A Plain English Guide To the Amerindian Act


The Amerindian Act - What is it? and What does it say? Many of us have heard about the Amerindian Act and some of us have read it as well. Many of us may not understand it because it is written in difficult legal language. The Amerindian Act is the main law in Guyana that talks about Amerindians so we should know what it says, what it doesn?t say and what this means for us. Also, since Amerindians have rights in international law, we should be able to see how the Amerindian Act compares with our human rights as Indigenous peoples.

Because of repeated requests by Amerindian communities for an understandable guide to the 1976 Amerindian Act, the Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana has produced this document called "A Plain English Guide to the Amerindian Act." This is part of a larger objective of the APA, which is to provide information and training to Amerindian communities throughout Guyana concerning our rights in Guyanese law and international law. This information helps us to make informed decisions about issues that affect us or may affect us in the future, so that we can ensure that our rights and interests are respected. Without information we are not able to make good decisions. Information about activities that may affect us, our children, our lands, our environment and well-being in general is a human right for Indigenous peoples. We should always insist on all the information we need before agreeing to anything.

The Plain English Guide to the Amerindian Act will start with a brief introduction to the history of the Amerindian Act and a brief explanation of it current status as a law of Guyana. Following that we will then explain the Act from beginning to end. The actual language of the Act will be included along with the explanation so you can see both at the same time. The Plain English Guide will also include a few observations and comments that reflect the opinion of the APA.

We hope that you find it useful and that you will discuss its contents, your opinions and comments with your communities and other communities. If you would like to send comments or remarks to the APA, the address is on the front cover.

APA Executive Committee

June 1998

What is the Amerindian Act?

The 1976 Amerindian Act is the main law of Guyana that deals with Amerindians. It covers many subjects including, our land rights, the powers of Captains, the sale of alcohol, who is and is not an Amerindian, what the government can do to Amerindian lands and much more. The 1976 Act is based on previous laws concerning Amerindians that date back to the early 20th century. This was when Guyana was still a British colony and Amerindians were not considered capable of representing and speaking for ourselves. This same way of thinking is still present in the 1976 Amerindian Act. It is extremely paternalistic, offensive in many respects, discriminatory and provides almost no protection for our rights.

In 1993, the Guyana Parliament took a decision to revise the Amerindian Act. They did this because it was recognised that large parts of the Act were no longer relevant to present day circumstances. A Parliamentary Select Committee was established at that time. However, since 1993, neither the government nor the Select Committee has done any work to revise the Amerindian Act.

The APA has consistently been calling on the government to revise the Act. We have told the government that revision is urgently needed, but should not take place without Amerindian participation. We have a human right to participate fully in discussions about the contents of a new Amerindian Act. We have also said that Amerindian participation should be through representatives freely chosen by Amerindian communities and not by persons, even if they are Amerindian, appointed by the government. The other main point that we made to the government concerned international human rights laws about the rights of Indigenous peoples. We said that international human rights laws provide standards about Amerindian rights that the government must follow and that the revised Amerindian Act should be based on these international laws.

For instance, international standards say that Indigenous peoples have the right to own the lands, territories and resources that we occupy and use. Guyanese law says that we have some rights (in reality almost no rights) to the lands that the government decides are Amerindian lands. There is a big difference between the two. International standards say that we have the right to participate in decisions about, or to consent to, whether concessions are given on or near our lands. Guyanese law says that the GGMC or the GFC can make these decisions without even informing us about it. International standards say that we have the right to bi-lingual education and to control our schools. Guyanese law says that our education is to be determined by the government only.

The government of Guyana is legally required to follow international human rights laws. Therefore, we believe that is not only appropriate that a revised Amerindian Act be based on international human rights law, but that the government is required to do this. All Amerindians in Guyana should demand that our rights our fully recognised in the laws of Guyana.

Having provided some background information about the origin and current status of the Amerindian Act, we will now move on to the explanation of the Act itself. We will start at the beginning of the Act.

