The first Amerindian lawyer of Guyana David James (left),
along with his associate, Martin Cheong, programme assistant,
legal services unit, APA recently took a tour of Dominica,
St Vincent and Barbados.
by Tracy Moore
GUYANA'S FIRST Amerindian lawyer, David James, is making his mark in his homeland and the Caribbean.
He recently became the legal advisor to the Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana (APA), a non-governmental organisation, with objectives to promote the social, economic, political and cultural improvement of the Indigenous communities and to promote and defend their civil rights.
In other words, he has his work cut out for him.
"One of the purposes is to create awareness and we are also looking for solidarity from other indigenous people and non-indigenous people. I think there is still a thinking that indigenous people either not exists or that there are so few in numbers that nobody pays much attention to them.
"One has to be with the protection of our rights to lands, territories and resources which we have traditionally owned, occupied and used going back all the way to our ancestors.
Cheong added that the issues were deep-rooted from the days of Guyana's independence in 1966, when one of the conditions of independence were to resolve land rights issues pertaining to the Amerindian peoples.
James and Cheong both acknowledged there had been a few improvements to the law recently, but not enough to meet their full approval.
"So although we have a new law now, we are not happy with some of the provisions. In 1991, the government issued a few more titles and then in 2004 at least two other titles were granted. Today, it stands at about 10 000 square miles" said Cheong.
With a total land mass of 83 000 square miles, a diverse population of three-quarters-of-a-million people – which the single largest population in the hinterlands are indigenous people – James and Cheong recognise that they have a battle ahead of them, but insist they will continue their struggle for their people.