Wapichan people in Guyana showcase community proposal to save their tropical forests
This week, the indigenous Wapichan people of Guyana, South America, made public a locally-made digital map of their traditional territory alongside a ground-breaking community proposal to care for 1.4 million ha of pristine rainforest for the benefit of their communities and the world.
The area proposed possesses a rich variety of rainforests, mountains, wetlands, savannah grasslands and tropical woodlands. It is home to twenty indigenous communities who make a living from small-scale farming, hunting, fishing and gathering, which they have practiced over the whole area for generations. The area, located in south-west Guyana, has an outstanding abundance of wildlife, including endangered species such as giant river otters, jaguars, and rare bush dogs as well as endemic species of fish and birds, like the Rio Branco Antbird.
The grassroots proposal comes at a crucial time because the entire Wapichan territory in Guyana, like many other parts of the Amazon basin and Guiana Shield, is threatened by mega road and dam projects as well as external plans for logging, mining and agribusiness development. In common with many indigenous peoples across Guyana and South America, the communities are vulnerable to land grabs and marginalisation because they lack secure legal title over much of their traditional lands.
The Wapichan people have responded to these threats by mapping their customary land use as part of a long-standing campaign to have their rights to their traditional lands legally recognised.
The mapping project has been carried out by Wapichan communities under the leadership of their former and existing Toshaos (community leaders) who have been assisted by their own community-based organisations. The Wapichan were supported throughout the process by the South Central People’s Development Association.
Mappers from our own communities have used GPS technology to map the location of key livelihood, spiritual and cultural heritage sites that hold deep importance to our people and sustain our way of life. After ten years of painstaking work and more than 80 community consultations, workshops and public meetings between 2008 and 2011, the proposal is now ready and presented in a detailed territorial plan titled: “Thinking Together for Those Coming Behind Us.”
Source: International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the South Central People’s Development Association (Guyana)