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|National Toshaos Conference off to refreshing start|
|Monday, 06 August 2012 21:07|
THE National Toshaos Council Meeting 2012 got off to a refreshing start at the International Conference Centre, Liliendaal,Greater Georgetown, yesterday, where hundreds of Amerindians, joined by others offering their support converged for the opening of the five-day caucus.
The feature address was delivered by President Donald Ramotar who spoke on a wide range of issues affecting the lives of the Amerindian peoples and highlighted success stories of programmes and systems put in place by government to create a better life for them, with more in the pipeline for implementation soonest.
Others joining the 120 Toshaos; 38 Senior Councillors, 25 Community Development Officers and other key Amerindian stakeholders and entertainers, were: ministers of government; Members of Parliament and other senior government officials; members of the diplomatic corps and others.
Meanwhile, Amerindian Affairs Minister Ms. Pauline Sukhai, who also addressed the gathering, during which she spoke extensively on what is being done by government to ensure the well-being of Amerindians and protection of their rights.
Ms. Sukhai, on behalf of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, congratulated all the national Toshaos who have been elected to serve over the period 2012 -2015. She observed that this week’s engagement is a welcome activity, as Guyana is unique in its approach when it comes to addressing Amerindian issues.
According to the minister, the event presents the greatest level of participation and communication, while demonstrating the openness and accessibility of the government to the various segments of our population.
Ms. Sukhai acknowledged that the NTC executives have notably been busy over the last three years, achieving budgetary support, embarking on initial action to establish the NTCs Secretariat and addressing the ‘Opt in Mechanism’; capacity building and discharging other mandated functions on behalf of the Council.
Ms. Sukhai said that the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic government is on record as the only government in Guyana which has demonstrated the political will to fully address manifesto commitments made at election time, transforming the promises into programmes and projects to better the lives of hinterland and Amerindian populations within a framework of limited resources, thereby touching the lives of many across the hinterland and coastal expansive geographical spread, where its villages and communities are located.
She said that, efforts dedicated by this government to build on achievements with respect to the improvement in the social and infrastructural development across the hinterland, have today resulted in greater preparedness by villages to pursue the implementation of sustained economic activity.
According to Sukhai, focus will be placed on increased oversight on the implementation of the Presidential Grants project and the National Hinterland Programme. Meanwhile, the activities laid down in the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs Five-Year Strategic Plan 2011-2015, speaks to the completion of the titling and of the demarcation of lands, following which applications for extension of lands will be processed, according to the requirement of the Amerindian Act.
Meanwhile, the ministry is currently awaiting the ‘No Objection” for the GOG GRIFT- funded land titling and demarcation programme. Though initially faced with some setbacks, the project is now close to conclusion, even as the ministry is forced to respond to queries as to when lands are to be titled and demarcated.
Meanwhile, Chairperson of the National Toshaos Council (NTYC), Ms. Yvonne Pearson, who delivered the welcome and opening remarks, extended a special welcome to President Donald Ramotar, and had words of appreciation for the government for its support in running off the conference at this time, in the face of challenges, constraints and conflicts. She considered it a breath of fresh air that, regardless of what the situation might be, the Amerindians can find comfort in the knowledge and understanding that government is working in their best interests, and to protect their rights.
Ms. Pearson lauded the forum, noting that it allows indigenous leaders throughout the length and breadth of Guyana an opportunity to meet under one roof, to have discussions at the highest level. “We are here to build bridges, to narrow gaps, to raise our issues and to raise our concerns at the right forum,” she said, adding that the forum offered the opportunity for Toshaos to lay bare the issues affecting the development of their peoples. This she sees as being in consonance with the theme of this year’s conference: “Establishing Strategic Approaches and Alliances for Sustaining Amerindian Development”, adding, “We cannot establish anything unless they participate or speak out; if we are left in a corner, or if we stay in our various villages.”
And on the issue of Amerindian rights, Ms. Pearson denied stoutly, utterances in certain quarters that such rights are denied. She sought to put the record straight, by pointing to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Article 23 which states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their rights to development.”
In particular, she noted, the Declaration says that indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them, and as far as possible to administer such programmes through their own institutions.
In order for Amerindians to exercise the right vested in them through Article 23 of the UN Declaration, Ms. Pearson said, it is imperative that action be taken and the forum now being held, offers that opportunity. To this end, she saw the National Toshaos Council meeting, as being significant, rather timely, and offering the ideal opportunity for participation by the Amerindians, in matters of concern to them.
She expressed conviction that such a move constitutes recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples; giving them the opportunity to prioritise without being able to say that their rights are not respected.
“I want to say, this is the opportunity for us to participate, for us to bring to the highest level, issues - education, social, economic; for us to plan; to partner; for us to strengthen our relationships. This is the opportunity, [of having] all of our leaders under one roof – an opportunity that many indigenous people in the world don’t have,” Pearson affirmed.
And noting that much development has been realised through the years, the NTC Chair cautioned the Toshaos not to pat themselves on the back, and say “We have a right”. With the journey having started, she feels that there is place for them to negotiate, utilising at three specific avenues, namely: The Indigenous People’s Commission – a constitutionally recognised body now established; The National Toshaos Council and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
In concluding, Pearson urged the Toshaos and other Amerindian stakeholders, not to take this opportunity as just another walk, but to be serious and make good use of the opportunity presented them.
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