The APA's Recommendations for Revision of the Amerindian Act

The APA believes that it is very important that there be a unified Amerindian position about revision of the Amerindian Act. This means that Amerindian communities in all regions of Guyana should present a common position to the government concerning revision of the Amerindian Act. To support the development of a common position, the APA would like to offer the following recommendations

  • the Act must be revised completely and not only in parts or by changing certain words;
  • the revised Amerindian Act must be compatible with international standards concerning the rights of Indigenous peoples;
  • the Government should request technical support from international organizations, like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ensure that the revised Act is consistent with the rights of Indigenous peoples in international law;
  • the Act must be revised with the full and free participation and consent of Amerindians;
  • Amerindian communities must be able to freely choose their representatives, in accordance with their own procedures, to represent them in the revision of the Act;
  • Revision of the Amerindian Act should be related to the revision of the Constitution of Guyana. As such, the Constitution should include guarantees and protections for the lands occupied and used by Amerindians, for Amerindian cultures and languages, the right to participate in and consent to activities affecting Amerindian rights or interests and other rights recognised by international law.

The Amerindian Act in Plain English

NOTE: The first section of the Amerindian Act explains what the various terms used in the Act mean. This is an important section because it defines how terms like ?Amerindian? or ?Amerindian community? will be used in the Act. We won?t explain all of this section.

2. In this Act - "Amerindian" means:

(a) Any person who is an Amerindian, who is a citizen of Guyana and is from a tribe from Guyana or a neighbouring country (Suriname, Brazil or Venezuela);

(b) a descendant of a person defined as an Amerindian by the preceding paragraph and someone who the Chief Officer thinks should be an Amerindian according to the Act.

NOTE: International human rights standards say that Amerindians have the right to define for themselves who is an Amerindian and what is an Amerindian community as well as who has the right to live in an Amerindian community. Allowing the Government to define who is an Amerindian is the same as giving the government the power to take away Amerindian rights, because they may one day decide that you or your community are no longer Amerindian and therefore, have no rights to your land.

"Amerindian Community" means: a group of Amerindians living in an Amerindian Area, District or Village listed in the schedule to the Amerindian Act.

NOTE: This definition of an "Amerindian Community" or Amerindian Village does not include all the Amerindian communities that do not have a title. Those villages with a title are listed in the schedule of the Act. For a list of villages and districts listed in the Act, see the last page of this Plain English Guide or see, pages 19-33 of the Amerindian Act. However, Amerindians living in villages without titles are still governed by this Act.

"Chief Officer" means: the Chief Interior Development Officer or any person authorised in writing by the Minister to act as the Chief Officer according to the Amerindian Act.

NOTE: There is presently no Chief Officer in Guyana. Also, the Amerindian Act does not say which Minister it means when it says Minister.

Part I
Section 3. - Amerindian Districts, Areas, Villages

(1). This Act only applies to Amerindian lands listed in the schedule to the Act (see pages 19-33 of the Act). The Minster may (a) add or (b) delete Amerindian villages from the list or (c) change the boundaries of villages listed in the act or make any other order needed for transferring community lands after removing or changing the boundaries of a village listed in the schedule.

(2). When the Minister decides to remove a village from the schedule, community land becomes the property of the local government council.

Section 4 - Registration of Amerindians

Every Amerindian that is registered as an Amerindian is allowed to live in an Amerindian Area, District or Village.

Section 5 - Restricting Entry of Non-Amerindians into Amerindian Areas

(1) Non-Amerindians are not allowed in an Amerindian Village, District or Area without a lawful excuse or without the permission of the Chief Officer.

(2) Non-Amerindians may ask the Minister to grant them permission if the Chief Officer refuses to allow them into an Amerindian area.

Section 6 - Fines for Entering Amerindian Areas without Permission*

(1) Any non-Amerindian found or remaining in an Amerindian area without permission or lawful excuse will be fined $1500 or to four months imprisonment. A person convicted of this offense must be warned against doing it again and of the additional penalties for a second offense as described in subsection 2 below.

