Establishment of a National Heritage Commission2909 25 Jan, 2013
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, having looked at the motion and then having heard Mr. Granger’s introduction of his motion, I am more convinced than even before that the request by the Government for deferral to have a look at the motion with the view to reaching unanimity was correct. If one looked at the motion as it is, one could not have had that sense of some of the things that Mr. Granger spoke of. I believe that they require discussion; they require ventilation and they require the three parties in this House to sit and create a framework within which one can deal with these important and sensitive issues.
As a people, we are a young, democratic, nation, not old; we will be forty-seven years old this year. It is at this stage that we have many things to confront at the international level, the regional level, the national level and within our borders at the community level. We cannot, as a people, define ourselves only by when we arrived here.
The motion refers to the indigenous people, in relation to Heritage Day, but the people who have been here first have been here from seven thousand years ago and as long ago, between seven thousand and eleven years by archaeological and anthropological findings. But we are not stuck in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is the twenty-first century and this is a country in which other people have come to this land, other nationalities, other ethnic groups, and it will continue to be so. We are a nation that is young and emerging and one in which we have a lot to offer to our people, to our neighbours and to other people. Guyana is reaching its level of maturation. Therefore my concern, and our concern, is that our history and our culture is not static nor is it restrained and confined by the date our ancestors arrived or by historic dates, in terms of their emancipation. Emancipation, as Bob Marley said, is a process. It is why he sang about it - that we have to liberate our minds; we have to throw off mental slavery.
As a Guyanese, as a Guyanese woman and as a woman of the most minority groups still existing in this country... I represent the minority of the minorities of Guyana and I do not wish to be defined by that ethnicity; I wish to be defined as a Guyanese woman, and a proud Guyanese woman. I do not want to be constrained by biological and other things I had no control over. It is not my fault or anybody’s fault or any condition of what you were born into, what you look like or the colour of your skin. It is, though, what we make our country that is important.
We are not finished evolving as a nation. There are Caribbean nationals who have come here in the early twentieth century. There are new Chinese and new Indians who have come here in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. There are other nationals – Brazilians and Africans – who have been coming here from the 1990s. Our tapestry as a culture, as a nation, is still evolving, so the issue is that we also cannot be trapped in a time war.
Guyana is not isolated from what else is going on in the world. Fifty-eight per cent of our population is under the age of thirty-five. This is a global world; it is a global situation. Information is flashed around the world within seconds. The young people of today see the world in a different way than my generation and the generation before. They are caught up in information that we could not have dreamt about ten years ago and so they are going to be influenced - positive, negative, good, bad - but that new evolving culture is also going to be what is Guyanese. When one looks at the way our young people dance, dress, eat, socialise, it is the new culture that is emerging. Some people do not like some of it; other people do not mind it. It is a new culture emerging in Guyana. One has to be careful that one does not try to regulate all aspects. It must be allowed, as Martin Carter talked about – Dr. Roopnarine is the expert on Martin Carter, having studied and written voluminously of Carter’s work – that culture must be allowed to flower and blossom. Not all of it can be stymied and controlled by bodies of people.
When we look at the emergence of art in the early 1940s and 1950s, there was very little support from the State and the British colonial Government at that time, but some of our most outstanding artists and writers emerged in that time of turmoil, in that time of revolutionary struggle. We are a people who have had a fractured and painful history and we believe strongly that we have to sit, as a people, as political parties, and try to find the best framework for that to take place in. We are pleased that Mr. Granger has made two amendments to the motion. We appreciate the significance of that move by him, but we still believe, firmly, that it would have been far better for this House for us to sit together and try to reach unanimity on the motion. That does not mean leaving the motion as it is. In fact, a letter to Mr. Granger, signed by Dr. Anthony, stated that “As you might be aware, the Government of Guyana is inclined to support the thrust of the motion.” However, we cannot support the motion as it is currently drafted. We pointed out to the experience in the Ninth Parliament of how we were able to sit, craft and amend each other’s motions to allow us to reach unanimity.
If one thinks that it was insignificant, that on the motion on Cheddi Jagan and on L.F.S Burnham did not take both sides a lot of effort in which... In some cases, on both sides, there were individual Members of Parliament who were not terribly happy about the concessions and the reworking of the languages, but we were able to reach consensus; we were able to reach unanimity. The essence of this is not about making two amendments; it is about an honest request for deferral so that we could have sat down together and try to put our best brains together to craft a motion that have the unanimous support of this House, which would address the issue, which is raised in this motion, that we feel is not fully raised and constrains the way in which we will be able to address it in the future.
