Located between Brazil and Suriname, French Guyana is the largest and most forested of the French departments (equivalent to the surface area of Portugal). The entire back-country (90% of the territory) is covered with dense equatorial forests and is only accessible by boat via the riverways or by air.
There are 6 different ethnic groups belonging to three major linguistic families (data from the GITPA (International Work Group for Indigenous Peoples):
The Palikour (between 600 and 1 000 native speakers) live in the east of the Guyana in Macouria and on the banks of the estuary of the river Oyapok, on the border with Brazil.
Arawak or Lokono (150-200 native speakers) and the Kalin’ia or Galibi (between 2 000 and 4 000 native speakers) live near coastal areas in the West (Awala-Yalimapo, Paddock-and-Fatima, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni).
The Wayana (200-900 native speakers) are located in the south-west on the high Maroni, river border with the Suriname (Antécume-Pata, Elaé, Twenké).
The Emerillon or Teko (200-400 native speakers) live in the central South and the Wayampi (400-600 native speakers) in the high Oyapock in the south-east; these last two ethnic groups are located south of a fictitious line, running east-west, between Maripasoula and Camopi which formerly delineated the « territory of the Inini » which we could not penetrate without a prefectural authorization.
These ethnic groups are Native American, and they are composed of peoples who are French, like us. Their resources are derived mainly from their natural environment: fishing, hunting and agriculture. Fishing plays a principal role in their diet. The fish caught using traditional techniques provides a significant share of animal proteins. Hunting is also an important activity. They practice an itinerant agriculture based on slash and burn farming. Their basic food is the cassava (Ulu), from which they produce beer (okï). They also cultivate sweet potato, yam and chili peppers. They also eat fruits such pineapple, banana and watermelon. Their customs and their way of life combine very strong spiritual links to the earth and to the nature that surrounds them, living in respect of the environment which has always offered them what they need.
Their houses (pakolo) were once covered with palm leaves and were completely open. The collective home (tukusipan) is central to the villages. It is in this house that visitors are received. It is under this roof the important meetings and celebrations take place. The dead were once buried here.
For many years, their lives have been threatened, their land invaded by clandestine illegal gold miners. Whole sections of forest are destroyed and polluted by gold mining leaving large areas of bare ground, that are made sterile by rapid erosion. The fauna of the rivers and forests is hunted extensively to meet the needs of gold miners, thereby depriving the native groups of a large part of their resources.
The gold miners have opened many illegal sites of exploitation of the precious metal deep in the forest. These places, located near the native villages are connected by a network of tracks for motorized vehicles (Quad bikes). The rivers are also used to supply the clandestine sites. They all have networks of satellite communication allowing them to anticipate the arrival of any intervention from law enforcers.
Despite many steps taken by the French authorities, particularly police operations and monitoring the traffic of gold, the gold mining continues to expand dramatically.
The Wayana and Teko request:
- an end to the illegal gold mining as well as any form of exploitation of gold.
- that a cooperation agreement is signed between the French authorities, the Surinamese and Brazilians and to combat this scourge that affects the Native population.
- that serious investigations are carried out on the national and international network that organise and take advantage of this illegal traffic to enrich themselves at the expense of local populations.