With the investigation into Indigenous land rights being put on hold, Government is moving ahead with the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into ancestral lands, and has begun inviting members of the public to start indicating their interest in participating by submitting matters for consideration.
The first round of the public hearings will begin on August 21. During that segment, the CoI will hear matters relating to ancestral lands and other land issues. Groups and individuals interested in submitting matters for consideration have until today to do so.
President David Granger had in March of this year established a CoI under the Commission of Inquiry Act, to examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues, and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and any matters relating to land titling in Guyana.
The Commission will be headed by Reverend Oswald Peter Chuck-A-Sang, and will include other members such as Paulette Henry, David James, Carol Khan, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb and Berlinda Persaud.
According to the official Gazette, prior to Guyana gaining independence in 1966, several ordinances and declarations were passed by the colonial Administration related to the definition of lands, including those of 1902, post-1904 and 1910. After gaining independence, several efforts aimed at resolving ancestral land right issues were undertaken.
In particular, an official investigation through a Commission known as the Amerindian Lands Commission (ALC) was established in 1967. Subsequently, in 1976, the 1951 the Amerindian Act was amended to provide for the granting of titles to Amerindian communities. The outcome of the initial, as well as current titling, efforts did not provide closure on issues of Amerindian land claims. For various reasons, many of these issues remain unresolved to date.
Meanwhile, the status of lands that were purchased by the freed Africans around and after 1839, and formed the first villages in Guyana, have not been accessible to their descendants for various reasons.
Lands, which were acquired by freed Africans and were the subject of joint or communal ownership or of individual ownership, are now subject to much uncertainty.
The original CoI had included investigations into land rights in Amerindian communities, however after much protest by the National Toshao’s Council (NTC) and the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) Government was forced to put that aspect of the investigation on hold.
The NTC had argued that it really did not understand the real function of the CoI, particularly since there was no consultation between Government and representatives of Guyana’s first people.