AMERINDIANS FIGHT FOR THEIR LAND RIGHTS
Shirley Thomas Kaieteur News June 1999
A meeting between President Janet Jagan and the Amerindians of Chenapau, last Thursday, reportedly ended with a ray of hope for those people, who, over the last months, have been waging an relentless battle for their rights to be respected.
The latest word is that the boundaries of the extended National Park will be reviewed in their favour. They returned to Chenapau the following day with the hope that things would indeed work out in their favour.
The concerns being voiced over the last months, they claimed, is that they have come face to face with what they feared most throughout the years that their cherished lands would be taken away from them by a strange people and that their hopes, aspirations and efforts in maintaining their culture, rudely dashed.
Following the signing of an order by government for the extension of the boundaries of the Park from five square miles to 242 square miles, without their knowledge, a press release was issued by the Chenapau Village Council in which they outlined, among other things, the historical and cultural significance of the Kaieteur for their people.
The release states: The present regulations applying to the Park are so restrictive that they deny us our right to fee ourselves and our children. These regulations state that "it shall not be lawful for any person to enter into, travel or encamp within the park, or to build any structure therein, or to hunt, chase, catch, shoot at, kill or otherwise disturb any animal, or cut, pluck or gather any of the flora, or interfere with, or disturb the soil.."
"If we continue to hunt and fish the area, which has been ours since time immemorial, we can be fined $1500. This is a national disgrace and must be stopped," they affirmed.
"Kaieteur is an important cultural site for the Patamona people. Kaieteur is a Patamona word that tells the story of a great Amerindian leader who had a recurring dream that strange people would invade this land and destroy his people. He prayed to Makonaima for guidance, but he did not receive any. So, in desperation, he threw himself over the Falls as a sacrifice to save his people. Kai's dream is now a reality for us. We feel hurt and betrayed, as the government promised that we would be consulted before the park was extended, and that this would not affect our rights."
We are not opposed to protected areas and we are not opposed to sharing Kaieteur with all Guyanese, but we will not stand for our rights being violated in the process. Our rights can be respected and the environment protected at the same time. There need not be any conflict between the two. However, the government has shown that it is not concerned about our rights and well-being."
"We ask that all Guyanese join us in demanding that the government revoke the order extending the park, and respect our rights. We also ask that the government sit down with us to discuss in a serious way, how to address our legal and traditional rights to our lands, and how we are to participate in determining the size of , and regulations pertaining to the National Perk.
Unless the demands can be met, the people of Chenapau fear that the life of their great leader, Kai, would have been sacrificed in vain.