and
particularly after the abolition of African slavery in 1833, the planter-dominated Com-
bined Court (a sort of primitive colonial parliament) and the London-appointed Gover-
nors frequently disagreed on the need to maintain the traditions of providing presents to
the Amerindians. As a result, Amerindians withdrew into the hinterland, cementing the
contemporary coastlanders/Amerindian settlement pattern (Menezes, 1979).
Land Reservations, Land Insecurity
By the beginning of the 20th century, the total number of Amerindians had been
reduced to perhaps one-fth of their pre-colonial numbers, as a result of introduced dis-
eases to which they had no immunity (Seggar, 1958; Forte, 1988). Partly on account of
the general feeling that the indigenous race would die out, to protect Amerindians from
the increasing tide of gold miners and as a reward for support to the Crown in the
boundary dispute with Venezuela in the 1890s, the colonial government gazetted 10
Reserves for Amerindian habitation in 1902, with four more areas reserved between
1904 and 1945/46, for a total of 1.3 million hectares (Mha); not a large proportion of
Guyanas 21 Mha. These reserves excluded entry by non-Amerindians but did not
conrm Native Title
3
(Bulkan and Bulkan, 2008). Even during the late 1950s when
Amerindians were exerting a political role, the insecurity of tenure was shown by the
de-reservation of almost 0.4 Mha in the Upper Mazaruni in 1959 and its replacement
by a Mining District when diamonds were found. The failure to institute the participa-
tory reservation processes in Guyana that had been formalised in most of the British
Empire during the previous century (Troup, 1939) partially explains the absence of
inter-agency collaboration in land use planning in the present.
Schools and health services provided through Christianising missions stimulated an
increase in the size of semi-settled Amerindian populations while subsistence agriculture
continued to rely on fallow periods to revive soil fertility. The sizes of main settlements
are now increasing rapidly because of the inability or unwillingness of post-colonial
governments to provide dispersed services. However, there is little evidence that Amer-
indians have developed dispute resolution systems to manage governance in these larger
communities. Inter-family rivalries are now less able to be resolved by splitting of com-
munities, because families wish to stay near the school and health services, and because
customary lands have been alienated to ranching, mining, logging and other interests.
The internal strains are especially evident at the times of elections of village councils,
as council members are perceived or are alleged to use their positions to obtain prefer-
ential access by their families to government favours; see below.
The Political Importance of Amerindian Demography
The Amerindians population has quadrupled in the past 60 years, increasing from an
estimated 16,000 persons in the mid-1940s (Peberdy, 1948) to about 70,000 in nine
nations (Guyana Bureau of Statistics, 2007). Amerindians are the fourth largest ethnic
The Struggle for Recognition of the Indigenous Voice 369
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group, at 9.2% in the 2002 census. East Indians are the largest, comprising 43.5% of a
total of 751,000 persons, followed by African Guyanese (28.8%) and Mixed(16.7%).
Amerindians also have the largest net growth rate, of around 3.5%, versus 2% for the
other ethnic groups of Guyana, which have a strong tendency to emigrate for economic
reasons to northern countries.
About 90% of Amerindians live in scattered villages in the hinterland, forming the
majority populations in Regions 1, 8 and 9three of the 10 administrative Regions.
The enduring pattern of ethnic voting at all reasonably free and fairnational elections
from 1957 favoured the East Indian-dominated PeoplesProgressive Party (PPP) until
the November 2011 elections. By that date, the decline in coastlander populations on
account of high rates of migrationEast Indians by 17% and Africans by 10% between
the censuses of 1980 and 2002
4
and the loss of votes to a third party, the Alliance for
Change (AFC), had resulted in the PPP losing its parliamentary majority by one seat.
In consequence, for the rst time since 1992 the party in power controls only the Exec-
utive branch of government. Consequently, Amerindian votes can determine the out-
come of national elections, as was the case between 1957 and 1964. All institutions in
Guyana are weak, including those of civil society.
