Addressing the opening of Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month 2015 at the Sophia Exhibition Complex compound under the theme “Preserving Our Customs and Traditions,” the Guyanese leader said a soon to be established Hinterland Language, Cultural and Sports Commission and the University of Guyana (UG) would be spearheading efforts to promote and preserve the nine Indigenous languages. “This will be a priority for our commission. The commission will also take steps to ensure that the traditions and cultures and customs flourish and that they are more widely appreciated and respected,” he said. The President added that the commission would document and record all languages including those that are now in dictionary form. He said efforts would be made to teach children in Indigenous languages. “we will ensure that wherever possible, children in Indigenous communities receive part of their formal instruction in their native languages,” he said. The President also announced that the Indigenous Peoples Languages Project would be established at UG and would complete the two remaining dictionaries for the Carib and Patamona languages. He expects that the dictionaries will be disseminated to public servants so that they can communicate effectively with Indigenous Peoples in the languages that they understand.
Granger said he was obligated to take steps to protect, preserve and promulgate Indigenous Peoples languages, culture, heritage and way of life in keeping with Guyana’s Constitution. He attributed the threat to many traditions and values to modernization and penetration by other cultures
Noting that Indigenous languages are under threat, being neglected, not being taught in schools and youths show little interest in speaking in their native languages. “It is not one of the Social languages of the Blackberry generation,” he quipped. “It is not transmitted to younger generations and if that lack of transmission continues, the languages will eventually die, they will eventually be forgotten,” he said.
APA Programme Manager, Jean La Rose welcomed the Amerindian language preservation and use plan announced by the President. “It appears now that the relevant people are listening, I think it can work. I am satisfied with the announcement.
La Rose agreed that Amerindian languages are under threat mainly because they are not being used in the formal school system as early as the nursery level because they are taught in English. “Our formal education system does not cater Indigenous languages so yes, it is very, very much under threat,” he said.
Asked why efforts by late Amerindian Professor of Linguistics, Desrey Fox and others to promote the use of Amerindian languages appeared to reaping little success, she said there has been no concerted long term plan or effort. “There has to be a structured programme that takes it into account. It cannot be a one-time effort, it cannot be a research paper; it has to be a programme,” she said.
Minister of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, Sydney Allicock as well as representatives of the National Toshao Council, Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana and the APA also addressed the opening session.
The attendees included former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Nigel Dharamlall and former Amerindian Affairs and Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett.