14 October 2005

5 Amerindian Communities get Land Titles in Guyana

Five Amerindian communities get land titles -Orealla's area extended

Friday, September 23rd 2005

Five Amerindian communities were on Thursday presented with land titles.

The land grants were made to Weruni (located on the Berbice River), Malali, Muritaro and Great Falls (on the Demerara River) and Orealla (which is on the Corentyne River) at a ceremony at the Office of the President (OP). President Bharrat Jagdeo handed over the titles to the village Toshaos and Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues described the occasion as "a positive step in the road of Amerindian development" and "a tangible demonstration of the commitment of the government to resolve Amerindian land issues."

According to her, many of the communities have recognized that the only way forward is to work together with the government and she noted that a number of them came forward in order to advance the process under the PPP/C Government's policy. She said this policy was observed in the granting of the titles, particularly for the Region 10 communities. Orealla, which has been extended as a result of the grant, is in Region Six.

The policy is a two-step process involving the demarcation of lands that are already titled and, secondly, addressing extensions of titled lands and titling of untitled communities.

Rodrigues said government has adopted an approach to move to the second stage after all titled communities in a sub-region have been demarcated, since more than one community may be claiming the same area of land as has happened in some instances. She noted that demarcation is necessary because although communities were granted legal ownership of lands in 1976 and 1991 these lands were never surveyed. As a result, she said this has seen encroachment by miners, loggers and others, in the absence of clear boundaries and as a result the communities cannot enforce their laws.

Additionally, Rodrigues said that in several cases descriptions that are listed in the Amerindian Act do not match the reality on the ground. To illustrate her point she cited some communities that are located totally out of the legally recognized areas. She said they have been there since before the titles were issued, indicating that mistakes were made. She said some others have the wrong creek names.

Minister Rodrigues noted that the process of granting titles to the four untitled communities began more than two years ago. She said that with the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission and the communities, a situational analysis was conducted on seven communities with a specific focus on land use. These were Kimbia, Sandhills, Riversview, Weruni, Muritaro, Great Falls, Malali and River's View. However, after consideration only four were then invited to submit their requests for lands and these areas were mapped and other stakeholders were identified. She said these included persons who had transports to plots of land within the areas requested and also mining and logging concessionaires. She also noted that while Great Falls was mentioned in the Lands Commission Report of 1969, according to the report no request was received from the community that numbered approximately 50 Akawaio persons back then.

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the Guyana Forestry Commission were consulted and through negotiations with all of these stakeholders a final decision was arrived at. Rodrigues said although the titles are now being issued, the communities were managing the lands as any other titled community since early 2004.

She mentioned that the process involved some concessionaires relinquishing land so that the communities could receive their titles, while in others she said it was agreed to have them continue work with fees being paid to the Village Council. She added that to ensure adherence to the Constitution, transported plots of land, which are owned by individuals, have been saved.

With respect to Orealla, the Minister said it was the first community to be surveyed in 1991. However, in early 2003, the Orealla Village Council made a report to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs that a logging concession was granted by the Guyana Forestry Commission on their titled village lands. She said checks with Lands and Surveys and the Forestry Commission found a number of discrepancies. Among these was the fact that the area surveyed and represented on the Map and State Lands Grant that was presented to the community, includes two tracts of land titled "Tract A" and "Tract B." However, Tract A is not described in the Amerindian Act, while Tract B includes the area described in the Act and an additional portion of land. It was also discovered that the Grant presented by then President Desmond Hoyte to the community was not signed. As such, she said legally the community had no ownership of the lands that were demarcated, except that part described in the Amerindian Act.

She said the matter was considered at Cabinet and approval was subsequently granted. The total area of Orealla will now be 266 square miles, while the total area of land that will be received by the five communities, whose combined population is approximately 1500 persons, is approximately 601.5 square miles (Muritaro 102, Malali, 95, Great Falls 31.6, Weruni 107, Orealla 266 square miles).

The Minister urged the villages to exercise good judgment in managing their lands, saying it must benefit not only those who are here now but future generations as well.

"As you are aware, your close proximity to markets makes you prime targets for logging ventures. Please ensure that you make agreements that will benefit your communities now and in the future," she told the Toshaos who were present. (Andre Haynes)

Fergus MacKay
Coordinator, Legal and Human Rights Programme
Forest Peoples Programme
Ph/Fax: 31-20-419-1746

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