5
The 1950s and 1960s Pre-independence Period
Coastlander government assumed a protectionist approach to Amerindians in the rst
half of the 20th century. A less patronising view was reected in the Amerindian Act
passed in 1951, which formalised elections for Village Captains and Councillors. It is
unclear how much training was given to Amerindian communities in the implementation
of this Act. More signicant politically was the reform of electoral law in 1953 to enable
universal adult suffrage. Although only comprising 4% of the national population, Amer-
indians used the literacy that they had acquired through mission schools (and provision
was made for illiterates) to be a visible part of the electorate in 1957. Amerindians voted
on the advice of the clergy against the two dominant left-leaning parties. The sole Amer-
indian candidate, Stephen Campbell, secured the single seat won by the National Labour
Front party out of the then 15 seats in the Legislative Council. Campbell was Arawak by
ethnicity, and had spent his working life as a Catholic teacher and catechist, and later a
manager of forestry operations in various interior districts (Pierre, 1993).
Thereafter, the bloc support of Amerindians in the geographical constituency (the
North West District) contested by Stephen Campbell, and for the United Force (UF)
party in the hinterland Rupununi District, permitted this third forceparty to be the
kingmaker in the internecine struggle waged between the coastlander East Indian and
African parties from 1955 (Palmer, 2010). The coalition between the UF and the Afri-
can Peoples National Congress (PNC) in 1964 ended the East Indian PPPs stint at the
helm of government for the following 28 years. The coalition government created a
special Department for Amerindian Affairs (within the Ministry of Home Affairs),
responsibility for which was given to Stephen Campbell as Parliamentary Secretary
(Pierre, 1993). However, the Department was little more than honoric, lacking an inde-
pendent budget line or staff. The inclusion in the Independence agreement of a commit-
ment to settle Amerindian land claims was due to Campbells single-handed lobbying,
and marked the high point of Amerindians as a political force in Guyana.
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In the ensuing decades and until 1993, responsibility for Amerindian Affairs was
shifted to the Chief Hinterland Affairs Ofcer, located within the Ministry of Local
Government. As with indigenous peoples in other countries, a persistent concern of
Amerindians has been to secure a strong legal basis for recognition of their rights to
natural resources on which they have traditionally depended for livelihoods and their
social and cultural existence. The petitions and lobbies organised by Stephen Campbell
resulted in the explicit commitment in the Independence Agreement (1965, Annex C,
Section L; Menezes, 1988, pp. 361362; Letwiniuk, 1996, p. 51) that required the inde-
pendent government to provide legal ownership or rights of occupancy for Amerindians
over:
areas and reservations or parts thereof where any tribe or community of Amerindians is
now ordinarily resident or settled and other legal rights, such as rights of passage, in
respect of any other lands they now by tradition or custom de facto enjoy freedoms and
permissions corresponding to rights of that nature. In this context, it is intended that legal
ownership shall comprise all rights normally attaching to such ownership. (HMSO, 1965)
Had it not been for Campbells single-minded focus on land rights, Guyanese Amerindi-
ans might well lack secure land tenure, as is the case for indigenous peoples in the
other circum-Caribbean territories of Belize and Suriname.
Post-Independence Land Claims
Notwithstanding repeated assurances by post-Independence governments, implementa-
tion of this commitment has been sluggish. Some 104 Amerindian Villages have been
awarded communal tenure under the ex gratia terms of the Amerindian Acts of 1951
and 2006, covering about 2.9 Mha or 13.8% of Guyana (Ministry of Amerindian
Affairs (MoAA) blog, August 2012).
