Odacy Davis


Indigenous Communities of the Guiana Shield come together to share experiences

at the First Indigenous Participatory Film Festival held in Georgetown, Guyana

October 22, 2014

…under the theme “Community-owned Solutions for Social Ecological Challenges”, this event was held at the Kings Plaza Hotel in Georgetown from 16 to 19 September 2014, where indigenous and community groups (Guyana, Brazil, Venezuela, French Guiana and Suriname), academic researchers, activists, policy-makers, development workers and government officials gathered to collectively deliberate and discuss practical actions for promoting indigenous community-owned solutions for facing current and emerging social, economic and environmental challenges.

Over the past three years the Cobra Project has been working with indigenous communities of the Guiana Shield to discuss, document and share their local best practices using participatory photography and video. The festival therefore provided an opportunity for these groups to present the work they produced and to discuss related themes.

Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony

The Festival commenced on Tuesday evening with a grand Opening Ceremony and Reception. Mr. Bernie Robertson of the Cobra Project chaired what can be described as an “Enchanting” opening ceremony. Dr. Jay Mistry and Mr. Lakeram Haynes gave a brief overview of the project and achievements after three years of work. This was followed by special remarks from Dr. Raquel Thomas- Caesar, of Iwokrama International Centre, Mr. Michael Williams, North Rupununi District Development Board, Mr. Derek Lambe – Chargé d’Affaires, European Union Delegation to Guyana, Dr. Frank Anthony, Minister of Culture, Youth & Sport and Mr. Bertie Xavier – Community Leader who gave the feature address. They all echoed sentiments of gratitude and praise for the work that was accomplished by the indigenous communities of the Guiana Shield through the project. They also emphasized the need for governments, institutions’ and policy makers to recognize community owned solutions. Dr. Anthony in his comments offered his Ministry’s help in making this festival an annual event as well as partnering with the community researchers to continue the documentation of several aspects of indigenous way of life.

Mr. Ryan Benjamin, Ms. Grace Albert and Ms. Rebecca Xavier (indigenous researchers with the project) presented the concept of local solutions and their importance. They spoke of their experience documenting these local solutions in the North Rupununi and working with other communities of the Guiana Shield to do the same using the project’s Handbook”. Copies of the handbook were then distributed to special invitees.

Dr. Frank Anthony, Minister of Culture with his Cobra Handbooks in Hand!

Dr. Anthony, Min. of Culture with his Cobra Handbooks in Hand!

The opening ceremony also featured:

  • live presentation of the Cobra song “You Can Do It” performed by Alister Tucker (Jah Glory). This song promotes community awareness and best practice in the fight against climate change;
  • screening of the North Rupununi best practice film Transmission of Culture to Youth”;
  • climate change song performed by indigenous students of the Bina Hill Youth Learning Centre.

This opening session concluded with a grand cultural show which featured songs, dances, poems and art presented by the Surama Indigenous Culture Group, Buxton Fusion Drummers, and delegates from North & South Rupununi Guyana, Venezuela, Brazil, French Guiana and Suriname.

Exhibition Sessions were held each day between 4 – 5 pm where we screened videos submitted by other indigenous communities and organizations that work with indigenous communities. The videos shown during this period covered a wide range of social-ecological issues that included resource access, use and management, preservation of indigenous culture, indigenous education, gender equality, climate change and its effects.

Festival participants screening a video

Festival participants screening a video

Films & Discussions – In the evening from 5pm – 8pm different indigenous communities presented their best practice videos. After which an expert panel led discussions on the central themes of the videos. The themes discussed included:

  • How do Indigenous communities sustain themselves and the environment?
  • Why is Indigenous knowledge so important for maintaining the environment?
  • How do Indigenous communities protect and enhance their environment?
  • How do Indigenous communities manage their affairs independently of external involvement?
  • Fomenting leadership, community initiatives and self help?
  • What Indigenous collaborative strategies are successfully achieving sustainability?
  • What enabling factors promote Indigenous community owned solutions?
  • How do indigenous communities blend modern technologies and practices with tradition?
  • What are the impacts of climate change and various national and international initiatives on indigenous communities?

Indigenous leaders in their discussions noted that it was important for local solutions to be acknowledged by all actors. Others stated that it was the right time for indigenous people to share their knowledge and experiences with the world instead of keeping it to themselves; this they say will give the world answers to protecting and conserving natural resources and at the same time preserve the indigenous culture for their posterity.

Indigenous Leader of Brazil discussing land rights issues

Brazilian Leader discussing land rights issues

Several participants at the festival called for a scaling up of the indigenous-indigenous exchange, which was evidently fruitful at the festival – e.g. several indigenous communities of the Guiana Shield shared similar farming practices as illustrated in their videos, however many were facing very differently challenges with their crops and plating practices. By sharing these videos and explaining their challenges, they were able to learn new strategies that they can implement on their return to their village.

The closing discussions focused on issues of land rights, climate change and resource extraction. Indigenous leaders of Brazil and Guyana shared and discussed challenges of gold mining and its effects on their people. These leaders stated that indigenous people are linked to the land and as a result it’s vital for these lands and the resources they host to be protected. The Guyanese indigenous leaders highlighted the current issues the communities of the North Rupununi are facing with the granting of forest concessions contiguous to their title lands and the enormous challenges that this arrangement presents.

One of the most important outcomes of this festival is a video declaration that the indigenous participants of the Guiana Shield prepared supporting the integration of indigenous solutions into official policies. This video will be presented to the EU parliament at a special session to be convened January 2015 in Brussels. Please take some time to view this declaration!

As a side event participants were taken to a coastal mangrove reserve where local community tour guides facilitated a mangrove tour that is helping to promote mangrove ecosystem conservation and alternative livelihood opportunities.

For more photos of the event check here! For more Cobra videos check here!



QUICK DOWNLOAD: Check out the English version of the COBRA Handbook for Practitioners.