For the most part, the conversation about indigenous peoples and their rights have been primarily associated with the Mayans of southern Belize. But for decades, the Garifuna people have also been recognized as an indigenous group. Descendants of African and Carib Indian ancestors, the Garinagu originated in the seventeenth century from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. They made their way to Central America, including Belize, where they settled. The Garinagu are lobbying for their rights with G.O.B. News Five's Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

In Belize, there are six traditional Garifuna villages, located primarily along the coast of Belize.

Sheena Zuniga, President, National Garifuna Council

"There are six traditional Garifuna communities; NGC has twelve branches in the communities, but we are focused on our six traditional communities that we know are where we were raised and that we traditionally used."

Duane Moody

"Where are those areas?"

Sheena Zuniga

"Those six traditional communities are Hopkins, Dangriga, Seine Bight, Georgetown, Barranco and Punta Gorda."

In 1999, the rights of Garifuna people were recognised in Belize by the Musa administration.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of Indigenous Peoples' Affairs

"Prime Minister Said Musa signed along with the Garifuna leaders at the time of the national Garifuna Council a memorandum of understanding recognising certain rights of the Garifuna people and that was back in 1999. And of course, it doesn't maybe go to the extent of the consent ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice in respect to Maya customary land tenure, but certainly it doesn't take away from the respect and the conversations that we need to have with the Garifuna people going forward."

…and so, a meeting in Hopkins between Garifuna leaders and officials from the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples' Affairs was a platform to begin the conversation where the Garinagu can advocate and lobby for their rights. Minister of Indigenous Peoples' Affairs, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia describes the meeting as frank, but of a different tone.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia

"We had a very frank and respectful and hard-hitting discussion with some of the Garifuna leaders of the National Garifuna Council and Baba Roy Cayetano. He has such a wonderful institutional memory. He is a walking repository of all things Garifuna - the history in particular which is so very important because if you want to know here you are going, you have to know where you have come from."

Sheena Zuniga

"We know that there are two indigenous groups in Belize; the Mayas and the Garinagu. We have not been actively advocating for our rights and the issues we face in our communities."

President of the National Garifuna Council, Sheena Zuniga shares some of the issues that this indigenous group has been facing. They are intent on preserving the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the ethnic Garifuna people.

Sheena Zuniga

"We also have the case of Seine Bight. Seine Bight borders have shrunken within the years. What we thought was Seine Bight is now not Seine Bight; it is known as Placencia. So you have a little Seine Bight in the middle which is not fair to our communities. Here in Hopkins we have issue with the cemetery. How could you sell a part of the cemetery? We still have the pending situation with the Midway and Barranco situation where Midway is trying to encroach on Barranco lands. Just because the lands are there and not currently being used, they feel like it is their responsibility to take the lands because we are not using them because they want to expand for their future, even though those lands may be privately owned by Barranconans. So that is one of the issues that we are currently facing and we have issues that our communities are not demarcated. What will happen in the future. Imagine the Creole and the Garifuna decide we are entitled to lands, how will we know where our traditional borders are? How will we know where the national lands are? How will we know our boundaries for our communities? So this is something very important that I would urge the government to start taking a lead on. We do have Gulisi primary school, but we are also advocating that within our six traditional Garifuna communities, that the primary school could adapt the inter-cultural policy within our communities to help us preserve our Garifuna language."

Minister Dolores Balderamos-Garcia says that government stands ready to assist, where it can, to resolve the concerns of the Garinagu.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia

"We need strong advocacy from the Garifuna leaders and the communities so write to us. Put something in writing if you have a specific complaint about encroachment or whatever. Let us know and we will ask the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Lands Department to�� deal with it. Now, I am not saying that we will; be able to solve all the issues, but I am saying that if we sit down and we get everybody and the key players together, we will be able to solve the issues of boundary delimitation."

Sheena Zuniga

"We just want the government to work with us in good faith for us to table all our issues and come to peaceful solutions that can help both parties. We don’t want to be another organization, another culture who takes the government to court. We want to see if we can get our issues tabled in a peaceful and hopeful and faithful way with the government."

Delimitation of Village Boundaries - Not that Easy

The delimitation of boundaries has been a challenge for the Government of Belize. There have been villages reporting of encroachment, as well as the sale of land without notice. There are also competing interests as it relates to villages wanting to expand, but being unable to do so. Minister of Indigenous Peoples' Affairs Dolores Balderamos Garcia says that it is a process which is being looked at carefully, specifically as it relates to Maya communal land tenure in the south.

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of Indigenous Peoples' Affairs

"The issue of delimitation of boundary should not be that difficult once we can sit down and compromise and respect one another's rights. But there is some hurt being experienced. In relation to the forty-one Maya villages of the Toledo district, we will have to be looking carefully at the auto delimitation and what they call the delimitation principles and methodology. It is important for us to recognise that the rights can be balanced and that when we put in place the administrative and legal framework, we will be able to balance often competing interests. But at the same time if we do a proper harmonization, then we will be able to live together. You call it a Modus Vivendi."

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