Saturday, June 09, 2007

Amerindians in Guyanese Literature

The blog of the Voice of Guyana International has a very engaging article by Jeremy Poynting on Guyanese literature, that is worth spending time reading if you are unfamiliar with Guyanese literature and wonder how Amerindians in Guyana have figured in that literature. In one of the passages of particular relevance to literary treatments of the Amerindian presence, Poynting explains:

"In comparison to the despair sometimes aroused by the African-Indian impasse, the Amerindian presence has been altogether more leavening feature in Guyanese writing. Although, until recently, a socially and politically marginalized minority, the most impoverished and oppressed section of the population, the Amerindians have become both a politically significant broker group, and culturally iconic. Although Amerindian culture has made transforming adaptions to both colonial and missionary pressures, and to the attractions of ‘modernisation’, the Amerindian presence offers all Guyanese, symbolically at least, a sense of indigenous geographic connection and cultural continuities that predate colonialism. These connections are to be found most expressly in Guyanese imaginative writing. The work of Wilson Harris is clearly most influential in this respect, in The Sleepers of Roraima: A Carib Trilogy (Faber, 1970), Age of the Rainmakers (Faber, 1971) Companions of the Day and Night (Faber, 1975), and there are also Jan Carew’s short stories (see ‘The Coming of Amilivaca’) and Pauline Melville’s more representational fiction, The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997). (So far the only published imaginative literature written by an Amerindian that I know of is David Campbell’s Through Arawak Eyes.) In Andrew Jefferson-Miles Harrisian The Timehrian, two Amerindian mythical figures play a key role in the narrative: the God Amalivacar who rescues the narrator from the trauma of being stricken dumb, and the vision of the timehr, the painted child of Amerindian legend, who prompts the narrator to the need to tell his story and recover the world of those by-passed by history. In Denise Harris’s In Remembrance of Her, Amerindian images play a similarly iconic role."

More information on some of the publications listed above can be found on the website of the Guyanese book publisher, Peepal Tree Press.

Canada, the UN, and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In a previous posting on this blog for June 20, 2006, we related news of the Canadian government's opposition to the United Nations' Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, opposition that has become more marked since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister after the Conservatives came to power in the 2006 elections. While his government's opposition to the Declaration has therefore been known for some time, in this past week a fair amount of controversy has been brewing in both the Canadian parliament and in international media coverage. The Draft Declaration, if it had been supported by Canada, would not have acted as binding legislation. The current, renewed debate seems to stem from the recently concluded assembly of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues at the UN, as well as discussions in Canada about bringing aboriginal peoples under national human rights legislation.

In some of the leading news about Canada's position this past week, some newspapers have reported that Australian Prime Minister John Howard may have inspired Canada's Stephen Harper to oppose the UN declaration. In
The Globe and Mail for Saturday, June 9, 2007, a story by Gloria Galloway titled, "Did Australia Demand Reversal on Natives?" states: "Canada's decision to withdraw support for the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples coincided with a visit to Ottawa by Prime Minister John Howard of Australia — a country that strongly opposes the declaration. Shortly after Mr. Howard's meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in May, 2006, Mr. Harper called Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to tell him to review Canada's position of support, government sources said Friday." While a spokeswoman for PM Harper denied this, the reporter insists "the sources were clear that there was a direct link between the visit of the Australian Prime Minister and the change in policy." It is important to note that previous Canadian governments had in fact played a role in drafting the UN declaration.

The link between Howard and Harper was first claimed in an Australian press report in late May. In Melbourne's
The Age newspaper, Russell Skelton's "Australia 'blocked UN native rights declaration'" said that Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, "claimed Australia had played a role in persuading Canada, which had initially supported the declaration, to oppose the landmark statement."