6
There is some confusion in MoAA as to whether
120 or 138 communities are eligible for title. In addition, 41 Amerindian Villages have
outstanding claims for extension of titled lands (MoAA, 2012; Ofce of Climate
Change, Guyana, 2012). The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association
(GGDMA) implies that some of the claims for extension are very large and would bring
titled Amerindian Village Lands to 35% of the country (Isles, 2012). This area should
be contrasted with the 11.1 Mha (53% of Guyana) claimed by Amerindian communities
during the survey by the Amerindian Lands Commission (ALC) during 19671969
(Government of Guyana, 1969). In other words, although the Amerindian population
has doubled since 1969, their land claims have reduced by 20%.
The government has failed to implement the national policy of integrated land use
planning (Government of Guyana, 1997), in spite of a successful demonstration in
Region 10 in 1997. Furthermore, government agencies such as the Guyana Forestry
Commission (GFC) and Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) are
unfamiliar with the protections of Amerindian customary rights in the land laws,
regulations and procedures. The GFC and GGMC have continued to issue overlapping
logging and mining concessions over Amerindian traditional lands in spite of explicit
protection in the Mining Act (1989, Article 111) and State Forest Exploratory
Permission procedures (GFC, 1997, Section 4). Miners disregard the requirements to
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apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental permits prior to
mining, and to submit an environmental impact assessment (EIA) in support of their
application. In turn, the GGMC improperly awards mining licences in the absence of
environmental permits. With the continued rise in the price of gold and the clamour for
more mining concessions, a conict between persistent Amerindian claims to traditional
lands and customary rights and the GGDMA is inevitable (Appendix 1, full-page adver-
tisements in Stabroek News, 15 August 2012, and Kaieteur News, 15 August 2012). It
is thus not surprising that concerns about land security tend to dominate Amerindian
contacts with the government.
There seems to be no willingness or no understanding on the part of government or
Amerindian leaders/spokespersons of the need for a participatory reservation settlement
process to avoid future arguments over locations and boundaries; nor of the need for a
strategic view of land allocation when demographic increase is coupled with stagnant sub-
sistence-level agricultural productivity and the consequent ecological logic of semi-noma-
dic agricultural cropping on the very poor hinterland soils (Bulkan and Palmer, 2009).
Mis-steps in the Assertion of Amerindian Rights, 19671969
In 1962, Venezuela reopened a territorial claim to lands west of the Essequibo River, or
three-quarters of the landmass of Guyana, disregarding the 1899 nal boundary settle-
ment. In 1963, the Amerindian Association of Guiana (AAG) was founded, with the
mandate to press for rm title to all lands occupied by Amerindians (Menezes, 1988, p.
361). The AAG claimed to have 5,000 members in 1969, with branches in 20 villages.
However, the AAG was riddled with internal dissension, resulting in the expulsion or
withdrawal of its nationally known leaders, including Campbell. The AAG then
embarked on a course of action that would cast all Amerindians in an unfavourable
light. The AAG took advantage of Amerindian fears of domination by a coastlander
government to enlist about 36 Amerindian leaders to attend a secret convention held at
the Kabakaburi Amerindian Reservation in April 1967. The convention was allegedly
funded by a Venezuelan diplomat, a claim made plausible by the news that the AAG
convention had both endorsed Venezuelas territorial claim, and passed a resolution sup-
porting a Venezuelan proposal for joint development of the Essequibo. When news of
the gathering broke, the Parliament of Guyana quickly responded by asking a Venezue-
lan diplomat to leave, and deporting an expatriate leader of the AAG (Sanders, 1987,
pp. 195202).
Another setback to Amerindiancoastlander relations was an attempted secession of
the Rupununi led by the settler ranching families in January 1969, with the support of a
small number of Amerindians. The Rupununi Rebellion(or Uprising) was also alleg-
edly nanced and supported covertly by the Venezuelan government (Simmons, 1993).
The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) quickly reasserted control but the effects of the eth-
nic cleavages that were laid bare and the punitive actions against the Rupununis econ-
omy and population were long lasting. Amerindians were seen as traitors, and at the
First Conference of Amerindian Leaders held two months later, Amerindian leaders
were asked to sign a six-point pledge of allegiance to the country. Government also
assured an early settlement of land rights, a promise that did not begin to be enacted
for another seven years (Menezes, 1988, pp. 363365).
