Seine Bight. Thurs. Sept. 9, 2021– On September 9, 2021, the Seine Bight Village Council hosted a public meeting in the town auditorium to discuss the construction of a gas station in the village without the consultation of the villagers. The site of construction was in a residential zone and in the vicinity of a Garifuna place of worship.
The primary concerns expressed by the villagers were the absence of an effort to get consent from the Seine Bight villagers prior to the decision to place a gas station at the location, in addition to the lack of a public hearing and Environmental Impact Assessment of the project. A release from the Garifuna Nation states, “No one in the village except for some village council members were aware of the pending project in the village. The villagers were concerned that the proper procedures and guidelines were not being followed, no Town Hall Meeting, environmental and health concern issues, not being informed and the danger the gas station would possibly pose to the Garifuna community.”
At the meeting, Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Hon. Balderamos Garcia, while not referring to the Garifuna as indigenous people, affirmed that the Garifuna people are respected. She advocated for cooperation between all involved parties and called for productive discourse in resolving the issue. The area representative of Stann Creek West, Hon. Rodwell Ferguson, while not acknowledging the Garifuna’s indigenous identity, also indicated that he was willing to listen to the Seine Bight residents. One Garifuna panelist, who is the 1st vice-president of the Garifuna Nation, noted the two elected representatives’ reluctance to acknowledge the Garifuna people as indigenous, demanded respect of as an indigenous entity and stated that the issue extended beyond the mere gas station, and stemmed, in fact, from a denial of the Garifuna’s indigenous heritage.
As the public discourse progressed, certain statements made by Hon. Balderamos Garcia apparently angered the members of the Garifuna Nation. According to the Garifuna Nation release, while Hon. Balderamos Garcia acknowledged the CCJ Consent Order in relation to the Maya people, she affirmed that the ruling does not apply to the Garifuna people and stated that the government is not compelled to uphold the Consent Decree in matters relating to them. A release from the Garifuna Nation objects to her assertions: “While the Consent Decree does not compel GoB to grant Garifuna their rights, Judge Conteh’s decision does. But neither of the GoB representatives during the meeting acknowledged Garifuna people as being indigenous,” it said.
During the meeting, a village resident, Marion Lambey, gave a summary of the history of land ownership in the village. He noted that non-Garifuna residents inhabited only the tip of the peninsula. This history lesson provided an opportune time for a visit to the gas station construction site and its surrounding areas. Following a tour of the Dabuyaba site, which is near the construction of the gas station, the Garifuna Nation was pleased to be informed that Minister Rodwell Ferguson had requested a stay on the construction work until further notice.
The release from the Garifuna Nation says, “The Garifuna Nation hereby express our sincere gratitude and appreciation, to all of our people and supporters who are involved in this Stop the Gas Station Construction Campaign. It is not over until it is over.”