It is just for the record. Guyana has signed the Convention on Intangible Heritage; it has signed the Convention on Underwater Heritage; it is a signature, ratified, the International Social, Culture and Economic Rights and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights. Within our own country there are legislative framework - the Amerindian Act, Forestry and Mining Acts, Building Codes, National Trust, National Archives, Central Housing and Planning Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Protected Areas Commission Act, the Kaieteur Park Act, the National Park Act, the Maritime Zone Act and the Public Holidays Act. There are a range of pieces of legislation that have an impact on how we protect our tangible and intangible heritage. It may not suffice, some of it may be antiquated and needs to be amended and brought up to date. These are things that the Commission could look at, whether it is called heritage, commemoration or some other name we come up with, it is the dynamics of how we come to decisions that is sometimes more important than the decision itself.
Mr. Granger has talked about inclusionary governance; he has talked about inclusion, but yet a request, on this side of the House, for a deferral to allow people to sit, share and brainstorm was not accepted, because there is, on the Opposition’s side, Mr. Granger, himself, who has written a lot on history and culture. Dr. Rupert Roopnarine is well respected in this area. On this side of the House, there are people who have been involved in culture - whether it is administration, in history, in performing or in whatever. There are people on both sides who could have sat …On the AFC side, there are also Members there, such as Mr. Nagamootoo, Mr. Ramjattan and Mrs. Hughes, who has been involved in a variety of ways - whether it is the marketing end, propaganda end or whether it is the news end.
I am very disturbed Mr. Speaker [Mrs. Backer: You are always disturbed.] That is your problem. I am disturbed because I believe firmly..., and I speak on behalf of the Cabinet here because the Cabinet on Tuesday had quite a long discussion on this motion. We felt that this was a golden opportunity for us in this House to sit down and reach unanimity on. That was on Tuesday and on Wednesday the communication was made with Mr. Granger.
The two amendments may appear to suffice, but I believe that we have lost an opportunity. I do not believe that it is too late in the debate right now for us to halt and have a team sit and meet. We have written, in another communication during the sitting of this House, to Mr. Granger, saying that we are committing ourselves, as we did in the letter that was sent this morning, and we further committed ourselves that we were prepared for this motion to be on the agenda for February 7th sitting and that we were prepared to sit and try to reach unanimity, before that and we were pretty sure that we could.
A lot has been said about anger, about disunity and about us as a people having a national contract but I believe, firmly, that… Obviously we have to complete the contract and the contract will probably be emerging and evolving as our country moves forward. Cultural identity and culture are more than and bigger than the colour of one skin and broader in its definition than our ethnicity, our cultural ethnicity, our cultural identity, our religion, our gender, birthplace and birthright. Culture is about the way of life of a people, the way of life of a society, which is evolving all the time and changes over time. When we look at the different cultural practices, some of them have been lost, regrettably, and some of them have lost; maybe it was good that they were lost. We have an opportunity today because having heard Mr. Granger’s speech, in presentation, I am more convinced that there was need for us to talk. Therefore it is unfortunate and regrettable because I believe fundamentally at this time in the body politic that a signal, such as this, would have been the right signal for our people and for this House. Our body politic needs an injection of some goodwill and good faith and some indication to our people that, on issues of sensitivity, we can sit together. We are bigger than our individual selves; we are more magnanimous in our spirits, in our intellect and in our souls to be able to sit together and to find what would be a formula for such an idea because, as I said before, the initiative taken by Mr. Granger we support. We believe though that this is a national initiative and requires unanimity.
I just want to make one small correction. The Special Select Committee, which looked at the holidays in the Eight Parliament, most of those Members of that parliamentary Special Select Committee are not here, if I am right. [Mrs. Chandarpal: I am here.] Mrs. Chandarpal is here. I think she is one of the last people or is the last person from that parliamentary Special Select Committee. That parliamentary Special Select Committee from its report, which is in the records of this House, looked at all the holidays and dates of arrival as put forward by Mr. Granger and also had representation, if I am correct, from the public and different organisations came forward. The selection of the date, May 5th, Arrival Day, was meant to be arrival day of all and of everyone. That is written in the Hansard and that is written in the resolution. It coincided with May 5th, the arrival of indentured labourers but it also coincided with other dates in that same month of other groups that arrived as indentured labourers. Therefore it was felt that this was a safe area that the same date could be used for Arrival Day and so it was never Indian Arrival Day; it was Arrival Day.