Amnesty International has also called attention to the turnaround in Canadian policy under Harper's administration (see:, "Canada blocking UN Aboriginal rights: Amnesty"). Amnesty further revealed that staff in three Departments of the Canadian state urged the Harper government to approve the declaration. The staff work in the Departments of Defence, Indian and Northern Affairs, and Foreign Affairs. This was also reported by Gloria Galloway on June 8, 2007, in The Globe and Mail: "Back UN on native rights, Ottawa urged--Bureaucracy at odds with PM's position, documents show."

The future of the Draft Declaration at the UN seems in doubt, as one might expect where the rights of indigenous peoples are contingent upon the good faith of one of the leading institutions responsible for indigenous marginalization: the nation-state. States and not peoples are the members of the UN. While public opinion at home might encourage states to adopt declarations that could limit state sovereignty, it seems that public opinion is very confused. In Canada, feedback to press reports show that while many support approval of the declaration, an almost equal number of respondents feel that Aboriginals are already protected under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which is not the case), or that allocating rights on the basis of "race" is racist, or that the United Nations should not "dictate" policy to Canadians, or that the Draft Declaration entails such stark provisions as allowing foreign troops to be based in Canada if invited by First Nations reserves to do so.

Friday, June 08, 2007

SERVINDI: Indigenous News Website from "Latin" America

SERVINDI is an indigenous news website that is mostly in Spanish. Servindi provides the following description of itself, its mission and goals:

SERVINDI es un grupo de trabajo voluntario formado por personas convencidas en que el destino de la humanidad y del planeta está en serio riesgo, debido a las tendencias dominantes de la globalización; que han abierto una brecha entre los seres humanos y la naturaleza, conduciéndonos hacia la autodestrucción.

Frente a este dilema, nos identificamos con los pueblos indígenas y nos sentimos comprometidos para que desarrollen un protagonismo cada vez mayor, capaz de reorientar a la humanidad a recuperar la armonía perdida entre los seres humanos y la naturaleza; además de conservar, revalorar y enriquecer la diversidad cultural y espiritual del mundo.

Para cumplir dicho fin, SERVINDI está organizado como una asociación civil sin fines de lucro para brindar un servicio de información y comunicación intercultural con la finalidad de que la sociedad nacional e internacional tenga una mejor comprensión sobre la realidad, necesidades y aspiraciones de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas.

SERVINDI desarrolla un servicio informativo independiente, que refleja una opinión crítica y reflexiva. Edita desde hace cuatro años un boletín electrónico que proporciona una selección de artículos sobre temas indígenas y ecológicos.

Con la presentación de nuestro manual: Los Pueblos Indígenas, el ALCA y los TLC - Manual de Capacitación, ampliamos nuestra labor a la edición de materiales pedagógicos. Creemos imprescindible desarrollar esta nueva faceta, especialmente, en temas que no están suficientemente atendidos por las propias organizaciones. Hemos editado un segundo manual titulado: Interculturalidad: Desafío y proceso en construcción, y estamos preparando una tercera publicación dedicada al tema: Comunicación para organizaciones indígenas.

No está demás, aclarar que las ediciones de SERVINDI son de exclusiva responsabilidad de sus editores y no compromete la opinión de ninguna organización indígena, local, nacional o internacional.

Es importante manifestar que para SERVINDI, la educación, la comunicación y la información constituyen procesos dinámicos e interactivos permanentes, en los que el aprendizaje y la enseñanza son recíprocos entre las partes.

Finalmente, somos conscientes de nuestro modesto rol de apoyo y de acompañamiento. Aspiramos contribuir a la unidad, al fortalecimiento y al respeto de los pueblos indígenas y sus organizaciones representativas, sin animo de desplazarlas, sino por al contrario, alentando su protagonismo.

Guyana: APA & GOIP respond to Persaud on Barama Controversy

From the Stabroek News, Georgetown, Guyana:

Who did Mr Peter Persaud really represent?
Thursday, June 7th 2007

Dear Editor,

I refer to a letter captioned, "These groups are wrong to call on Barama to cease operations in Akawini village lands" (07.05.28) by Peter Persaud of The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana.

First of all the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP) are not surprised that Mr. Persaud did not have the guts to personally confront the two organisations with his opinions when he had ample opportunities to do so. He is only following his modus operandi of seeking to cast blame on others while trying to make himself look good. An opportunity for Mr. Persaud to clear the air had presented itself when two senior members of the APA had asked him about his alleged connections with the Barama Co. based on questions that arose from among the Akawini community about what appeared to be his representation of the company and not the community's interest in the Barama issue. He had denied any connections with the company.

In his earlier meetings with the team that met with the Akawini community, Mr. Persaud had claimed that he was the "indigenous representative" in the discussions even though it is not clear who had appointed him as such a representative.

There was another opportunity for Mr. Persaud to state his opinions when he travelled for two days in the company of two senior members of the APA and GOIP on the recent Barama-led tour of its operations in Buckhall and to the Akawini village. All along none of the two persons knew that Mr. Persaud harboured such opinions of the organizations and that a letter was already in the press. Nonetheless his position is not difficult to understand as it was clear during the trip that he was very familiar with the Barama officials and vice versa. We cannot say the same for his closeness with the Akawini council which he claims to represent and wonder what it took for him to finally clear the air on where his allegiances lie. We trust that the wider indigenous community takes note of this.

Just to clarify for Mr. Persaud, the opinions of the APA and GOIP are based on how Barama chose to operate in the Akawini community rather than on what any "critic" may have said about the company. If Mr. Persaud had truly been representing the community, surely he would have supported them as well. He should now tell the public what was his role as a so called "indigenous representative" which resulted in an unconscionable agreement signed between Akawini and the Interior Woods Products Inc in which the community only stood to lose. Mr Persaud had said that he had never seen the contract yet he had made several visits to Akawini, one clearly on behalf of Barama, to try to convince the Toshao that he should meet with Mr. Lalaram for a one-to-one discussion to try to sort out the problems being encountered. How could Mr Persaud not have asked to see the contract when this was the main source of the problem for the community? This further raises questions about this ability to represent an issue, given his admission that he has never seen the contract.

Mr Persaud questions the representation by our organizations but we urge him to tell us when last his "organization" held an assembly of its members to elect an executive body, where is his constitution that guides the operations of his "organization", and what is his membership like? It appears that Mr. Persaud is "president for life" or otherwise he is the epitome of leadership in his "organization" and cannot be replaced.

Mr. Editor, it has never been the policy of our organizations to raise matters like these in the public but we feel compelled to respond to Mr. Persaud's baseless accusations as others may go on to believe his ravings. We know that he will continue to use the press to spread his groundless statements, or perhaps even use a pen name to spread his misrepresentations but we do not wish to continue anything in public, not because we have anything to hide or are not proud of the work of our organizations but because we simply do not feel that cheap politicking and accusations will get us anywhere.

Yours faithfully,

Tony James

President APA [Amerindian Peoples's Association]

Alan Leow

Chief, GOIP [Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples]

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Aboriginals in Australia: Still the Worst Off

Aborigines still Australia's worst-off: report

By Rob Taylor
Friday, June 1, 2007

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Aborigines are 13 times more likely than other Australians to go to prison, with poverty, unemployment and poor education behind a sharp jump in the number of indigenous jailings, a report said on Friday.

The rate of Aboriginal jailings rose 32 percent in the six years to 2006, while black youths were 23 times more likely to be detained after a brush with police and the courts, a government study of Aboriginal disadvantage said.

"Indigenous people are highly over-represented in the criminal justice system, as both young people and adults," said the report, the third in a series.

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the country's 20 million population. They are consistently the nation's most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.

The report said wages for Aborigines had risen over the last decade and unemployment had halved. But median household incomes for Aborigines were still around half the level of other Australians and their life expectancy lagged by 17 years.

