Maya Land Rights Affirmed in Belize
A celebration by the Maya of Southern Belize on June 28, 2010 in honor of the landmark judicial decision granting them full rights over their ancestral lands. The celebration includes the Cortez Dance at Indian Creek Village.
In a Landmark decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Belize on June 28, 2010, Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh affirmed the customary land rights of 38 Maya communities in southern Belize.
In reading his 62-page judgment, the Chief Justice declared that it was a “direct sequel of the judgment of this court in Claims No. 171 and 172 of 2007 which was delivered on 18th October 2007." That ruling also found the Maya have customary land rights and resource rights, which are protected by the Constitution and must be held inviolate.
Affirming these points, Chief Justice Conteh said in his recent judgment that the government must now hold off on all leases, concessions, grants and contracts within the bounds of the Maya's lands; and that the villages have the right to block development projects in defence of their rights.
On the same day of the ruling, around 2000 people gathered in the village of Indian Creek to await the final decision and witness the ensuing celebration.
Among the speakers, Cristina Coc, from the Maya Leaders Alliance of Southern Belize, talked about the Maya's struggle for their rights, the importance of Justice Conteh's decision, and the 'unending legacy' of the Maya People. As Cristina points out,
"This is where we were born, this is where we live, and this is where we will hope that we will die as our children continue our customs, as our children continue our way of life, as our children continue to struggle to maintain the recognition and the respect of our people."
Indeed, the struggle of the Maya, like that of all Indigenous Peoples, is an unending legacy that we must hold onto in the same way that we hold onto our customs and languages; because our rights will never be simply given to us. But if we are not vigilant, then our rights, like our customs and languages, can be simply taken away.
Sadly, it appears that the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, wants to do just that. He has since said that his government will appeal the landmark decision, because, he claims, it is “injurious to the public interest, it is injurious to national unity and it is injurious to the development of the Maya community.”
As disheartening as it may be, we can be sure the Maya People will never give up for their land and rights. Ever.
Thanks to HollyEdgell