372 J. Bulkan
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Although only a handful of Amerindians had taken part in the 1967 AAG
Convention and in the 1969 Rupununi Uprising, those events fed coastlandersnegative
stereotyping of Amerindians, then cast as traitors and anti-national. As in other
countries, Amerindian organisations joined forces in regional and international indige-
nous networks to press for recognition of pre-existing Native Title and the right to self-
determination (Conklin, 1997, 2002, details a parallel process in Brazil).
Representation of Amerindian Issues
A statutory body, the National Toshaos Council (NTC),
7
is mandated by Part IV of the
Amerindian Act 2006. The NTC is made up of the leaders of Amerindian villages with
land titles. The NTC has no decision-making powers, or dispute resolution process.
National funds are apparently not available to nance a secretariat, but the Inter-
American Development Bank (IDB) provided a grant of US$125,000 to the Govern-
ment of Guyana, seemingly for that purpose, in 2011.
8
The now annual meetings of the
NTC are convened by the government and are primarily for the government to present
its information and to secure signatures on pre-prepared resolutions, not necessarily
related to issues of concern to Amerindians (Stabroek News, 2010b). Points raised by
Amerindian leaders that do not accord with government views may be suppressed
(Stabroek News, 2010a, 2012e; Kaieteur News, 2011).
Similarly, Amerindian representation on the Presidents Multi-Stakeholder Steering
Committee (MSSC) for the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) is by invitation of
the President. Two organisations are government-organised NGOs (GONGOs)family-
based Georgetown-resident NGOs, allegedly funded entirely by the Ofce of the President
(OP). The heads of these two GONGOs are regular contributors of letters to the press in
support of the party in power. A third NGO, the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous
Peoples (GOIP), is partly independent. The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), the
largest Amerindian representative organisation, was subjected to sustained vilication by
the last president and MoAA and does not attend MSSC meetings. None of the
Amerindian-related LCDS projects was developed from participatory consultation with
Amerindians. No LCDS project has been discussed strategically at MSSC meetings, or the
priorities between projects, or the proposed budgets.
Apart from the APA, there are no forums at national level where Amerindians can
debate their own collective problems and opportunities free of government oversight.
One of many examples of the lack of autonomy of the NTC was a state-publicised
picketing exercise led by the chairperson of the NTC and the Minister of Amerindian
Affairs outside an APA information-sharing workshop on the Reduced Emissions from
Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative in April 2010 (Nauth, 2010).
That workshop was co-hosted by Rainforest Foundation Norway, an ofcially accred-
ited NGO to the NorwayGuyana REDD agreement.
Although Amerindians constitute almost 10% of the population and are increasing
most rapidly in net percentages, political issues and resource allocations are still domi-
nated by the coastland parties and their concerns. The PPP, and the PNC during the
1960s1980s, spent small parts of the national budget in Amerindian areas, but the
amounts and types of expenditure were not decided in the Amerindian communities.
Allocations of donor funds to Amerindian communities are also strongly conditioned by
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coastlander calculations of overt support from some Amerindian communities. One
result of the system of counting at the place of pollat regional and national elections
is that the government knows in which villages it garnered the majority of votes.
Unsurprisingly in a patronage system, the villages selected to benet from US$1.8 mil-
lion disbursed up to December 2012 to the Amerindian Development Fund from the
Norwegian-funded Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) are ones that supported
the government. Conversely, none of the Upper Mazaruni villages, which took the gov-
ernment to court in 1998 over their land claims, is among the proposed beneciaries
(UNDP, 2012).
