Guyana’s Wai Wai establish a precedent for Indigenous People

Guyana’s Wai Wai establish a precedent for Indigenous People

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John Ahni Schertow
October 5, 2007
 

During the second Latin American Parks Congress this week, the Wai Wai established a new precedent for Indigenous People, becoming the first to declare their territory a ‘Community Owned Conservation Area.’

Backed by a government decree and supported by US-based Conservation International (CI), they also banned miners and loggers from their section of the Amazon jungle in remote southern Guyana, near the border of Brazil–and pledged to pursue a sustainable economic strategy based on ecotourism, research and traditional crafts.

According to Cemci Sose, the Kayaritomo of the Wai Wai, this plan has been developed as a means for them to preserve their culture, the need for which has increased in recent years. Their are only about 240 Wai Wai today; and as young people venture out to find employment, that number will decrease.

There are also rising fears about the damage caused by loggers and miners that illegally enter their territory, coupled with the concern that the Government will soon give in to pressure, paving a veritable road of development straight to Brazil.

Under the plan outlined at the conference, some of the Wai Wai would train to become forest rangers who will report any miners or other threats they spot to national authorities.

“We have always been keepers of the forests that support us, and now it is official, recognized by the government and the world,” said Cemci Sose, the current Kayaritomo of the Wai Wai.

Thankfully, the plan is being applauded by the Government, “The Wai Wai have confirmed what the Government of Guyana has always espoused; that is, settling Amerindian land claims is one way of protecting the environment for future generations,” said Hon. Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues. “Who is better placed to protect the environment than those who have been doing it for time immemorial.”

The Wai Wai have also extended an invitation to foreign researchers and other visitors–but they say they do not want tourists inside their village. Instead, they’ve begun to restore a nearby village that was abandoned in 2000, where they will display their production of traditional items such as baskets, jewelry and beaded aprons.

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