(2) When a person is convicted of a second offense of entering or remaining in an Amerindian area without permission of lawful excuse, they will be fined $2000 and imprisoned for six months.

*NOTE: This section was changed from the original language of the Act by another law passed by the Parliament called the 1990 Miscellaneous Enactments (Amendments) Act, Section 6 (No. 24). Also, see, Section 14A, below.

PART II - Registration
Section 7. - Registration Officer

A Government Officer will be appointed as Registration Officer to register Amerindians. Assistant registration Officers may also be appointed.

Section 8 - Registration of Amerindians

(1) Every Amerindian over the age of 12 shall be registered by the Assistant Registration officer for his or her area.

(2) Any person whose application to be registered as an Amerindian is refused can appeal to the Chief officer and the Minister if they don?t like the decision of the Chief Officer.

Section 9 - Manner of Registration

The Assistant Registration Officer will put information about each Amerindian in a book and issue a certificate showing registration to the Amerindian and send a copy of the certificate to the Registration Officer.

Section 10 - Showing Certificate

Every Amerindian is required to show their certificate with a reasonable amount of time if asked to do so by a Government official.

Section 11 - Fines concerning certificates

Any Amerindian who (a) lends his or her certificate to another Amerindian or (b) is caught with another certificate, will be fined $50.

PART III - Protection of Property and Legal Affairs
Section 12 - Protection of Property

(1) The Chief Officer is required to protect and manage the property of Amerindians and can:

(a) take, hold, sell or get rid of Amerindian property;

(b) go to court on behalf of Amerindians, collect debts on behalf of Amerindians and recover Amerindian property;

(c) act on behalf of an Amerindian with respect to legal powers held by the Amerindian;

(d) appoint a person to act as a lawyer for an Amerindian concerning Amerindian property.

The Chief Officer may only do the preceding with the consent of the Amerindian, unless urgency requires that the Chief Officer act to protect Amerindian property.

Section 13 - Criminal Matters on Behalf of Amerindians

(1) The Chief Officer, District Commissioner or any member of the Police Force may file a criminal complaint against a person on behalf of an Amerindian;

(2) The person fining the complaint on behalf of the Amerindian may continue to act on behalf of the Amerindian in the Magistrates Court; and

(3) Can act on behalf of the Amerindian in an appeal against the decision of the Magistrates Court. They may hire a lawyer to represent the Amerindian and may act as a legal representative in all other respects.

PART IV Appointment of Captains
Section 14 - Captains

(1)The Chief Officer can, with the approval of the Minister, appoint any Amerindian to be a Captain. He or she may also remove a Captain from office. All appointments or removals of Captains must be published in the Gazette.

(2) Every Captain has the powers of a rural constable and is under the control of the Chief Officer.

(3) Every Captain will be supplied with a uniform, a staff of office and a book describing the powers and duties of a rural constable.

Section 14A - Captains as Justices of the Peace*

(1) Every Captain will be a Justice of the Peace for every District, Area and Village and he or she shall take the oath required for Justices of the Peace.

(2) As a Justice of the Peace, Captains will act responsibly and justly for preserving the peace, for the prevention of crime and the identification and lock up of criminals. However, as a Justice of the Peace, the Captain cannot act as a judge.

*NOTE: This section was added to the Act by another law passed by the Parliament called the 1990 Miscellaneous Enactments (Amendments) Act, Section 6 (No. 24).

Section 15 - Duties of the Captain

The Captain is required to carry out the instructions of the Chief Officer and the District Commissioner and is responsible for keeping order in the village, district or area. The Captain is also required to report any Amerindian who is not registered under section 9 of the Act (see above).

Section 16 - Giving Back Book, Uniform and Staff of Office

When a Captain is removed from office he or she is required to return the uniform, book and staff of office, if they do not they have to pay a fine of $50.

PART V - Local Government
Section 17 - District and Area Councils

(1) The Minister can establish a District or Area Council.