Amerindians in the National Assembly
The overarching post-Independence political situation in Guyana was not sympathetic
to any declaration of rights, Amerindian or other. The PNC, the dominant party in the
two-party coalition that had led the country into Independence, rigged national elections
in 1968, and would continue to do so over the next two decades. The PNC no longer
needed the votes of any ethnic group. In addition, the alphabet system of proportional
representationwas proposed and then instituted by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham in
1968, ending whatever separation of power existed between the Executive and Legisla-
tive branches of government (Lutchman, 1972, p. 20). Parliamentarians who voted
along party lines replaced the previous geographical constituency representatives exem-
plied by Stephen Campbell for the North West District.
In 2000, the electoral laws were changed to assign 25 of the 65 seats in the National
Assembly to nominal geographical constituencies. However, as the political party lead-
ers select the Members of Parliament (MPs) from their lists to ll all seats, there is no
MP elected directly by Amerindians to represent them geographically or thematically.
Further, the two major (coastlander) parties signed an agreement in mid-2007 to amend
the Constitution so as to enable recall of MPs by their parties, thereby disbarring MPs
from crossing the oor or acting as independents (Stabroek News, 2007). This course of
action was widely interpreted as entrenching further the power of party leaders, and
foreclosing any independent action by MPs, such as acting across party lines for Amer-
indian interests. AmerindiansMPs rarely speak in the National Assembly on Amerin-
dian issues, or they speak to a script approved by their partys executive.
There is no evidence, however, of Amerindian collective thinking or planning in a
common interest since 1965, nor have there been organised platforms for policies for
Amerindian development. Percentages of Amerindians who voted in national elections
were about 10% lower than those of coastlanders, or a little over 60% of registered vot-
ers in 2011. However, because of the near-absence of pre-election voter education and
perhaps some decline in literacy, the proportion of spoiled ballot papers was substan-
tially higher in Amerindian areas (Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB), 2012).
The Guyana Action Party, 1992 to the Present
The Guyana Action Party (GAP) was formed in 1992, led by Paul Hardy, a scion of
the Melville ranching family of the Rupununi. The majority of the Melvilles, including
Hardys family, had ed to Brazil in the wake of the 1969 Rupununi Uprising. The two
374 J. Bulkan
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dominant parties took note of Amerindian interest in GAP and before the 2001 elec-
tions actively tried to lower GAPs prospects. Allegedly, the ofcial understanding was
that Hardy had only been resident in Guyana for ve years prior to the election date.
The Constitution was amended in December 2000 to stipulate that presidential candi-
dates had to be ordinarily residentin Guyana for seven years, a move intended to dis-
qualify Hardy from being the face of his party in the 19 March 2001 election (Stabroek
News, 2001). However, Hardy was able to prove that he had been resident in Guyana
for 7.5 years (personal communication). In spite of the governments efforts to derail
GAP, the GAP combination with the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) won two out of
65 seats at the 2001 national elections. At the regional level, GAP won six of the nine
seats in Region 7 (Mazaruni) and a majority of the Region 9 (Rupununi) seats, both of
them Amerindian areas.
GAP formed a coalition with Rise, Organise and Rebuild (ROAR), a coastlander-
based party, to contest the 2006 national elections, and the coalition won one seat at the
national level. In 2011, GAP joined A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), an
umbrella coalition of opposition parties.
At every election, GAP has faced unrelenting hostility from the governing PPP, deter-
mined to thwart the formation of an Amerindian political bloc that could tip the balance
of seats in the National Assembly. The PPPs abuse of state resources in successive
national elections has been well documented in the press and the NGO Electoral Assis-
tance Bureau (EAB, 2007, 2012). In addition, from 2006, only the polling agents of the
two principal parties have been paid from the public purse for their work.
The Regional System of Government, 1980
In 1980, Guyana instituted a regional system of sub-national administration consisting
of 10 Regions, mostly demarcated by following the course of rivers rather than water-
sheds (Figure 1). There has been no devolution of power from central to lower levels
of government, nor have local government elections been held since 1994. The 1951
Amerindian Ordinance had instituted some local governmental autonomy at the village
level so that villagers elected a Captain and Village Council every two to three years.
