Region 8 Amerindian Toshaos, village councillors and villagers have successfully completed an intensive four (4) day legal training programme. The training was delivered by the Justice Institute of Guyana and funded by the European Union under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. The training was extremely well attended with delegates participating from Bamboo Creek, Chiung Mouth, Itabac, Kaibarupai, Kamana, Kanapang, Kopinang, Kurukubaru, Monkey Mountain, Orinduik, Paramakatoi, Taruka, Tussaneng and Waipa as well as from the host village of Kato.

Picture shows the view from the centre of Kato looking north to Kowa Mountain.

The focus of the training was the legal rights of Amerindian communities as protected by the Amerindian Act 2006. Training modules covered good governance, land rights, mining and control of Amerindian lands. The training began with an explanation of the rule of law and the role and functions of government. In this context participants discussed the importance of building good relationships with national government, regional officials and State agencies such as the Police, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the Guyana Forestry Commission. They also stressed the need to develop united and informed communities.

A participant handing in his assessment.

The training sessions on land rights included explanations of State land and private land and the legal elements that make up Amerindian land title. Participants were given a detailed explanation of the procedure for claiming Amerindian ownership of lands that are now legally held by the State including the importance of Amerindian culture and the spiritual relationship which Amerindians have with the land.

The discussion on land touched briefly on native/aboriginal title in other commonwealth countries. Many participants were surprised to learn that in Canada, Indian tribes who claim ownership have to show that they were occupying that area of land when the British asserted sovereignty over it. In contrast, under the Amerindian Act 2006, an Amerindian community can claim land on the basis that the community has existed for 25 years. Some participants asserted that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) protected their land rights. They were surprised to learn that the UNDRIP is a political statement not a treaty under international law and does not give them any legal rights against the Government of Guyana. However participants were encouraged as part of the training to become familiar with the UNDRIP and to use it as a standard by which to assess national laws.

During the training participants raised a number of problems that they faced as communities. Some complained that Brazilians were coming into Guyana without going through any immigration or police checks and were entering their titled lands without permission. Other participants complained of illegal mining on their titled land. During the discussion on governance many communities raised concerns about the lack of training for Toshaos and village councillors on their legal responsibilities. A key concern was the lack of training for Toshaos on their powers and duties as rural constables.

Training was delivered through lectures, class work and group discussions. For some sessions there was translation into Patamona. Participants demonstrated what they had learned through skits and through problem solving exercises based on real situations. Participants were also interviewed individually to check what they had learned and to test their understanding.

Toshao Adolton Lewis (Kanapang) and his group consider how to use the Amerindian Act 2006 to deal with illegal mining in Amerindian land.

Toshaos, councillors and villagers expressed their satisfaction with the training. In their written evaluations of the training many Toshaos said that they had learned how to serve their communities better and how to be better Toshaos. Others said that the most important thing they had learned was how much control they had over their lands legally as a result of their land titles.

Toshao Maxwell Andrew of Kato, the host village said, “The result of the workshop was successful. I believe all the leaders have learned something about the Amerindian Act and we have to use it. It is our Act.” The training was conducted by Melinda Janki LLB (London), BCL (Oxford), LLM (London), international lawyer, solicitor (England), attorney-at-law (Guyana) and Director of the Justice Institute of Guyana.

In commenting on the training Melinda Janki said that, “Most of the participants had very limited schooling. In some cases they had only primary education. Yet in four short days, these delegates from communities all over Region 8, were able to understand and apply complex legal concepts to solve some quite difficult problems. It was a joy to teach them and I think they enjoyed it. It is very encouraging that virtually everybody asked for follow up training. The Justice Institute will do its best to meet the requests from these Amerindian leaders and communities.”

The training was held from Monday 7 to Thursday 11 November. Additional funding was provided by the Justice Institute of Guyana. The host community of Kato also made a contribution in kind.

The Justice Institute thanks Mr Gerald Rodrigues the AREO for help with communications. The Justice Institute also thanks Mr Ronald Thomas, the Community Development Officer from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, for his advice and assistance which helped to make the training sessions such a success. Special thanks are also due to Toshao Maxwell Andrew, Deputy Toshao Sergio Fredericks, Treasurer Rickford Baldinvick and the other members of the Village Council.

The Justice Institute designed the training programme with the advice of the Executive Committee of the National Toshaos Council. The Executive Committee selected Kato as the location for this training.

Melinda Janki
For further information please contact:
Justice Institute of Guyana Tel: 231 7996 or Melinda Janki Tel: 641 4533.