Saving Guyana’s rainforest: My name is Michael McGarrell and I am of the Patamona Nation, an indigenous people of Guyana. I come from Chenapou, which is located on the Potaro River, close to the famous Kaeituer Falls. I work at the Amerindian People’s Association as a GIS Specialist and Forest Policy Officer.
My role there is to make maps, to help communities in making their own maps so that we can mark our territories, so we have evidence that we can show state agencies and the government to demonstrate our resource use and how we use our land. Additionally I work on forest policy, which has to do with any forest-related matters in Guyana.
Studying Outside the Community
I started volunteering my time at the APA before I started working there, and the experience has taught me that we have to go after what our heart feels. I am Amerindian, and being educated outside an Amerindian community, I learned about what I call “the other side of the fence” – which is pretty different from the way I grew up. But it taught me some important lessons, and as an Amerindian that has learnt about ‘the other side’, I’m now able to use that knowledge to promote my culture, promote my heritage, promote my traditions.
I believe that as young people, especially of Amerindian descent, we need to ensure that we are the voices of people who cannot speak in our communities. I love what I do, and think this is what I’ll continue to do until I die. I don’t think I could find anything else that would be as important.
My ancestors gave me so much. They passed on traditions and stories and so many things to me. They were the ones who were fighting for the security of our lands, and I think it’s only fair that as a young person coming up, I should now give back to them.
This is what I love to do, and will continue to do it because it’s one way of giving back to my people. I believe I owe them that much: to continue the fight, the struggle they started so many years ago.
Our Responsibility as Youth
I think it is important for persons of Amerindian descent, young persons especially, who may not understand a lot of the culture and traditions of our people to get involved with the APA. Because the APA may help them do just that. It puts you in a space where you have access to documents you can read, where you can interact with people who’ve had lots of experience. It’s one way of giving back to our ancestors what they have given to us.
This is for our people – I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for the generations that come behind my children and their children and other young Amerindians. – Michael McGarrell
I think young people should read more about their history so you understand what it is we went through as a people. Not just reading, but also talking with elderly people, because the elderly folks have a lot of information. Young people need to connect with the elderly so you understand more about the true meaning of who we are as a people. I think when you do, you begin to see why it is necessary and important that as young people you join the fight to make our voices heard.
A 7 Day Hike through Guyana’s Rainforest
Recently, for example, we walked from Paramaketoi to Moruwa. It took us 7 days, but it reminded me of how our people made those trails over generations. Our people are so knowledgeable about our land that they made these trails through mountains, rivers and valleys. It made me feel proud as a young person, knowing that I was walking on the trails my ancestors walked, the trails my ancestors forged. It gives me a good feeling, it makes me feel really nice that I can do this, I am doing this!
It was rough, it was tough, but I realized that if they did it, I could do it too. This is for our people – I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for the generations that come behind my children and their children and other young Amerindians. It’s a proud moment and a nice realization that I’m walking where my ancestors walked. That’s the story I’d like to tell, because it gives me hope and a sense of pride that I’m doing it, and I’m not just doing it for me, but for my people.
This is the first in a monthly series on the people who protect the worlds rainforests. Come back in soon to read new stories from Guyana’s rainforest, and forests around the world.