However, these Village Councils have no formal link with the Regional system of gov-
ernment, which deepens Amerindian isolation from the political process. Additionally,
the party in power has historically and currently interferes in village-level elections,
seeking to ensure election of its favoured candidates (George, 2012; Stabroek News,
2012a, c).
Voting for sub-national regional parliamentary seats is simultaneous with national elec-
tions in Guyana. Since 1980 the regional MPs have not had any separate forum or meeting
place and have not had a budget; the votes are practically meaningless. However, compar-
ison with the votes for national-level candidates showed that in 2011 there was stronger
support for the opposition parties at regional than at national level (EAB, 2012).
The two levels of dysfunctional government (regional and local) mean that there is
no effective channel for issues to reach national-level attention from Amerindian Village
Councils and Community Development Councils. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs
and the statutory NTC are one-way speakers for communicating government intentions
downwards. The failure of the government (MoAA and NTC) to reply to hundreds of
The Struggle for Recognition of the Indigenous Voice 375
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questions raised at the 13 hinterland meetings following the launch of the Presidents
LCDS in mid-2009 is a major example of government not responding to Amerindian
concerns.
Notwithstanding supercial decentralisation in decision-making, deeper structures of
political patronage and information asymmetries continue to inuence the distribution
Figure 1. Map of Guyana showing 10 administrative regions, formally titled indigenous areas,
and names of indigenous nations. Source: Map prepared by Anthony Cummings.
376 J. Bulkan
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of government resources to communities. There is no formula for returning a percentage
of the revenues from natural resource extraction to the region of origin. In all the inte-
rior Regions the revenues allocated by Central Government are much lower than the
revenues extracted from royalties and rents on natural resources exploitation (Ram,
2012). Instead the hinterland residents, who are Amerindians in the majority, are sad-
dled with the negative externalitiesincluding polluted rivers, riverbanks and land,
social ills and the ination that accompanies mining. Press interviews with Amerindian
leaders (toshaos) in the margins of the meetings of the National Toshaos Council show
that the leaders have a wide range of concerns about education, economic development
and services in their communities (Stabroek News, 2010a, 2012d).
Village Councils (in the case of communities with titled lands) and Community
Development Councils (in the case of untitled communities) have in some instances cre-
ated their own sub-regional NGOs. Some of these NGOs have registered under the
Friendly Societies Act in order to attain legal status, and have been able to sign small-
scale project agreements with international and national NGOs. While not welcoming
Amerindian autonomy outside its sphere of control, the government has resisted efforts
to reform the local government system.
Gender
The male-dominated Amerindian traditions have mostly excluded women from the top
positions in village and community councils. However, there are currently two presiden-
tially appointed female Amerindian ministers. There are as many trained Amerindian
teachers, nurses and health workers as men working in the villages; further, women are
present and vocal in meetings of village and community councils.
Conclusion
The one-seat majority in Parliament held by the combined Opposition parties from the
2011 national election has slightly dented the two decades of near-dictatorship by the
governing party. That party is accustomed to using controls on information under demo-
cratic centralism
9
to minimise interactions with civil society including Amerindians.
There is no evidence that Amerindians appointed to the National Assembly by the three
political parties have any intention of combining across party boundaries to raise the
public prole of Amerindian issues.
Amerindian communities have negligible net accumulations of resources or nancial
reserves, no tradition of such savings, and are not at present able to meet together with-
out external nance. So the development and promotion of an autochthonous Amerin-
dian agenda is still a distant prospect. At the current juncture, and unlike the late 1950s
and early 1960s, Amerindians lack the political clout that would allow them to dene
and realise their own ambitions and plans in Guyana.