"If we are going to close the gap in life expectancy we will have to address the overcrowded housing and of course give young people the opportunity to get a job," opposition lawmaker Jenny Macklin told local radio.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said the report showed some encouraging signs and blamed an indigenous-run state agency -- axed by the government two years ago -- for many of the failings, as well Aborigines themselves.

"Let's be honest with ourselves and say a lot of this comes down to personal responsibility and people being responsible for their drug and alcohol behavior, the abuse they inflict on others," Brough told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government has often clashed with Aboriginal leaders, favoring practical measures such as better access to health and education.

Howard has repeatedly refused to apologize for past racial injustices suffered by the Aborigines.

Indigenous doctor Marlene Kong this week said Aboriginal Australians lived in "fourth-world" conditions and called for international aid agencies to step in, warning decades of government help had failed to overcome problems.

"It's been a critical situation for 30 years, and something needs to be done," the former Doctors Without Borders medic told New Scientist magazine.

"Infant and maternal mortality, two of the most important indicators of a population's health, are at least three times higher than for non-indigenous people, and getting worse."

Suriname: "New" Species Already Endangered

From the Associated Press, June 5 2007, an article on the "discovery" (one can be sure that the species are not new to the indigenous peoples of the area) of previously undocumented species of frog and insects in eastern Suriname. Having just been found by surveyors, they are almost immediately at risk, especially as the survey was done for mining companies, one of which, BHP is an Australian transnational corporation, with a woeful record of environmental destruction. Amerindians and Maroons of Suriname's interior, as the article notes, already suffer from poisonous contamination from mining, so the prospects for this "new" frog do not look too good.


PARAMARIBO Suriname - A frog with fluorescent purple markings and 12 kinds of dung beetles were among two dozen new species discovered in the remote plateaus of eastern Suriname, scientists said Monday.

The expedition was sponsored by two mining companies hoping to excavate the area for bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum, and it was unknown how the findings would affect their plans.

Scientists discovered the species during a 2005 expedition led by the U.S.-based nonprofit Conservation International in rainforests and swamps about 80 miles southeast of Paramaribo, the capital of the South American country, organization spokesman Tom Cohen said.

Among the species found were the atelopus frog, which has distinctive purple markings; six types of fish; 12 dung beetles, and one ant species, he said.

The scientists called for better conservation management in the unprotected, state-owned areas, where hunting and small-scale illegal mining is common.

The study was financed by Suriname Aluminum Company LLC and BHP Billiton Maatschappij Suriname. Suriname Aluminum, which has a government concession to explore gold in the area, will include the data in its environmental assessment study, said Haydi Berrenstein, a Conservation International official in Suriname, which borders Brazil, Guyana and French Guiana.

About 80 percent of Suriname is covered with dense rainforest. Thousands of Brazilians and Surinamese are believed to work in illegal gold mining, creating mercury pollution that has threatened the health of Amerindians and Maroons in Suriname's interior.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Good Company

Thank you for the warm welcome and the invitation to join the CAC Review. I am grateful for your work. I thank all our ancestors for guiding us to each other.

I almost am not sure where to begin. But I guess as good a place to start as any is in my own back yard. I live on the island known as The Land of the Hummingbird. And there are many hummingbirds indeed. My island is beautiful but unfortunately much of its beauty remains undiscovered by many of the people who live here. For some the forest remains a place of mystery and danger, while it has been a place of reawakening for others.

Discovery. Now there’s a word that has caused trouble for us all. But perhaps the bigger problem lies in the question of who discovered what. And when.

On this Land of the Hummingbird, while the frogs and crickets sing a warm welcome to the rain and praises to the full moon, we are re-finding, redefining and refining our space. My people of the Santa Rosa Carib community who grew together as one tribe, have just about lost their young. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers, a few grandfathers, are the only ones bothered to come to gatherings.

My own great aunt is the Carib Queen. I decided against writing "reigning" there. I could not write it because it feels like she has no power at all. Her people sometimes don’t bother turning up. Sometimes her people have other appointments. Sometimes her people are surviving.

More in the days to come on survival.