I believe that we must hold to what is true and dear in our society. We must hold true to our fundamental belief that we, as a people, regardless of where our ancestors came from, are here, our navel strings are buried here - we are here; we are the here and now - and we have the responsibility to be able to do the best that we can. We have that responsibility, as generations before us. There are times when the history of culture and the evolution of cultural and cultural management in Guyana are written and it will show how culture has been used and abused in different periods of our history for tokenism and for all sorts of things. It is not a purview of any one particular Government, but it evolved.
I will say this, as a former Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, that I remember taking on the Ministry, which was originally a department of the Ministry of Education, in which when I met the commemoration committee, which existed then, it was all one ethnic group, it was all one political persuasion and it was all one religious persuasion. Obviously, we do not want to go in that direction again. Certainly, we do not. We have to find a way to find spatial opportunities at the political level, spatial opportunities in the fabric of our society, and, therefore, we can technically talk about culture and a number of issues but we are talking about the soul of our nation and how we see ourselves, and how we express ourselves in music, in dance, in literature, in poetry, in photography, in painting. I see the Minister has circulated the Guyana Visual Arts Competition Exhibition, which is a beautiful collection, absolutely gorgeous collection, that shows young and old artists of Guyana, male and female, of all different ethnic groups, who are creative and imaginative and who are not being constrained, defined and divided by who came when and who represents who.
I believe that we have an opportunity, Mr. Granger, with this motion, either to send it to a Special Select Committee, if you do not want to meet directly with the Government, or that we pause and we meet as three parties, if you want, on Monday or Tuesday, to sit down. I believe that there is creativity and imagination and goodwill on all three sides of this House to come back to this House with a motion that is more useful and a more helpful tool to what we say are our ambitions and to what we say are our goals. What better goal it is, what bigger goal, what more important thing to build national integration, to build cultural integration. What bigger effort could that be for us?
As I said, culture is not easy to regulate. I remember Denis Williams. I had the honour of working for him for a short time, before his demise, and in some of the writings and recordings which were done of him he talked about the cultural reservoir of Guyana being the village. How he defined the village, both in a geographic sense of a community of people, whether it was, as some people thought, one came from a village from the East Coast or East Bank or even a village in the Pakaraimas, he felt that those geographic spaces were part of the reservoir of what we are as a people and how is it that in some parts of Guyana there are different traditions that are assumed to belong to one ethnic group over another. In fact, when we do the historical research it is completely contradictory and it goes to other parts of the world.
We need to be able to find an avenue, a forum, a mechanism, that we can bring the best out in us and not try to limit us in any way. I believe the motion, which has been drafted now - I do not believe Mr. Granger has done that deliberately - is limited, in terms of the scope of what can be done. If this is what we want to tackle, having listening to Mr. Granger’s speech, if this is where we are going and where we want to go then, this framework, this mechanism, as put in this motion, cannot do it. It will lead to all sorts of other controversies.
I believe that we, as I said, have an opportunity. The Opposition can very well proceed, by putting it to the vote, but, as the Government said in its letter to Mr. Granger this morning, “The Government wishes to reiterate that parliamentary motions do not bind executive. However, the parliamentary motions that are supported by the Government could be binding.”
One of the important issues, which was raised by the Government, through Minister Anthony, was the issue of the motion and the executive authority. The Commission cannot take on the executive authority, that is, the Ministry and agencies which deal with culture. It can be a variety of forms and models and I would not dare to hazard at this point, in this sitting, what are the different models that can be used because that was the opportunity, when we sat together, to look to see what kind of Commission would be wanted; how it would engage with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport; how it would engage with National Trust; how it would even engage with National Archives; how it would deal with Castellani House, the Gallery of Arts, how it would it deal with the University of Guyana and how it would deal with the Ministry of Education and curriculum development. [Mrs. Backer: Would all of that be in the motion?] I know that some of the voices over there always find somewhere to make fun of whatever I say, but it does not matter.
One thing about culture and history is that it is not the purview of anybody; it is not the purview of any ethnic group; it is not the purview of any government; it is not the purview of any political party, because culture and cultural emergence and expressions come from far deeper than that. They come from people who express themselves in a variety of ways. It has very little to do with class; it has very little to do with religion or anything else actually.
I wish to thank Mr. Granger for the initiative he has taken. I wish to acknowledge and thank him also for putting the two amendments, but I wish to, in conclusion, reiterate that this was a golden opportunity for us to reach unanimity and that having failed to meet and deferred, as we had asked, that we are losing a golden opportunity.
Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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