In September 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was, and remains, the most comprehensive international instrument concerned with the rights of indigenous peoples, and its adoption was a vital step forward in the global struggle for indigenous justice. Since that time, nations all around the world have increased their efforts to address the colonial legacies and systems that have placed their indigenous peoples, and particularly indigenous women, at a significant disadvantage.
In Guyana, a nation that is home to a significant indigenous population, government agencies and private organizations alike have been working to enhance and promote understanding of the country’s indigenous groups as a vital step toward indigenous empowerment. Read on for a look at some interesting facts about Guyana’s indigenous peoples and the important initiatives that offer support and resources to indigenous women and communities—including those from GBTI.
Guyana’s indigenous population is the largest of any Caribbean nation.
Of all the countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean, Guyana has the largest indigenous population. Guyana’s total population, as of the 2012 census, was just under 750,000 people. Of these, more than 10% (approximately 77,000 people) identified as indigenous.
There are nine officially recognized indigenous nations in Guyana.
The nine officially recognized indigenous nations of Guyana are the Lokono (also known as Arawak-Taino), Kalihna (Carib-Galibi), Guarao (Warau), Akawaio, Arekuna, Patamona, Waiwai, Wapixana, and Macushi peoples.
Most indigenous people in Guyana live in the remote interior.
Although indigenous communities are found across all 10 of Guyana’s administrative districts, the vast majority of indigenous people live in the country’s remote interior, sometimes called the hinterland regions. Roughly 80% of Guyana’s indigenous population is found in these regions, which are covered by dense forests, mountain ranges, and rivers. This is in significant contrast with Guyana’s non-indigenous population, the majority of which is concentrated within the narrow strip of land along the Atlantic coast.
Many indigenous communities have legally acquired land titles…
When it comes to the rights of indigenous people in Guyana, one of the most promising signs of progress is the fact that many indigenous communities now hold legal title to their collective lands. In total, these holdings comprise about 13% (or roughly 29,000 square kilometers) of Guyana’s national territory. Most of this land is located in the tropical Amazon or interior savannah regions.
…however, geography remains a barrier for indigenous people in Guyana.
Because the majority of indigenous people in Guyana live in remote regions, they do not have access to the same levels of infrastructure, modern facilities, and employment opportunities that people living in Guyana’s cities and coastal areas enjoy. Unfortunately, this means that Guyana’s indigenous populations are significantly more deprived than their non-indigenous counterparts; specifically, they are between twice and five times as likely to experience poverty.
A major study on indigenous women in Guyana was carried out in 2017.
In 2017, together with the government of Guyana’s Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, UNICEF carried out an in-depth study on indigenous women and children in Guyana. This was the first time that Guyana’s indigenous populations had been studied so extensively, particularly with reference to women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of indigenous communities. The information found in the resulting report has been instrumental in guiding government programs and projects aimed at empowering indigenous populations and enhancing well-being in indigenous communities.
The government of Guyana recently launched a program for indigenous women entrepreneurs.
One of the many recent initiatives that the government of Guyana has created to support indigenous women was a program providing $4 million Guyana dollars in funding for viable business ventures run by indigenous women. Channeled through the Indigenous Women’s Small Business Initiative (part of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs), the money was intended to provide small grants that would enable indigenous women to start businesses, such as kitchen gardens, that would help them earn an income for their families and gain valuable new entrepreneurial skills.
GBTI is one of many companies in Guyana that support indigenous women.
Indigenous women in Guyana can also benefit from access to various types of financial support from different Guyanese companies. For example, as Guyana’s leading financial institution, GBTI is proud to support indigenous women through the Women of Worth (WOW) loan program. Geared primarily toward single mothers who want to start small businesses to support their families, the WOW program helps women who might otherwise have difficulty accessing financing by offering small business loans between $100,000 and $250,000, with no equity required.
Guyana celebrates a National Amerindian Heritage Month.
There’s no better way to learn more about Guyana’s indigenous peoples than by visiting the country during National Amerindian Heritage Month. Celebrated every September since 1995, the month provides an important national showcase for indigenous traditions, sports, and environmental activities, and helps build awareness of and appreciation for indigenous culture and contributions.