September 28, 2016

Other forsaken principles of indigenous rights

In 2014, the United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) produced an Outcome Document translating the commitment of member States to continue to protect and promote indigenous peoples’ rights, reinforcing thus the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The change in Government in 2015 was marked by a symbolic shift in leadership style, more focused on expending resources on beautification, visual effects and hand-outs, rather than long-term investments. The State systematically nips at the social benefits of the more vulnerable classes, while augmenting public service taxes and fees for practically every active person in society. The country’s largest annual budget has so far disappeared in initiatives of which the poorer classes on the coast and in the Hinterland are indifferent, since they do not counter the incessant economic decline, forcing those at the bottom into peril as uncertainty continues to define their future.
This dangerous methodology cultivates neither economic development, nor trust between the State and the people. On the contrary, trust is being slowly dissolved, as people are becoming more concerned about their future rather than with ephemeral hand-outs which add little value to their long-term development. In addition to FPIC, quality and sustainability have become the forsaken principles under this regime.
But when the State fails to prioritize quality service to indigenous peoples, provisions of the international framework are breached. Such is the case with the Outcome Document of the WCIP.
Paragraph 11 of the document cites “social programmes” for indigenous peoples designed “to improve well-being through initiatives, policies and provision of resources”. This includes “access to high-quality education” as well as to “health”. Under the previous Government, it was common policy that Amerindian patients travelling to seek medical attention on the coast were reimbursed for their travel expenses. However, this is no longer an imperative. In Region 9, home to the Wapishana, Wai Wai and Makusi, the Regional Executive Officer (REO) Carl Parker, has issued an official notice to all Village Councils banning this practice for Amerindians patients and school children coming to Lethem.
School children are also affected by the removal of the $10 000 back to school voucher which provided significant financial assistance to parents. While the intention of the “3 Bs” initiative might be noble, it has not yet benefitted three quarters of Amerindian villages. As such, access to education is being reduced.
Paragraph 14 reinforces commitment to ensuring the cultural preservation of indigenous peoples for the benefit of their children. The Arawak Language Revival programme launched in 2013, can be interpreted as a significant step towards achieving similar motives. Plans to expand the initiative to include other languages such as Warrou were underway, despite that the Projects Department responsible for its implementation under the former Amerindian Affairs Ministry was dragging its feet on the matter, in an almost nonchalant expression of indifference. Before the new administration took over, the Arawak programme was in dire state due to neglect. More troubling is that no mention of culture preservation was made by the two new Ministers during their 2016 budget presentations and debate. The Arawak programme appears to have been discarded by the Government despite that cultural particularities are what define Amerindian peoples.
Paragraph 15 speaks to the “empowerment and capacity-building of indigenous youth”, and “their full participation in decision-making processes in matters that affect them”. The Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP) launched in 2014, was a notable step to achieving this objective. It provided employment opportunities for 1972 young Amerindians, capacity building opportunities and access to decision-making within their communities, as they worked closely with Village Councils and Community Development Officers (CDOs). They were disintegrated from the programme by the Allicock administration without prior notice or engagement in the decision-making process which would affect their future. A similar project, the HEYS, was perhaps intended to replace the YEAP. However, it has only benefitted some in Region 8, without offering opportunities for the 1972 Amerindians deprived of income and self-development.
These few examples highlight either the coalition’s disregard for established indigenous rights guidelines, or its limited knowledge and experience in implementing them. We might never know how exactly the Government channels resources into Amerindian development and what sectors are being prioritized and why, considering that the 2016 indigenous affairs budget was not allowed to be substantially examined. Subsequently, we can only rely on dubious policies which take with one hand the double of what it gives with the other.

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