Notes
1. The National Constitution (Cap. 1:01) uses Amerindianon page 72, Article 142 (2) (b) (i), on page 87,
Article 149 (6) (c), on page 179, Article 212 (S), and on page 211, second schedule about the coat of
arms of Guyana, which also uses indigenous. This armorial description mentions Amerindians as the
The Struggle for Recognition of the Indigenous Voice 377
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indigenous people of the country.Indigenousis used on page 26 in the Preamble, in Article 149 (G)
and in Articles 212 (S) and (T) about the Indigenous Peoples' Commission on pages 178 and 179. The
Amerindian Act (Cap. 29:01, 2006) uses indigenousonly on page 21, Article 41 (a) concerning the
Indigenous Peoples Commission. The main indigenous NGO in Guyana is named the Amerindian Peoples
Association.
2. The three NGOs are the Amerindian Peoples Association, The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana
and the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples.
3. Native title is the term used when there is legal recognition of pre-existing (before colonialism) indige-
nous rights of ownership to their customary lands traditionally occupied and used.
4. The African/Black population declined from 234,094 in 1980 to 227,062 in 2002; the East Indian popula-
tion declined from 394,417 in 1980 to 326,277 in 2002 (Guyana Bureau of Statistics, 2007).
5. The latest UN gures indicate that around 83% of Guyana's university graduates do not live within the
boundaries of the Co-operative Republic. In fact, where the export of tertiary-trained citizens is con-
cerned, we have the dubious distinction of topping the region(Brain drain,Stabroek News, 24 June
2007).
6. http://www.amerindian.gov.gy.
7. A toshaois the elected Village Head in villages with land title; Captainis the elected head in untitled
communities.
8. IDB provided or agreed to provide US$125,000 for a secretariat for the NTC, possibly as part of a further
grant of US$735,000 under project GY-T1076, approved 8 December 2010; see http://www.iadb.org/en/
projects/project,1303.html?id=GY-T1076. However, this grant was directed to the Government of Guyana,
the Guyana Forestry Commission, forest-dependent and other communities, according to the title, but the
technical annex on the programme (document LEG/SGO-GY-35504590-10) indicated that this second
grant was essentially directed to funding of the GFC, even though there is a specic mention of Amerin-
dian communities in Section 2.03
9. Democratic Centralism, as practised by the party in power, overrides valid legislation and regulations at
the direction of Cabinet ofcers on the grounds that implementing the law would not be in the national
interest. No criteria are ever provided for what that overriding national interest might be. Democratic Cen-
tralism also involves one-way communication in which the government presents its preconceived inten-
tions to the passively listening citizens.
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... However, the country suffers from a high emigration rate of skilled people and professionals, mainly to the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and the UK. This brain drain is causing the overall population to decrease (Bulkan 2013;Griffiths & Anselmo 2010;. Guyana Wai peoples (Box 1). ...
... Amerindian populations gradually recovered during the 20 th century. Their absolute numbers grew four fold between the mid-1940s and the 2000s, to reach approximately 70,000 individuals, making Amerindians the fastest growing ethnic group in Guyana (Bulkan 2013). However, many Indigenous peoples found themselves in a state of acute poverty and marginalisation. ...
... Amerindians in Guyanese Politics", Janette Bulkan (2013), a Guyanese author and researcher retraces the long endeavour and intense pressure Amerindians have had to exert on the British Colonial State, followed by the Guyanese State, to obtain the recognition of their rights, and the protection of their traditional lands. In the first half of the 20 th century, the policies adopted by the British rulers towards Amerindians were inspired by paternalism, and led to the creation of 1.3 million hectares (Mha) of reservations 4 . ...
