Where They Stand: Technology and Community Research used to protect ancestral land in Guyana

Originally published by Forest Peoples Programme on 26/10/15.


The Wapichan people of Guyana are using modern technology and community research to seek legal recognition of their ancestral land in the face of aggressive land-grabbing, destructive logging, and poisonous mining by illegal miners and foreign companies, finds new report by internationally acclaimed science writer Fred Pearce.

This struggle is being faced by indigenous peoples across South America, and the Wapichan are an inspiring example of cutting-edge grassroots efforts to defend lands and forests. The report, published by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), explains how Wapichan community organisations have mapped their lands using GPS tools to document the location of farms, hunting and fishing grounds, wildlife habitats, and sacred sites.

…the mapping has always been about more than maps. It is about the Wapichan’s sense of themselves, and their traditions of collective ownership of the land. ‘Mapping awakened the struggle for land among our people…It brought people together’, says indigenous mapper Angelbert Johnny.

Photo: Tom Griffiths

Photo: Tom Griffiths

Geographic information is now being fed into a state-of-the art community mapping unit run by the Wapichan to print off maps of land use and traditional occupation for use in dialogue with government bodies responsible for land titling.

The root of the Wapichan’s case for extending their title – to take back the 85 percent of their traditional land that the government has so far refused them – is that they alone know how to use it. They are bound to that land, and they are its true custodians.”

The Wapichan are backing up their maps with a mountain of evidence collected through community-based research on their customary use of the land. A comprehensive land management plan based on consultations with all 17 communities in the territory has also been compiled by the Wapichan. It sets out how villages plan to develop their communities and care for natural resources within the 10,879 Square miles of territory that encompasses extensive rainforests in the Upper Essequibo river basin in the East and seasonally flooded grasslands in the South Rupununi savannah in the west.

After years of hollow promises from the previous national government, the Wapichan people are now hopeful that the new administration elected in May 2015 might finally enter into serious negotiation over their long-standing territorial claim:

The new government of Guyana has pledged to resolve indigenous peoples’ land claims once and for all. We are ready for dialogue. In October 2015 our Village Councils and District Toshaos Council have invited the government to sit down with our leaders to agree steps to securing our lands and forests for present and future generations. We now await a response…” Tony James, Wapichan elder, Aishalton Village.

The Wapichan hope that the recent report compiled by Pearce will add yet another string to their bow aiming for legal recognition of Wapichan territory. Tessa Felix of Shulinab Village, who is featured in the report, says:

We are distributing this powerful story about the Wapichan people and our beautiful Wapichan territory in all our villages. We will pass this written record, along with our oral history, to our younger generations so that they know about our long struggle to secure our lands, forests, mountains, waters and savannahs. We are now sharing this report with our government and the international community to help them understand how badly we want our land recognized for our children and children’s children.”


The full report can be downloaded here.

Related Posts

‘It’s possible to fight the giant and to win’- YLNM’s Mariana Gomez on Cajamarca, peace and extractivism
Cumarál to hold popular consultation on oil extraction in Andes foothills
La tragedia de El Dorado: Un salvavidas para el Rio Atrato
A Colossal Choice: Cajamarca prepares to decide whether to ban mining
No to industrial mega-mining for gold in French Guiana! Non à la méga-mine d’or industrielle en Guyane!  ¡No a la mega mina de oro en la Guayana Francesa!
US and Canadian Mining Companies Seek to Sue Colombia for $16.5billion
Venezuelan Indians attacked amidst mining mayhem

Venezuelan Indians attacked amidst mining mayhem

Report: Ecuacorriente S.A’s Mirador Project forcibly evicting communities
A Message of Solidarity to the People of Mariana, Brazil
COP21: Call for international recognition of rights of nature and communities
Yes to Life, No to Mining participates in the workshop “Mining and Energy Multinational Companies Strategies and Participation Mechanisms for Communities Defending their Territory” – Caquetá, Colombia
Peru Signs Bill to Protect 5,000sq Miles of Amazon from Mining
Footage Showing aftermath of Mining Dam Collapse in Brazil

Footage Showing aftermath of Mining Dam Collapse in Brazil

  • Written on: 10 November 2015
  • Posted under: Videos
Gold mining boom threatening communities in Suriname
Report: Using Technology and Community Research to Protect Ancestral Land in the Amazon
Where They Stand: Technology and Community Research used to protect ancestral land in Guyana
Victory for U’wa Nation in quest to defend territory
Mapping Initiative:  Gold Mining in Suriname
Deforestation in Peru: Building a dramatic future in the Amazon and the Andean Region


Ecuador Victims Can Seek Compensation from Chevron, Canada Supreme Court Rules
Court Halts Mining in Yaigoje Apaporis National Park
Achievements of the Global Day Against Mega Mining
Colombia was part of the Global Day for Action Against Mega Mining
Gold For Green Forests

Gold For Green Forests

Caquetá, Colombia blocks petroleum extraction in the Andes-Amazon foothills
Venezuelan tribes protest against violent mining gangs
Local researchers from YAIA receive the Equator Initiative Prize from UNDP in the Amazon

Start a Conversation. Share Words of Solidarity.

This website is about building a movement. We can only build a movement when we connect with one another. We invite you to do just that…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *