President Granger commissions Stephen Campbell House
– says tribute fitting as Indigenous leader advocated for protection of Indigenous rights and citizenship
Georgetown, Guyana (February 6, 2020): President David Granger, this morning, attended the commissioning of the Stephen Campbell House located at Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, Bourda, Georgetown.
The Stephen Campbell House is the home of the Department of Citizenship, Ministry of the Presidency.
President Granger, in his remarks, said it is fitting that the building is dedicated to Stephen Campbell, one of Guyana’s iconic Indigenous leaders.
“Stephen Campbell was an ardent advocate of protecting Indigenous citizenship. He wore many caps during his lifetime. He worked as a teacher, farmer and labourer and as a rubber-tapper. He toiled in the bauxite and gold-mining industries and in the logging industry. He is best remembered for his sterling agitation for the protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights – rights which he felt were derived from their citizenship of this country,” the President said.
President Granger noted that the 1965 British Guiana Independence Conference acknowledged Indigenous peoples’ rights to the legal ownership and occupancy over areas and reservations where Indigenous peoples normally reside.
“This decision was greatly influenced by Stephen Campbell’s tireless and persistent agitation. The Guyana Constitution 1966 enshrined the protections for which Campbell had petitioned. Stephen Campbell’s vision of citizenship embodied the concept of national integration. This, he felt, could be achieved only if each person is respected, regardless of his or her class, ethnicity or place of residence and where everyone enjoyed opportunities for economic, political and social advancement,” the President said.
The Head of State said that ‘Guyaneseness’ – the quality of being Guyanese – is to belong to a country which celebrates its cultural diversity by respecting each other.
“To be Guyanese is to live in a society which harnesses the best of its citizens, ensures that our people are protected from abuse and where their human rights are upheld; to live in a sovereign state where equality prevails and where citizens can be accorded greater opportunities for their development in a secure, safe and stable environment; and to live in a cohesive society in which everyone has a stake in our national patrimony.
Stephen Campbell was a pioneer of Indigenous peoples’ rights, particularly land rights. He laid the foundation for the range of Indigenous peoples’ rights which are now enshrined in the Constitution. Stephen Campbell’s labours were not in vain,” President Granger said.
The Preamble to the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana states that Guyanese people “Value the special place in our nation of the Indigenous Peoples and recognize their right as citizens to land and security and to their promulgation of policies for their communities.”
The Constitution [at Article 149G] mandates that: “Indigenous peoples shall have the right to protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life.”
It provides [at Article 212S (1)] for the establishment of an Indigenous Peoples’ Commission “to enhance the status of Indigenous peoples and to respond to their legitimate demands and needs.”
“The Stephen Campbell House will stand as a testimonial of the nation’s commitment to protecting the right of every citizen regardless of race, religion or region of residence in accordance with the Constitution,” the President said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Citizenship, Mr. Winston Felix said the renaming of Bidford House to the Stephen Campbell House is in recognition of the “enormous contribution of our Indigenous Peoples.”
Minister Felix said Stephen Campbell is the first member of the Indigenous community to have become a member of the Legislative Council of British Guiana (now Parliament), on September 10, 1957.
Annually, Guyana celebrates Stephen Campbell’s achievements as part of Indigenous Heritage month. Stephen Joseph Campbell was born in Moruca, in the Barima-Waini (Region One) on December 26, 1897.
Stephen Campbell’s work began in the Indigenous communities with the Church. He was a devout Catholic and served as a Teacher and Catechist in various Regions of Guyana. He was an Assistant Teacher at Martindale R.C. School in the Pomeroon River, Head Teacher of St. Louis School and Teacher-Catechist among the Wapisiana Indians in the Rupununi. His service in the Rupununi was recognized as part of the Church’s efforts to convert members of the various Indigenous tribes to Christianity.
It is recorded that in 1919, Stephen Campbell dedicated his time to developing literacy among the Wapisiana tribe in the Rupununi and founded the first school in the village of Sawariwau. He lived in various locations in the Barima-Waini Region; in Pomeroon – Supenaam (Region Two); Cuyuni-Mazaruni (Region Seven) and in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region (Region Nine).
“It was while working at a Waini Saw Mill that his interest in politics developed. He took the opportunity to look into the interest of Amerindians who were clamouring for representation. Their chance came with the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage and that gave Stephen Campbell and members of the Indigenous community the opportunity to participate and express themselves in General Elections, where he served as Presiding Officer,” said Minister Felix.
Stephen Campbell became the first Amerindian to contest the General Elections in British Guiana. He served as a member of the Legislative Council from September 10, 1957 until May 1961.
“As a Member of Parliament, he showed a keen interest in Land rights for Amerindians and his greatest achievement was the act of crafting the Amerindian Act, the development of better health facilities, implementation of postal service, the development of agriculture in the North-West District, and improved wages,” Minister Felix added.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo; Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland; Ministers of State, Foreign Affairs, Public Health, Social Cohesion, Social Protection and within the Ministry of the Presidency, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams, Dr. Karen Cummings, Ms. Volda Lawrence, Dr. George Norton, Mr. Keith Scott and Ms. Simona Broomes respectively also attended the commissioning. Also in attendance were Stephen Campbell’s granddaughter, Ms. Anna Correia Bevaun and great granddaughters, Ms. Naiomi Bevaun, and Mrs. Gabrielle Parsram, who was accompanied by her husband Mr. Shawn Parsram.