Lands & Environmental Affairs
There exist one sixty nine (169) Amerindian Communities inclusive of Satellites, Settlements and Villages. Ninety six (96) communities have legal recognition to the lands they use and occupy. It should be noted, however, that within the ninety six (96) titled communities there are several sub-communities that may share a single titled land space and Village Council but are sometimes counted as separate communities. In addition, there are several “mixed” settlements (a settlement comprising people of various ethnicities) where Amerindians reside.
Amerindians, Guyana’s first inhabitants, have long requested that their rights to land be recognized. In fact, on the eve of Guyana’s Independence an Amerindian, Stephen Campbell, who was also the first Amerindian Member of Parliament, traveled to London to ask the Queen for Amerindian lands to be secured. This resulted in the establishment of the Amerindian Lands Commission shortly after Independence.
Following the Amerindian Lands Commission Report of 1969, an amendment to the 1951 Amerindian Act was made in 1976 which provided for the granting of lands to Amerindian communities. In the same year sixty-four (64) Amerindian communities received legal recognition to the lands they use and occupy. In 1991, these very lands, and lands for an additional ten (10) communities, were granted under the State Lands Act through the issuance of Absolute Grants. This brought the total percentage of lands owned by Amerindians to just about 6% of the country’s territory. However, the provisions were later criticized since the Minister and the Chief Officer had excessive powers, which included the power to not only increase Amerindian lands but more significantly to reduce and confiscate these lands.
Due mainly to the lack of consultations with the Amerindian communities before the descriptions of the areas were finalised, many considered the areas legally recognised via the Absolute Grants to be inadequate, and in some cases the communities were located outside of these areas. Additional problems were caused due to the absence of physical surveys, since many communities disagreed with the descriptions in the Amerindian Act as being unrelated to the reality on the ground. This resulted in many communities requesting demarcation, and in some cases, extension to their communities’ legally recognized boundaries. In addition, there were over twenty five (25) untitled communities requesting legal recognition of the lands they use and occupy. Communities with and without titled lands complained about intrusions by miners, loggers and other settlers in their legally recognized areas and areas they considered to belong to them.
Policy to Address Amerindian Land Claims
In 1995 the Government of Guyana, in an attempt to address Amerindian land claims formulated a Policy after consultation with Amerindian Toshaos (elected leaders) at a Meeting held at Paramakatoi, Region 8. A two-phased approach was designed as follows:
- (1) Demarcation of the existing seventy four (74) legally recognized (titled) Amerindian communities.
- (2) Addressing extensions of titled communities and the request for titles by those communities without legally recognized lands.
Demarcation (surveys) will provide the communities with maps of their lands and physically marked boundaries. This will enable them to adequately address encroachment issues. In addition, demarcation will aid in identifying the anomalies between the description in the Amerindian Act and the realities on the ground; thereafter the necessary corrections can be made.
Demarcation of Amerindian Lands
In 1996 the demarcation process commenced. However, the process encountered some difficulties as communities started to renege on their decision to demarcate. Several inaccuracies were peddled resulting in communities agreeing and then later disagreeing. For example, some communities were told that once demarcated, the Government would not address their request for extension of their lands. In some communities, the surveyors arrived without prior notice resulting in the communities being unprepared to partake in the surveys.
In cases where communities reneged on their decisions to demarcate, there was wastage of scarce financial resources as the surveys had to be aborted. But more importantly the process was halted, as Government required all titled communities to be demarcated before moving to the next phase.
Of the seventy-four (74) titled communities, thirty-nine (39) were demarcated with Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 fully completed.
Alteration Of The Policy In 2002
Recognising that some administrative regions had completed the demarcation exercise, in 2002 the Government altered the Policy to move to Phase 2. In this way regions that had completed demarcation did not have to wait until other regions were finished in order to begin phase 2. Regions 2 and 10 were the first to move to phase 2. This prompted additional communities to request demarcations.
Provisions in the Amerindian Act 2006
In 2006, as part of the process for enacting a new Amerindian Act, the Government decided to include a comprehensive procedure and criteria to address Amerindian land claims. These are outlined in Part VI of the new Amerindian Act. This decision is seen as progressive since unlike policy, laws cannot be changed easily.
Unlike many other countries that require Indigenous people to show their ancestral connection with the particular piece of land being claimed, the Government of Guyana decided that there needed to be less complicated criteria. As such communities requesting titled lands are only required to show their use and occupation of the land being requested for at least 25 years and secondly the population must be at least one hundred and fifty (150) persons for the five (5) years preceding the application.
Progress To Date
As at July 2007, seventy-one (71) of the ninety one (91) communities had completed or are in the process of demarcation of their titled lands, with the State bearing the cost of demarcation. More importantly, Guyana has made significant progress in addressing Amerindian land claims by providing titles to those communities that were previously without titled lands.
Within the last three years (2004 – 2007) seventeen (17) communities have received titles while six (6) have secured extensions of their titled lands, increasing the total number of communities with legally recognized lands from seventy four (74) to ninety one (91) and the percentage of Guyana’s territory owned by Amerindian communities from approximately 6.5% to about 14%. In all of these cases, communities were requested to submit a description of the area requested and in-depth consultations were held before titles were granted. The communities that have received titles and extensions in the last three years are:
- 1. Konashen, Region 9
2. Baramita, Region 1
3. Weruni, Region 10
4. Malali, Region 10
5. Great Falls, Region 10
6. Muritaro, Region 10
7. Kaburi (72 Miles), Region 7
8. Micobie, Region 8
9. Campbelltown, Region 8
10. Arukamai, Region 1
11. Fairview, Region 8
12. Karrau, Region 7
13. Apoteri, Region 9
14. Rewa, Region 9
15. Crashwater, Region 9
16. Three Brothers (Waini), Region 1
17. Isseneru, Region 7
- 1. Kamwatta, Region 1
2. Tapakuma, Region 2
3. Kabakaburi, Region 2
4. Orealla, Region 6
5. Annai, Region 9
6. Warapoka, Region 1
There remain several communities without legally recognized lands and many of them have already requested titled land. See Amerindian Communities. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs continues to actively pursue the process of addressing these claims.
There are ninety six (96) Titled Amerindian Villages spread across the ten (10) Administrative Regions of Guyana. Sixty (60) land titles were demarcated at 31/12/2008, while an additional three (3) were demarcated in 2009. Six of these titled Villages do not require demarcation since they have natural boundaries. Of the remaining 28 Villages; demarcation was completed during 2009 in the following villages – Isseneru (Region 7), Massara and Parikwarunau Villages (Region 9). At present the total number of demarcated villages is sixty-three (63). The Amerindian Act (2006) provides that Amerindian Titled Lands should be demarcated by the State which shall finance the demarcation. The provision to meet the costs of demarcation forms part of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs Annual Capital Budget under the “Amerindian Development Fund”.
Over the past decade, the annual allocation for demarcation has increased and, in fact, the provision for 2009 was $45.0M; concomitantly, the cost of demarcation has been increasing over the years.