(2) The District or Area Council will include as members:

(a) the district commissioner;

(b) a district officer;

(c) the Captains within he district or area;

(d) others persons that the Chief Officer appoints with the approval of the Minister.

(3) When appointing an Amerindian to the Council, the Chief Officer will listen to the wishes of the Amerindians from that District or Area.

(4) Every person appointed to the Council will hold office for two years and will be eligible to be reappointed for more terms of office.

(5) The District Commissioner will be the Chairman of every meeting of the Area or District Council. If the DC can?t attend the meeting, the District Officer will be the Chairman.

(6) The Chief Officer can remove a member of the Council and appoint new members in place of those removed.

Section 18 - Village Councils

(1) The Chief Officer may establish Village Councils in Amerindian villages.

(2) A Village council will include the Captain and other persons that the Chief Officer may appoint. The Chief Officer may only appoint councilors after taking the wishes of the villagers into account.

(3) Terms of office for the Village council are for two year periods, but can be extended by re-appointment for additional terms.

(4) The Captain is the Chairman of the Village Council.

(5) The Chief Officer can remove a member of the Council and appoint new members in place of those removed.

Section 19 - Powers of the Village Council

(1) The Village council?s powers and duties include:

(a) to hold the village land title for the benefit of the community as a whole;

(b) to manage and take care of village titled land;

(c) to implement and obey rules and regulations made under the Act.

(2) Provided the Minister approves, the Chief Officer may make rules saying how many persons are needed to make a quorum and the procedures to be used in the conduct of business by the District, Area or Village Councils.

Section 20 - Taxes

1. The District Council, Area Council or Village Council can collect taxes from Amerindians living in the District, Area or Village.

2. The proposal for taxation shall be submitted to the Minister for approval. The Minister may forbid the taxes or change the way in which the taxes are collected. He/she may not change the amount of the taxes.

3. The tax money must be given to the District Commissioner, who will use the money for the benefit of the village, district or area, provided that the Chief Officer approves.

Section 20A - Amerindian Land Titles

NOTE: This section deals with Amerindian land titles and therefore, is one of the most important parts of the Act. It is also one of the sections that needs changing most, as it is discriminatory and provides almost no protection for Amerindian land rights.

1. The government transfers all its rights and interests in the land within the boundaries of any Area, District or village as mentioned in the schedule to the Amerindian Act, to the village council of the village in question. This transfer shall be registered and government departments shall take notice of the transfer and act accordingly.


2. NO title or rights are transferred to:

a. rivers and all lands 66 feet inland from the mean low water mark;

b. minerals or right to mine;

c. Airstrips or future airstrips strips;

d. buildings and installations owned by the government before 1976.

NOTE: The definition of rivers probably includes: rivers, tributaries of rivers and creeks. This means that a lot of land is taken out of Amerindian land titles by this requirement that 66ft inland is not part of the title.

3. Omitted

4. All land titles held by Amerindian communities have the following conditions:

a. titles may be taken away or modified by the Minister when he/she decides that the land or part of it should be repossessed by the government in the public interest. Amerindian communities that have had their land taken, unless it is taken according to (b), (c) or (d) below, will receive compensation according to the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act or will receive land of equal value.

b. titles may be taken away or modified if the government decides that it wants to occupy Amerindian lands up to 10 miles from an international border, if the Minister decides that this is needed for defense, public safety or public order.

c. Amerindians may not sell titled land without the written approval of the Minister. If they do, the sale is invalid and the land will be taken by the government.

d. titles may be taken if the Minister decides that members of an Amerindian community have been disloyal or have bad feelings towards the state. The Minister must provide written notice to the village.

Lands may only be taken after: (i) the Minister has invited the community to make their objections. These objections must be made within 28 days of receiving written notice from the Minister; (ii) the Minister is satisfied that it is no longer in the public interest for the village to keep their titled land.

