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Generous Arawak Elder being victimised on St. Cuthbert's Mission

Letter sent to Kaieteur News and Stabroek News

Dear Editor,

I have been asked to use my pen to raise awareness of the on-going victimisation of a well known Arawak Elder on St. Cuthbert's Mission, the gentleman in question is Mr. Joseph Barnabas Simon - one of the greatest traditional Arawak craft artisans still alive in Guyana.

It seems that private contractors from outside of the St. Cuthbert's Mission Amerindian territory are undertaking some public works without the full prior consent and knowledge of the residents and Village Council - not only today, but for several years now. In the interest of brevity I will highlight only 2 incidents which happen to have impacted on Elder Joseph Barnabas Simon twice in less than 3 months.

trees In mid-November 2005 Cumming's Electrical Company - in order to erect an electric line bearing pole - cut down Mr. Simon's Ginip Tree (one of only five such trees on the entire 240 sq. mile St. Cuthbert's Mission Territory) that was less than a month from harvesting, they also cut down his Avocado tree which was full of blossoms. The Ginips were normally harvested by Elder Simon's grandchildren and sold in the village - generating on average $20,000 (twenty-thousand Guyana dollars) for the family annually. No compensation whatsoever has been paid to Elder Simon, furthermore - his children had to remove the debris heaps left where they fell - by the contractor; if that is not a slap in the face I do not know what is!

It just so happens that I was visiting Elder Simon on Friday February 18th 2006 when I was shocked to see the dejected Elder sitting amongst another heap of freshly cut tree debris adjacent to a wooden frame for a planned concrete casting. This time it was Sing & Sons contractors from region 2 (who are also building the new Secondary School on St. Cuthbert's Mission) who had cut down Elder Simon's grand old Dunks tree which also provided an additional source of income for the family every year. This time the contractors did return to remove the debris - for that is when I took the opportunity to take some photographic evidence, but the clean-up was no consolation when you hear how Elder Simon was shocked to see a crew arrive 'out of the blue' totally unknown to him and then see them cut down his fruit tree despite his protests and attempts to halt the illegal actions. Mr. Simon says he told the contractors that he had never given anyone permision to cut down his trees or take any more of his homestead land away, the contractor said "we got to work according to these plans - take it up with the Council". Indeed that is what I did personally on Friday evening - and none of the Councilors I spoke to knew anything about the illegal construction on Elder Simon's land, so I informed the workers who came to remove the debris in my presence later Friday evening that they were to take this message back to their boss (one of the Sing's): "Amerindian territories are under the jurisdiction of the Village Council and any plans you have from sources off the territory are meaningless here unless you have informed the Council and obtained their consent, since this procedure was not followed in this case you will have to change your plans - as what you have erected here today will be dismantled by me tonight - and I will be alerting local, regional and international media upon my return to Barbados."

contractor The contractor was summoned to the Council Office and he emerged later assuring me that the site of the Solar Panels would be moved to the site of no-contention I suggested to the Council, he said he would just have to inform 'Basic Needs' (who are funding this project I assume). Anyone knowning the full story and history of this man - Elder J.B. Simon would feel a sense of outrage. This is the same man who donated a parcel of his land decades ago for the now defunct Co-Op Shop, then another piece of his land for the now decrepid water starage tank tressle, why should Mr. Simon have to see his already reduced personal plot of land be reduced even further? Any honest resident will tell you how often Mr. Simon has volunteered his labour and tools to repair the Windmill and water hand-pump over and over again - never getting one red cent as a 'thank you' from anyone, local authorities never seem to have money for such expenses of honor - or maybe it is just a case of only certain people having access to alleged 'public funds'; but that is another can of worms I am saving for another article.

I would hope responsible journalists would follow-up and see if the contractors keep their word and do indeed leave Elder Simon in peace; or actually visit the Mission and interview Mr. Simon and his family in person. I urge any Amerindian anywhere in Guyana who is being victimised in any way to get your issues to me or one of the 3 locally based Amerindian rights entities (APA, GOIP, TAAMOG) - for you will never receive any justice by taking your abuse in silence.

All for your information and guidance

Sincerely,

Damon Gerard Corrie
Founder/Leader
Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous Tribal Nations
#13 Highgate Gardens
Wildey, St. Michael
BARBADOS, BB14005

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