A visual history of Indigenous Peoples' land rights


Indigenous peoples in Guyana have been protecting and managing forests for thousands of years.

Elders in several forests communities in Guyana recall that their grandparents and parents were very proactive in getting their lands legally recognised and secured.

In 1962, the British Guiana Independence Conference opened to discuss Guyana’s independence from the United Kingdom. During this time, Steven Campbell, one of the main actors, attended the Conference in London in order to present an elaborate petition which was calling for secure land rights. This petition was later signed by 26 Captains, to the British authorities.  Finally, Campbell and Amerindian community leaders succeeded in including text about Amerindian land rights in the report of the Conference.

One of the main issues concerning titling land in Guyana has been that individual Villages also requested large tracts of land that, in many cases, overlapped with the requests made by others. Elders in several Villages have explained that this was because they did not think in terms of strict boundaries between Villages and many shared the same farming, hunting, fishing and gathering areas.

In 1976, the 1951 Amerindian Ordinance was amended by the 1976 Amerindian Act. This was the first time Amerindian land ownership rights over title areas were legally recognised, but this recognition was partial. Amerindians’ freehold ownership was limited by the following major ‘save and except’ constraints:

  • Land with State installations or airstrips, and river corridors 66 feet from the mean high water mark were excluded from their ownership;
  • The State had powers to extinguish land titles without consultation
  • The State obtained authority to take and occupy Amerindian titled lands up to 10 miles from an international border ‘in the interest of defence, public safety or public order”
  • The title could be cancelled if at least two members of an Amerindian community showed themselves to be ‘disloyal or disaffected to the state or have done any voluntary act which was incompatible with their loyalty to the state’
  • The Minister of Amerindian Affairs had unilateral powers to change title boundaries without consulting with the community or obtaining its agreement.


7300 years ago (Paleo-Indian period)

Archaeological evidence shows that indigenous peoples continuously occupied and used lands, forests, wetlands, swamps and coastlines in the northwest of Guyana.

Archaeological record shows that it is very likely that the present-day indigenous Carib, Arawak and Warrau peoples are descendants of the same Carib, Arawak and Warrau peoples who have occupied the region since at least 7000 – 3300 years ago.


Alonso de Ojeda’s first expedition arrived from Spain at the Essequibo River.  The Spaniards identified two main groups among the natives, the Arawak along the coast and the Carib in the interior. 



The Dutch established the first European settlement in the area of Guyana


Guyana was claimed by the Spanish, who sent periodic patrols through the region. The Dutch gained control over the region early in the 17th century. Dutch sovereignty was officially recognised with the signing of the Treaty of Munster. 


Britain took over the Dutch colonies of Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara during conflict with France who had occupied the Netherlands. Britain returned control to the Batavian Republic in 1802 but then recaptured the colonies the following year during the Napoleonic Wars.


The British Guiana Independence Conference opened to discuss Guyana’s eventual independence from the United Kingdom.


Guyana became an independent country on 26th May 1966 and the Amerindian Lands Commission (ALC) was set up soon after in 1967.


The titles were not issued under the Amerindian Act but under Section 3 of the State Lands Act, which empowered the President ‘to make absolute or provisional grants of any State lands of Guyana, subject to such conditions (if any) as he thinks fit’. The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) was founded.


APA was constituted and established as a Friendly Society under the Laws of Guyana, Registration no. 746. During this same year APA provided technical and legal support for the Toshaos of the Upper Mazaruni as they filed civil proceedings against the Attorney General of Guyana for the recognition of their territory on behalf of their villages and peoples.


In partnership with Upper Mazaruni District Council, Forest Peoples Programme, the APA published a Report titled “Indigenous Peoples, Land Rights and Mining in the Upper Mazaruni”.


In this year APA published and presented to the President of Guyana, the Moruca Amerindian Land Council Report on Land Tenure of the Indigenous Peoples of the Moruca Sub-Region, Region 1.


APA started intensifying its lobby to repeal for Amerindian Act of 1976. To enhance its lobbying efforts, APA facilitated the inaugural National Toshaos Council Conference at Lake Mainstay/Wayaka, Region 2, on May 27th to the 29th, 2003.


During this year was held the most recent revision of the Amerindian Act.


APA supported the Isseneru Village to present to the Inter-American Commission on Human Right a complaint about adverse effects on mining.