Our Land, Our Life
Participatory Land Tenure Assessment
REGION 8, GUYANA
Between 2015 and 2017 the Amerindian Peoples Association, in partnership with Rainforest Foundation - US and Forest Peoples Programme conducted a large scale participatory land tenure assessment of Amerindian (Indigenous) communities in Guyana's remote and rugged Region 8.
For decades, Guyanese Amerindian communities have lived with considerable uncertainty regarding the status, extent and security of their lands. The purpose of this effort was to clarify issues related to land security and identify steps that can be taken to improve security and livelihoods.
The full 144 page report can be found here, but this multimedia page will touch on some of the highlights of the report and connect you to the natural and cultural landscape of the Pakaraimas mountains.
Land and People
This study focused on the Patamona and Makushi people of the North Pakaraimas Mountains and Potaro River, which are located primarily in the western half of Guyana's Region 8, along the border with Brazil's Roraima state.
The rugged and mountainous landscape is characterized by two very distinct ecosystems. Dry tropical savanna occurs at elevations above ~1000ft in areas where ancient seabeds create a highly alkaline soil. Moist tropical forests occur in the lowland areas, as well as the many creases and pockets of the savanna where more arable soil can gather.
These two ecosystems set the stage for a unique cultural landscape where many villages are located in the dry savannas, while farming and hunting grounds are located in nearby tropical environments. This mixture of landscapes is key to understanding the livelihoods of amerindian communities in the region.
Amerindian people are documented living in Guyana for roughly 7,500 years. With evidence of occupation in the North Pakaraimas dating back at least 2,500 years. Due to the remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain, the first colonial records document contact with the indigenous people in the region in the 1800s.
Today, 15 villages in Region 8 have title to their lands. These titles, however, do not cover the full extent of their traditional or customary lands, leaving many large gaps where mining concessions have been granted, thereby threatening the integrity of their territory. The Land Tenure Assessment was intended to document those gaps, and to support efforts to recognize the full extent of Patamona and Macushi lands.
Community-based researchers conducted extensive fieldwork and interviews with elders, hunters, farmers, and other knowledge holders to generate rich and original information on the region. Visits to each community lasted severals days during which the research teams conducted interviews, community-wide discussions, participatory mapping exercises and groundtruthing of important sites.
Region 8, Guyana
STORY OF THE MORUWA VALLEY
The Moruwa valley is a special place for the Patamona and Makushi people of Region 8. It is a traditional hunting grounds used by thousands people from the North Pakaraimas and Potaro Region. Many Patamona and Makushi people walk several days from the high savannas down to the lush forests of Moruwa, where fish, game and craft materials are abundant.
These hunting parties, often multi-generation families, will spend several days catching and curing fish and other game in the Moruwa valley. When their backpacks are full, they will leave the valley with little trace that they visited.
Despite good hunting and abundant resources, the Patamona and Makushi people have only one community in the valley. They recognize that larger permanent villages in the valley would impact the quality of the hunting and diminish the value of this region for all the Amerindian communities of Region 8.
Unfortunately, the lack of large permanent communities in the valley has left it open in the eyes of miners, loggers and government officials. Mining operations from nearby Mahdia have crept into the fringes of the Moruwa Valley. Entrepreneurial mining companies have established mining up claims under the very land that the Patamona and Makushi depend on for for all traditional livelihoods activities.
in Region 8
in Region 8
Moruwa valley hunting,
fishing, gathering grounds
and sacred sites
in Region 8
Important use area for
in Region 8
If the Moruwa Valley is developed as a mining area, it will likely ruin the resources that many Patamona and Makushi Villages depend on for their livelihoods.
It is important to recognize that while there are few permanent settlements in the Moruwa Valley itself, it is a critical resource for people from many Amerindian villages.
The Moruwa Valley and two other regions with similar importance (Ayangana in the NW and Kuribrong in the NE) are currently being mapping by the North Pakaraimas District Council to develop a complete picture of how amerindians use these distant, yet critical resources. We hope that these maps, along with the Land Tenure Assessment can help inform better decisions about management and land security in the North Pakaraimas Mountains.