5. Omitted

6. The Minister can suspend or change Amerindian land titles by issuing an order.

NOTE: In almost every part of Section 20A, the Minister can interfere with Amerindian land rights without having to show a good reason why he is doing so. 20A(6), for instance, allows the Minister to suspend or change Amerindian land titles for an indefinite period of time without a having to say why, by issuing a simple order. These restrictions upon Amerindian land titles do not apply to other Guyanese and are discriminatory and in violation of Guyana?s Constitution and international human rights laws. Also, many of the decisions taken by the Minister cannot be challenged in court.

Section 21 - Authority of the Council to Make Rules

1. A District, Area or Village Council can make rules, provided the Minister approves, for any of the following"

(a) ensuring that food supplies are provided to the village;

(b) stopping poisoning or pollution of rivers and streams;

(c) improving the cleanliness of the village;

(d) starting and operating a market;

(e) agriculture and livestock management;

(f) cutting timber and the fees due to the village for cutting timber;

(g) saying how trapping can or cannot be done;

(h) taking care of roads, buildings or airstrips;

(I) stopping grass or bush fires;

(j) stopping soil erosion;

(k) looking after making local drinks or other alcoholic drinks;

(l) saying how taxes are to be applied and how they are to be collected;

(m) deciding how titled lands are to be used and managed;

(n) any other activity or purpose that the Minister approves of.

2. Any community rules, as long as they are approved by the Minister, will be published in the Gazette and shall be valid from the date specified by the Minister.

3. The Minister can at any time cancel any rule made under this section.

NOTE: As with Section 20A, it seems that the Minister does not even need to have a reason for changing community rules, despite the fact that these rules were democratically decided upon by the community.

Section 22 - Powers of the Village Council

1. The District, Area of Village Council can make any Amerindian living in their area to appear before the Council if they think he or she has broken a rule made according to Section 21 above.

2. When the Amerindian is before the Council, it can start an investigation of the alleged violation, and if the Council decides that the person is guilty, it can fine the person $20. This type of investigation can only tale place in the presence of the District Commissioner or an Officer of the Government.

3. Council investigations do not have to follow specific procedures, but the Council is required to act in a responsible and just way in reaching its decisions.

4. The District Commissioner or Officer present will take notes of the investigation and hearing.

Section 23 - Fines for not appearing or failing to pay the fine

Any Amerindian who does not appear before the Council or who fails to pay the fine (provided they have enough money) will be fined $50.

Section 24 - Role of the Chief Officer in Council Hearings

If the Council fines an Amerindian after a hearing, the District Commissioner or the Officer present shall submit their notes to the Chief Officer. The Chief Officer can agree with the fine, change it or order that the fine be dismissed.

Section 25 - What happens to the money from fines

All money collected as fines under sections 22 and 23, will be given to the District Commissioner, who will put the money in a bank. The money may only be used by the District Commissioner for activities that benefit the District, Area or Council.

PART VI - The Amerindian Purposes Fund
Section 26. - Establishment of the Fund

An Amerindian Purposes Fund shall be created. All money left in the Aboriginal Indian Reservation Fund shall be transferred to the APF.

Section 27. - Investment of Money in the Fund

The Fund shall be managed by the Accountant General, who can invest Fund money in interest bearing accounts, provided that the Minister approves.

Section 28. - Spending and Use of Money in the Fund

The Fund may be used by the Chief Officer under the direction of the Minister for the benefit of Amerindians in Guyana. The Fund may not be used to pay for activities that fall within the general budget of Guyana.

Section 29. - Keeping Accounts on the Fund

The Chief Officer is responsible for providing an accounting statement related to the Fund, which shall be submitted to the Accountant General, the Director of Audit and finally, the Minister for Approval.

Section 30. - Payment of Money into the Fund by Order of the Minister

The Minister may from time to time direct that money be put in the Fund.

Part VII - Employment of Amerindians
Section 31 - Omitted

Section 32 - Employment Contracts with Amerindians

(1)Anyone who want to employ an Amerindian must do so in a written contract signed in front of an officer or justice of the peace.

