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.