Out of the savanna,
and into the forest
These findings are discussed in detail in the report, what follows here is a summary of the most important issues related to land security for the Patamona and Makushi people of the North Pakaraimas.
- Residents in 14 of the 15 titled villages report that they depend on land outside their title for hunting, fishing, gathering and farming. This means that the titles that were granted fail to reflect actual use of the land, and are insufficient to sustain the livelihoods of the people.
- Clauses in title documents undermine the integrity of the land title. Notably, a 'save and except' clause allows the exclusion of third party private property or land lease interests within the title area. This means that while the land appears to be titled to Amerindians, the subsurface rights to the land may belong to mining or logging operations.
- 12 of the 14 demarcated Villages report flaws in their title demarcations. Many villages found that the titles they were granted did not match the descriptions of the land they understood to be theirs and did not match the actual location of the boundaries as marked on the ground. Demarcated boundaries were often much smaller than title descriptions. The fragmentation caused by flawed demarcation exercises is causing disputes between several villages with regard to tenure rights and control over resources that were previously shared.
- Communities divided by titles that don't recognize their collective territory. Patamona and Makushi people of Region 8 originally requested a large "one block" title, which reflects collective use of important resources and hunting areas, but this request was rejected by Amerindian Lands Commission in the 1960s. Many Villages and communities visited are dissatisfied with the way individual titles fragment what has historically been seen as one collective territory extending over the North Pakaraimas, Moruwa, Siparuni and the Potaro regions – an area for which their foreparents sought legal recognition.
- 14 of the 15 titled Villages say they were not consulted, and did not give their free, prior and informed consent to the area granted as title.
- 15 of the 18 communities visited report some sort of land and resource conflict with external parties on their titled and customary lands. Most of the issues relate to mining and logging and the rest to cattle ranching, shops on the communities' land and Kaieteur and Iwokrama protected areas;
- Bullying, violence and human abuses by miners are reported, particularly close to large mining areas such as Mahdia, Echerak and Wailang.
"While many Amerindian villages in Region 8 do possess land titles, those titles are nearly all flawed, weak or insufficient to protect residents from encroaching threats."
Mining in Guyana can
Revise the relevant laws (e.g. Amerindian Act, Mining Act and Forest Act) to bring them in line with international human rights standards and ensure that they provide for a) recognition of Indigenous collective territories, b) the rights of indigenous communities to the natural resources on their land, including waterways and subsoil resources and c) the rights of Indigenous communities to say yes or no to any kind of mining on their land, including large scale operations;
Avoid overlaps between communities' individual titles, by ensuring that the revision of the Amerindian Act, and its amended regulations, include requirements to consult with communities on titling, demarcation and extension matters and obtain their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) before any areas are decided upon;
Cancel logging and mining concessions that have been allocated on Amerindian titled and untitled customary lands without the communities’ FPIC;
Crack down on illegal mining and forestry activities on titled and untitled customary land;
Stop allocating new mining and logging concession on titled land and customary lands (including lands earmarked for extension). No allocation must be done without first obtaining communities’ FPIC;
Correct flaws in Village demarcations and make sure residents are fully involved in this process as they are the ones who best know the land;
Speed up processing and implementing the Village land title and extension applications that communities have submitted to date, to ensure their land security until a collective Patamona and Makushi territory is legally recognised by the State of Guyana;
Build capacity of government officials to understand Indigenous peoples’ land rights, and related standards like FPIC;
Review and revise Guyana national park policies to adopt a human rights-based approach, including through consultation and engagement with Patamona Villages affected by Kaieteur National Park. The communities do not recognise the extended boundaries of the Kaieteur National Park and have called for a reduction to the 1929 boundaries or for the boundaries to be cancelled altogether;
Recognise and strengthen the North Pakaraimas District Council (NPDC) by gazetting this body and starting formal discussions on land rights matters and proposals from indigenous communities to improve their tenure security.
Recognise and support the NPDC’s right to self-determination in developing their Indigenous peoples’ action plan for the region.