Caribbean News Now reports that, in the recent Indigenous Peoples’ Conference, which took place on April 30-May 2 in Belize City, the Caribbean’s indigenous people have demanded “a seat at the political table” so as to safeguard their rights to their ancestral lands and resources.
The call for political representation for the minority first peoples of the region is one of a slew of recommendations on health, education, gender, sustainable livelihoods, land rights and access to justice, drafted after three days of deliberations by the leaders and representatives of indigenous peoples from six Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations. Host country Belize is home to more than 50,000 Maya and Garifuna peoples, roughly one-tenth of the population.
The conference, organised by UWI IMPACT Justice, a Canadian-funded project to improve access to justice in the Caribbean, has been hailed as a rare, unique and historic gathering of the region’s indigenous peoples and a recognition of the need to redress centuries of degradation and discrimination. “The indigenous people should have a seat at the table,” Louis Patrick Hill, a representative of Dominica’s Kalinago chief, who is a former senator in the US Virgin Islands legislature. “They have very little representation at the levels of government because of the political party system that exists in most of the Caribbean and Latin American countries, and because the indigenous peoples are a minority in those countries we find that the political representation is almost not there. There are sometimes (indigenous) people who serve governments but they do not always represent the interests of the indigenous people. It is often-times that they represent the interests of the political party rather that the interests of the indigenous people of their communities. So we want to highly recommend that a process be put in place that allows for audacious representation and not all party politician representation.”
The conference proposed that New Zealand’s model of representation for its indigenous Māori people, which reserves seats for representatives of Māori in parliament. Each electoral district is covered by both a general and a Māori electorate.
[. . .] Beyond direct political representation, the conference also called for a formal consultative process which gives voice to indigenous peoples’ rights and concerns in the clash with governments over exploitation of their lands. “We highly recommend… a very extensive, formal, consultation with the peoples who are being affected and for whom solutions are being proposed,” said Laura George of Guyana’s Amerindian Peoples Association.
At the level of international law, there was a call for CARICOM governments to ratify Article 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), considered the most important international law guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples. The 1989 convention depends on a high number of states ratifying it to give it greater power. So far, only a score of nations worldwide have adopted the convention. Dominica, which ratified the convention in 2002, is to date the only CARICOM member state to do so.
[. . .] One of the working groups formed during the conference to make recommendations for follow-up action on social policy also identified a litany of setbacks, deprivations and discrimination that has led to a further marginalisation of indigenous people. It cited a loss of oral history, the absence of a written history and an education system marked either by limited access or irrelevance to indigenous people.
“Make education programmes relevant to the needs of indigenous peoples,” said Belizean Garifuna Alexandra Seale, a founding leader of the Divine Feminine Circle of Indigenous Elders. “(There is) the need for more research and the need to teach the languages of the indigenous (peoples) and also to protect the archaeology and findings of ancestral remains.” [. . .]
[Photo above: Louis Patrick Hill, representative of the Kalinago Chief of Dominica.]