There is no doubt that Guyana’s indigenous peoples have experienced numerous improvements in the quality of life they live. Efforts are currently being made by the administration and a few non-governmental organizations to provide the necessary support to assist in sustaining the livelihoods of Amerindian communities. This has indeed been one of the main challenges indigenous peoples face on a daily basis.
The National Secure Livelihood Programme, a government initiative carried out in collaboration with Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) International, is a fine example of how the government and NGOs can collaborate in ensuring improvements in the living standards of Amerindians. This project is aimed at addressing the challenges of economic development in Amerindian villages and hinterland communities. The authorities have said that this initiative does not only seek to expand production of the locally-grown produce, but it also addresses processing of value-added products. One project that is expected to come on stream as a result of this initiative is the Crab Fattening Processing Plant, for which it is hoped the facility will enable the processing and preservation of frozen crab meat.
It has been noted that there are several other comparable initiatives geared towards providing a better life for Amerindians in Guyana. These include a presidential grant, which is a monetary award allocated to Amerindian communities to help them establish income-generating projects to advance their growth and development.
Further, Guyana will soon begin to enjoy the numerous opportunities that will inevitably flow from implementation of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), and it should be mentioned that the authorities have decided that our Amerindian brothers and sisters will be the first to benefit from the returns of implementing this strategy. US$8 million (Gy$1.6 billion) of the first tranche of the money released by the Norwegian government for the LCDS will be spent on Amerindian development. It is expected that this money will go towards expediting the complicated and expensive process of land demarcation of hinterland villages, and ensuring that every Amerindian household has a solar panel to satisfy their electricity demands.
However, while these are all laudable interventions that have no doubt helped in improving the lives of the Amerindian people, there are still a few issues affecting Amerindian development that need to be tackled by all the relevant stakeholders. Among these are claims of exploitation. In particular, there have been several allegations of mistreatment of Amerindian females by their employers. Not so long ago, there were complaints that one Amerindian girl had been forced to engage in sexual activities with her employer. Amerindians, particularly girls working as domestic helpers, are too frequently underpaid and harassed at their work places. This may be so because most of them do not have the necessary skills and qualifications to seek employment in other areas, hence they take on domestic jobs because these are the kind of jobs that are readily available. No doubt, this exploitation will continue until they are in a position to choose better jobs, or until they have access to better opportunities, such as setting up small businesses – sewing, cosmetology, catering and so on.
Through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Ministry of Labour, the government has been very proactive in investigating complaints against Amerindians, but there is still much work to be done if this problem is to be fully dealt with. It is clear that agencies such as government ministries (Labour and Amerindian Affairs) and NGOs representing Amerindians need to collaborate more and deal with this and similar challenges facing indigenous peoples. There is certainly need for more monitoring of the welfare of Amerindian people in terms of conducting routine checks in workshops, homes, bars, restaurants, factories, and so on, to ensure that the labour laws are adhered to, and that Amerindians understand what their rights are in the workplace. They must also be encouraged to make complaints when they feel that their rights have been breached. Similarly, all efforts must be made to fully investigate their complaints to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.
Finally, the Indigenous Peoples Commission (IPC) also has a role to play. This constitutional body was created to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people, raise awareness of their contributions and the problems they face, and make recommendations on economic and educational policies to further their interests. This commission should therefore treat as a matter of priority its mandate to examine and investigate the employment situation of Amerindians, specifically in relation to claims of exploitation.