French Guiana is an overseas department and region of France in South America. It is bordered to the west by Suriname and to the south and east by Brazil. It has a population of 268,700 inhabitants (INSEE, 2017). The interior of the country is covered by dense equatorial forest that is only accessible by plane or canoe along the Maroni River to the west or the Oyapock River to the south-east. Ninety (90) per cent of the territory is owned by the French state, under the system of “terra nullius” that was applied during the colonial era, to the detriment of the Indigenous Peoples who were dispossessed of their lands.
Indigenous peoples in French Guiana
French Guiana is an overseas department and region of France in South America. Although France has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, French Guiana’s 10,000 indigenous inhabitants are facing a number of challenges, especially in relation to illegal gold mining affecting the natural habitats and the local populations who depend on those habitats.
France has not ratified ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. France only recognises Areas of Collective Land Use Rights, concessions and transfers, which cover 8% of the area of French Guiana and give only a simple right to use of the land.
Indigenous peoples in French Guiana
French Guiana has 244,118 inhabitants. Indigenous peoples account for 5% of the population, that is to say 10,000 people.
The Pahikweneh, the Lokono, and the Téleuyu peoples live along the coast between Saint Laurent du Maroni and Saint Georges de l’Oyapock. The Wayampi and the Teko peoples live in the Upper Oyapock, and the Wayana peoples, plus a few Teko and Apalaï, in the Upper Maroni. Their traditional practices of fishing, hunting, gathering, and slash-and-burn agriculture have become increasingly difficult due to numerous regulations and mining activities.
France has recognised regional languages since 1992, and there has been academic provision for mother-tongue teachers since 1998.
Main challenges of French Guiana’s indigenous peoples
One of the main struggles of indigenous peoples in French Guiana relates to the consequences of illegal gold mining, which affects natural habitats and the local populations that depend on those habitats. Especially, the Guiana Amazonian Park (PAG) has experienced an increase in illegal gold mining sites in recent years.
Wild game is increasingly rare, as forest and river environments are being polluted and destroyed, and the local populations experience significant health problems and related social consequences, such as insecurity, illegal trafficking, prostitution, and violence, among other issues.
Another struggle relates to the forced evangelisation of the indigenous populations of South America, which has considerably grown in scale in French Guiana during recent years. The evangelisation practices promote different values rather than the respect for traditional, particularly shamanic, beliefs and they encourage changes in the traditional way of life of the Amerindians, as for example, to stop drinking the traditional drink cachiri and to no longer practise their artisanal and ceremonial activities.
Representatives of French Guiana’s indigenous organisations, associations and networks continue to make their voices heard and denounce the recurrent problems affecting indigenous men and women in the country.
Guiana is an overseas department and region of France in South America. It is bordered to the west by Suriname and the south and east by Brazil. It has a population of 259,865 inhabitants (INSEE, 2015). The interior of the country (90% of the land mass) is covered by dense equatorial forest that is only accessible by plane or canoe along the Maroni River from the west or the Oyapock River from the south-east.