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Thesis
Having its roots in computer science and information systems, the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) in development has arguably been dominated by technocentric approaches, mainly concerned with describing and managing the mechanisms of technology diffusion and adoption. However, the high failure rate of many ICT for development (ICT4D) interventions and their limited focus on wellbeing impact has drawn attention to the needs for designing better evaluation frameworks to help make sense of the complex realities in which ICT interventions take place, and for interrogating the usefulness of mainstream approaches on the impact of ICT4D interventions on wellbeing. Efforts to operationalise the capability approach, and to apply it to the field of ICT4D constitute an increasingly popular alternative in this regard. The alternative shifts the focus of ICT4D evaluation away from an exclusive focus on technology access and use, towards understanding their multidimensional development outcomes, including their impact on wellbeing. One avenue, which has largely been underexplored, is the potential contribution of systems thinking approaches for further strengthening the focus on multidimensional development outcomes while improving the practical applicability of ICT4D evaluations. This doctoral research sets out to explore how systems thinking concepts and techniques can be used to complement existing approaches so as to increase the success rate of ICT4D interventions, as measured by their effect on the wellbeing of intended beneficiaries. Drawing on multiple theoretical influences, including the capability approach, systemic inquiry, critical theory and pragmatism, this thesis evaluates four ICT4D interventions, including a researcher-led ICT4D intervention, which have all taken place in Indigenous communities of the North Rupununi, Guyana, between 2005 and 2015. The findings of this study suggest that the wellbeing impact of ICT4D interventions is primarily determined by whether they are introduced to address locally-defined needs and the extent to which beneficiary communities are involved in their design, implementation and evaluation. It argues that applying concepts and techniques from systems thinking can help address some of the criticism and shortcomings of established and emerging approaches for evaluating ICT4D interventions, by looking beyond efficiency and optimisation towards questions of participation, power, purpose and values. The research then outlines the contours of a Systemic Implementation and Evaluation (SIE) framework, as a way to draw attention to the inevitable clashes of worldviews that characterise interventions involving multiple stakeholders, and to allow a critical reflection on the nature of these interventions and the changes brought about. It concludes by producing a series of policy recommendations associated with enhancing the impact of ICT4D interventions on Indigenous wellbeing.
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... As Norman Whittaker (2017), former minister of government states in his letter to Stabroek News, AHM provides the opportunity for Guyanese and non-Guyanese people "to view, experience and be reminded of the unique sub-culture of Amerindians," while it also functions as a "medium for promoting hinterland tourism." Indeed, the tendency in colonial and postcolonial Guyana enacted by various governments has been to represent Indigenous Peoples and their heritage as symbols of national pride (Cordis, 2019;Jackson, 2012;Bulkan, 2013) without the corresponding focus on the Indigenous present and presence, including complex debates regarding development, heritage and culture. In fact, it is ironic that the inaugural Heritage Month celebrations in September 1995 occurred two months before the Government of Guyana and the Commonwealth signed the Iwokrama Agreement that preceded the passing of the 1996 Iwokrama Act in Parliament (Iwokrama, 2017). ...
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This article explores how the recent rise of shamans as political representatives in Brazil addresses tensions and contradictions associated with the internationalization of indigenous rights movements. Identity politics and transnational organizational alliances concerning issues of environmentalism and human rights have greatly expanded the political leverage and influence of indigenous activism. However, some transnational environmentalist discourses collide with Brazilian discourses of national sovereignty, and the 1990s witnessed a nationalist backlash against Indians, whom politicians, military leaders, and media commentators have frequently portrayed as pawns of foreign imperialists. Opponents of indigenous rights also seized on apparent contradictions between rhetoric and action to discredit indigenous claims to environmental resources. The analysis examines how the shift to redefine knowledge as the core of indigenous identity circumvents some of these liabilities by shifting the basis for indigenous rights claims from environmental practices to environmental knowledge. As shamans mobilize and speak out against the threat of biopiracy, they blunt the nationalist backlash, repositioning indigenous peoples as defenders of the national patrimony and solid citizens of the Brazilian nationstate. [Keywords: Brazil, indigenous peoples, identity politics, shamans, biopiracy]
Article
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