(2) The agreement must contain:

(a) the names of the employer and Amerindian;

(b) the kind of work to be done;

(c) how long the work will take;

(d) how much will be paid by the employer;

(e) a description of the housing, if any, to be provided by the employer.

(3) There must be two copies of the agreement signed and verified as accurate by the officer. A copy of the agreement must be sent to the District Commissioner.

Section 33- 34 - Omitted

Section 35 - Fines

A fine of $200 will be applied to any person who employs an Amerindian: in violation of this section of the Act or; (b) without the permission of the Chief Officer or other officer forces an Amerindian to work for them without a good excuse.

PART VIII - Intoxicating Liquor
Section 36 - Supplying Alcohol

(1)No person can sell, exchange, trade or give alcohol to an Amerindian or anyone else if they will give it to an Amerindian.

(2) Anyone who does sell, trade, give or supply alcohol to an Amerindian will be fined $100

Section 37 - Penalty for Possession of Alcohol

Any Amerindian found in possession of alcohol, unless they have a license from the District Commissioner, will be fined $50.

Section 38 - Exceptions

This Part of the Act does not apply to:

(a) alcohol for medical uses or supplied with the permission of the District Commissioner, Officer or by a Minister of religion;

(b) making and drinking local drinks like piwarri by Amerindians.

PART IX - Miscellaneous
Section 39 - Omitted
Section 40 - More Powers of the Minister

(1) The Minister can make regulations and orders for any Amerindian District, Area or Village as he or she sees fit.

(2) Including:

(a) the way in which Amerindians will be removed from one village, district or area to another;

(b) accounting for money received according to the Act;

(c) for the care, custody and education of Amerindian children;

(d) defining how Amerindian children can be apprenticed or placed in the service of others;

(e) maintaining discipline and order in the villages, districts and areas;

(f) stopping any activities, rituals or customs that the Minister believes may be harmful to Amerindians.

Section 41 - Enticing the Wife of an Amerindian

Any person, other than an Amerindian, who lives with or entices away a wife of an Amerindian will be fined $500, unless it is established to the satisfaction of the court, that the wife was deserted by her husband and/or was forced to leave their home.

Sections 42-44 - Omitted

------------ END OF AMERINDIAN ACT ------------

Schedule to the Amerindian Act:

NOTE: Section 20A and others concerning Amerindian lands only apply to the following villages and districts.

Part A - Amerindian Villages

Achiwuib Karaudanawa Aishalton Awariwaunau

Maruranau Moco-Moco Nappi Shea

Sand Creek Sawariwau St.Ignatius (Homesteads) St. Ignatius (Farmlands)

Yupukari Massara Toka Yakarinta

Taruka Kanapang Itabac Monkey Mountain

Kato Paramakatoi Kurukabaru Kopinang

Waipa Kaibarupai Kamana Potarinau

Shulinab Chenapau Wikki River Hururu

Oreallea Santa/Aratak Kamuni St Cutherbert?s St Francis

Kabakaburi Akawini Wakapau Kairimap

Bethany Essequibo Coast Mashabo Mainstay/Whyaka Tapakuma

Capoey Lake Manawarin Waramuri Santa Rosa

Assakata Kwebanna Little Kaniballi Warapoka

Waikrebi Kokerite Chinese Landing Hotoquai

Hobodia Kamwata Hill Red Hill Koriabo

Sebai Tobago and Wauna Hill Bunbury Hill

1991 Amendments

Arau Kaikan Kurutuku Waramadong

Kamarang Kako Philippai Chinowieng

Paruima Jawalla Kurutuku

Part B - Amerindian Districts

Annai Karasabai Konashen* Baramita*

* Added in 1977 by Order of the Minister. The Order states that both Konashen and Baramita are to be added to Part B of the Schedule to the Act, but that no title to the lands within respective districts will be granted under Section 20A(1) of the Act.

Copyright © 2002 Damon G. Corrie

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