Indigenous Peoples’ land angst

first_imgWhether it was serendipitous or planned, the presentation by the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA) of the report titled “Ina Nono, Ina Uko’manto’ Eina Pata, Eina Komantok”, or “Our Land, Our Life”, which investigated the status of the land titling programme for Indigenous Peoples’land, was a salutary preface to Amerindian Heritage Month.The Report highlighted widespread dissatisfaction with the current land tenure situation. It concluded: “Almost all of the flaws in Guyanese laws and policies relating to Indigenous land tenure stem from the fundamental problem that the Government does not fully recognise the customary tenure systems of Indigenous peoples, and the rights that arise therefrom.”In Guyana, this Government has questioned the very legitimacy of the Indigenous Peoples’ claim to their land by linking it to the claims of other groups when they launched a “Joint Land Commission” two years ago. However, President Granger had to acknowledge that Indigenous Peoples had occupied their lands from “time immemorial” and held it as “sacred”. Their claims rests on inviolable legal principles.Back in 1965, Amerindian MP Stephen Campbell attended the Independence Conference in London along with Burnham and the PNC, and ensured the official Agreement for the Independence of Guyana, (Annex C) required the independent government 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 the 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.”Most Guyanese would now baulk at the ridiculous claim of Columbus “discovering” the “New World”, and so entering the ranks of humanity upon contact with Europeans. But they do not follow through with the equally ridiculous corollary of Europeans going on to assume “sovereignty” over the lands occupied by the Indigenous Peoples living there. At the time of Columbus’s unfortunate voyage, the fledgling developing International Law postulated, on natural-law grounds, that its concepts such as “sovereignty” were based upon reason and applied to all peoples, be they European or not. This was explicitly stated, for instance, in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which launched the modern state system.But during the period of empire-building, all sorts of “legal” reasons, doctrines and norms were conjured up to justify their violent land grab. We now had a distinction between “civilised” and “non-civilised” states in the shift to what was dubbed “positivist” International Law, where concepts such as “sovereignty” only applied to the “civilised family of nations”. Fine distinctions were now made in the manner in which territories were acquired, such as ‘conquest’ and ‘cession by treaty’.But even under positivist- based International Law, the “full and free ownership” of land by the Dutch and their British successors (“possessors de facto of the soil” and of “usufructuary rights”) acknowledged the right of the Indigenous Peoples to their land. It is encouraging that new, rights-based modern norms of justice – led by the judiciary in Australia and South Africa, for instance – are evolving to amend the inequities imposed by the positivistic stance of European jurisprudence.But here in Guyana, there are some in the PNC camp who would want to turn back the clock on righting the wrong that has been done to our Indigenous Peoples, by not acknowledging their right to their lands.As soon as the new government was ushered in, they dismantled the land titling team that had been working through UNDP funding to demarcate and give titles to all Amerindian lands. After four desultory years, now with elections in sight and with an eye on the critical vote of Indigenous Peoples, the Government has tied down an extension of the “Amerindian Land Titling and Demarcation” project into 2021.But “dew can’t full what rain didn’t fill” on ALTD.last_img read more