As a means of creating more opportunities for Guyana’s first people, the coalition Government has been working tirelessly to support and encourage economic empowerment, integration and environmental development of communities through strategic and informed policy formulation.Junior Minister in the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry Valarie Gariddo-LoweThis is according to Junior Minister in the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry, Valarie Gariddo-Lowe, who told the National Assembly, on Monday during Budget 2018 debate, that in order to restore pride and dignity of indigenous peoples’ of Guyana, economic empowerment is vital.The minister also described Budget 2018 as being ‘fit and proper,’ since it reflects the Government’s careful management of the people’s resources and caters for every class in society.“Just like any other mother, Indigenous mothers would like a comfortable home for their families. They want to be able to shop for their children’s clothing, shoes, toys, and lots more. They would like to be able to own their own gas stoves, their own television sets; they would like to be able to buy a laptop for their children, and have internet connectivity, or buy their own vehicle…,” she stated.Gariddo-Lowe is of the opinion that no real effort was made to create an environment for Amerindians to enjoy a better standard of living in the past.“But no more, Mr Speaker, your Government is ensuring that that wrong is being corrected. Strong measures are being put in place to fix that problem, and it will take some time, but it will be fixed,” Gariddo-Lowe stated, gaining support from her colleagues.To support her statement, the minister pointed out that in 2017, the sum of $59 million had been invested in the village of Paramakatoi, in the Potaro-Siparuni Region, to establish a sun-dried tomato facility, while the High Commission of Canada invested what she described as a much appreciated $5 million.“Today, this modern facility — complete with a solar power system, a solar dryer and internet connectivity; a processing facility, a dormitory, a water trestle and a guard hut — stands at the top of the mountain as a beacon of hope and innovation; a true testimony for all to see that the indigenous people of Guyana can rise to any occasion; that they can build thriving communities and sustain themselves, and contribute more to society,” she added.WomenReference was also made to Santa Rosa Village in Region One, which is expected to benefit from $10 million to set up a ground coffee production facility which would create employment for women, youths and approximately 20 farmers of the community to begin with.This project, she explained, will generate much needed revenue for the village, resulting in an improved standard of living for over one hundred persons who would benefit directly – that is, farmers and their families and businesses.“Mr Speaker, the sum of $10 million is allocated for a cassava flour production plant in Kwebana Village in Region One. Mr Speaker, the first peoples’ of this country produce a lot of cassava, but Guyanese do not eat the amount of cassava bread or farine that they can produce… And anytime they plant more than they can eat, and attempt to introduce it into the local Guyanese market, they suffer losses,” she declared.Further, $10 million will be allocated for the Lapidary Workshop in Monkey Mountain. Introductory training will commence in Monkey Mountain next week, with 20 persons from the communities of Monkey Mountain, Tuseneng, Kurukabaru, Kato and Mikwak. Participants of this two-week workshop will be trained to recognize and gather quality semi-precious stones, how to test them, and to learn the history of the various stones.In the second phase of training, at least six of them will be trained in cutting and polishing the stones, and in jewelry-making. Additionally, craftsmen and women will benefit by creating unique craft cases out of tibisiri, nibi, wood and spun cotton, for the different pieces of jewelry.“So, Budget 2018 speaks to the development of the entire country, and more specifically, bridging the gap between the hinterland and the coastland so that there will be equal opportunities for all, and equity among all citizens,” Minister Garrido-Lowe explained.Presidential grantGovernment will continue to support Sustainable Village Economies by providing incentives in the form of Presidential Grants, to help Indigenous Villages implement small projects that will boost community development in 215 Indigenous villages and communities, something that started with the previous Government and saw major expansion over the past few years.Gariddo-Lowe told the National Assembly that $215 million had been injected into the Indigenous communities for projects such as School kitchen, cash crop cultivation, community buildings, eco-tourism projects, village canteens and shops, general transportation and village markets among other projects.In 2018, another $224.2 million will go towards the indigenous communities, to implement projects that would support and enhance existing livelihoods; develop new economic, social and environmental initiatives, provide jobs for the local people, increase entrepreneurial capacity, and help in the reduction of poverty, linking all to the green state economy.