Minister within the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry, Valerie Garrido-LoweIndigenous Guyanese today have much to be thankful for, particularly the contributions of Guyana’s first Indigenous parliamentarian, Stephen Campbell.The life of this renowned Guyanese, a descendant of the Arawak people, was celebrated on Monday at the Umana Yana as the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry prepared to wrap up its celebrations of Amerindian Heritage Month 2016.Leading the discourse on his life and the significant role he played in making way for the freedom and opportunities afforded to Amerindians today, Minister within the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry, Valerie Garrido-Lowe recalled the struggles endured by Campbell, particularly during the lead-up to Guyana’s Independence back in 1966.Describing Campbell as a visionary, Garrido-Lowe said Indigenous Guyanese today, 50 years later, have a lot to be thankful for.She said during the Independence struggles, Campbell had been attending meetings, Parliament and other places. “He wanted to make sure those Indigenous brothers and sisters were safe in their lands,” she said. His quest for this took him to meet the Queen of England at the time.“We must never forget the path Stephen Campbell paved in our lives as Indigenous people today. Today in the hinterland, of the 212 villages, many of us own our own lands. So this whole process of Indigenous having their lands is because of the brave and visionary Stephen Campbell,” Garrido-Lowe told fellow Amerindians.Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Minister Sydney Allicock said the great Stephen Campbell began the process of championing the rights of Amerindians. He said the Indigenous community seemed to have a shortcoming in celebrating its heroes.“This is something we must correct. In honouring our heroes, we help the world better understand us and what we represent. We help to draw the world’s attention to the importance of our role in history. We record our own history, we become the heroes of our story,” such were the words of Stephen Campbell.Campbell was the first Amerindian Member of Parliament in Guyana. He was elected to the Legislative Council of British Guiana on September 10, 1957.Campbell was born in Moruca, a sub-district of the Barima-Waini Region, the northernmost part of Guyana, on December 26, 1897. His father was Tiburtio A Campbell, a boat builder, and his mother was Maria Dos Santos nee Osorio. Both parents died when he was very young and he was brought up by his grandmother whom he credited with teaching him the core principles of life: “religion and discipline”. He was a student of the Santa Rosa Mission School.Amerindians feared that after Independence, whatever rights they enjoyed would then be ignored and the lands on which they have lived for thousands of years would be expropriated.Campbell travelled to London to present a petition and lobby the British Government for recognition of Amerindian land rights. On his return, he set up the Amerindian Association to mobilise Amerindian pressure on the Independence Commission to ensure that Amerindians’ interests were taken into account in the Independence negotiations. Thus when Guyana attained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, the legal ownership by Indigenous peoples of land and rights of occupancy were embodied in the Independence provisions.Campbell died on May 12, 1966 – two weeks before British Guiana gained Independence from Britain. He is the main reason that Amerindian Heritage Day is celebrated on September 10 – this was the day he was elected to Parliament. He has spearheaded a historic change in bringing to the fore the vital and rightful place of the Amerindian in the mainstream of life in Guyana and its future development. During the observance, some 18 Indigenous Guyanese were honoured for more than 25 years of service to the Indigenous community and Guyana in various areas. Among them were Rita Rebeiro, a teacher of Moruca Region One (Barima-Waini); the designer of the $10 coin, Ignatius; retired Army Captain John Flores; Trinidad-based Guyanese Journalist Miranda LaRose; the first Indigenous Priest Hannon Bennet (Posthumous) and Sculptor and University of Guyana lecturer, Winslow Craig.