Toshaos council needs $$ to continue LCDS, REDD+ consultations
A lack of money hinders the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) from holding further consultations in Amerindian communities about government’s forest preservation strategies, the organisation’s head, Yvonne Pearson says.
Following concerns ex-pressed recently by some indigenous leaders and groups on the scope of government’s consultations on the Low Carbon Develop-ment Strate-gy (LCDS) and REDD+ initiatives, Pearson at a press conference yesterday, said the NTC realises there is a need for more information sharing and awareness sessions. She said the organisation is currently seeking money from the World Bank and has submitted a project proposal. “We can only move, get out there to our people if we have the kind of support and that is financial support to get out there; bring the document in simple language, go out there ourselves and explain to the people the document. So we are working and we are looking for that support so we can get out there and educate people more,” she said.
Last October, a team from the World Bank had visited Guyana to meet some indigenous communities on forest preservation strategies and had promised a US$200,000 grant to support information sharing activities. The team’s leader had said that this might have been allocated in two weeks. To date, it has not been disbursed. At her press conference, in the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs boardroom yesterday, Pearson said she doesn’t know reason for the hold-up adding that the NTC had met the team and thereafter, followed up on this.
She said the NTC is also seeking money from government and has submitted a budget, which would help to carry out some of the body’s planned activities, including consultations, for this year. Unwilling to disclose a figure, she said that to her knowledge, it has been approved. “We are hoping that funds would be released to us so that we can carry out our planned activity,” Pearson said. “We are still looking there if we can have [money] but we would prefer to have independent support but that doesn’t say if the government can’t find some funds to give us to do what we plan to do. We’d welcome that,” she said.
Pearson defended the LCDS and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) initiatives. She said the NTC supports these and speaks on behalf of various communities with 97 toshaos making up the council. Twenty of these make up the NTC executive, which meets every two months. According to Pearson, the NTC was “deeply hurt” by the recent criticisms of the scope of consultations on the initiatives.
Last week, following a workshop organised by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), some leaders said that LCDS outreach activities done last year lacked prior information, were often rushed and only lasted a few hours, while suffering from weak or non-existent translation support for communities. They also urged government and international agencies to put a hold on the implementation of policies related to projects like the LCDS and REDD+, until land rights issues are settled. Earlier this week, the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP) said there were concerns about the scope of government consultations on LCDS and said some meetings were “hurried” and that there were more questions than clear answers about policies.
These statements by the leaders triggered a strong response by government and Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai accused the APA of communicating “misconceptions and half-truths.”
Yesterday, Pearson said she wishes those organisations would communicate more with the NTC. Those who object are only a few toshaos, she said, adding that at this point in time, the NTC “cannot allow a few toshaos to speak for the entire indigenous population”. She later acknowledged that the NTC does not have any communication with the APA, but this does not signal an unwillingness to listen. “We are willing to work with anyone who shares the same ideas and views that we have,” she said.
The NTC head said she was surprised that GOIP labelled the consultations “rushed”, pointing out that the organisation had a representative on the Multi-Stakeholder Committee (MSC). She suggested that that organisation’s statement could be political because a GOIP member is a Member of Parliament for the opposition PNCR.
Questioned whether given the concerns expressed, the NTC could reach out to the APA, Pearson said “probably”. She pointed out that the APA was asked to sit on the MSC but declined. “So it is not so easy for us to extend our hands and say come on let’s talk. Probably we’ll have to give it a try or we’re willing to try but it’s not that easy,” she said.
One of the complaints about the consultations was the “technical” documents and the NTC agrees, Pearson said. “Taking into consideration our standard of education in our various communities, yes the document can be too technical sometimes for us to understand and with that in mind we have discussed how could we break the document in[to] what we call simple language; simple to read so that when we go in there our people can understand,” she said. “We know that we should break the document in simple language but it has costs. So unless we get that financial support we’ll not be able to do it.”
Explaining how the NTC works, she said the executive meets every other month. It is expected, she said, that every representative would liaise with other toshaos in his/her district so as to be able to attend meetings with information. She pointed out though that there are difficulties in some areas, with the representatives unable to reach far-flung locations. The council is working on this and “we hope that someday we will get the support that we really need to reach out to our people,” Pearson said.
The National Toshaos conference, which all the leaders attend, is held every three years. Pearson acknowledged that in the light of the concerns, there is a need for them to meet and have more discussions. The council head said she could not say that all the toshaos supported the LCDS but added that many have written letters in support of it.
Asked if she was worried that the concerns could affect Guyana receiving money from Norway under the forest preservation agreement Pearson said: “It could threaten if we allow them to go down that way”. She added: “we cannot allow a few to take away something that is very important not only to the Amerindians but to the Guyanese nation.”
She later said that those raising concerns are just “a bunch of people making some noise” and the “real matter” needs to be investigated. “I doubt whether the government of Norway would just listen to a group saying something without having proper investigations done and we would welcome anyone to visit out various villages, our regions and have talks with our people. “I am not sure that they’re going to cause us to lose money. No I don’t think so. We’re not going to allow that.”
According to her, the APA has some “units” in some villages so it cannot say it represents 50% of all indigenous peoples here. She questioned how those who attended the workshop last week were selected and responding to a question, said, she is not sure if there is any political connection. She noted that eight toshaos attended that meeting and of these, two were on the executive of the NTC.
She acknowledged that concerns were raised during the consultations on benefits and land issues, but said these were answered. She asserted that the consultations are not “one shot” and are ongoing. Pearson said supporting the LCDs is voluntary and she was “taken aback” when she heard people are being forced. “Why is it a bunch of people want to give the world the impression that we are pressured or we’re being forced to do something against our will? That is entirely not true,” she said.
Asked about the general level of understanding of Amerindians about the LCDS and REDD+, Pearson said she could not give an overall assessment but in her community most people understood. Aishalton Toshao, Hildebrand James who was also present at the press conference said that in Deep South Rupununi, 80% of the people understand the LCDS. Lorna Williams, Toshao of Kabakubari said most of her people give full support to the LCDS.
On mining, Pearson said this should be done in a better way and the LCDS can “regularize” this industry. She said there is time for Amerindians to understand the LCDS pointing out that only state land is included and titled indigenous communities can decide whether to “opt in”. She said that many toshaos have expressed their support for the LCDS but this does not mean that they have “opted in”.