English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 14, 2004

Aborigines and “aliens”: Who of them feel like masters on the Koryak land?

V.V. Romanyuk, Chairman of the Commission of the Council of Deputies in charge of the affairs of indigenous peoples

A sharp upsurge of organized poaching in the Karaginskiy district involving illegal salmon fishing in its rivers with the aim of procurement and selling of red caviar has been steadily growing in recent years. The number of teams engaged in extermination of fish coming to the breeding bottoms is estimated at dozens. During the fishing season the riverside and coastal villages are literally swarming with enthusiasts of easy profit coming from various regions of the country and even from across the border, from the former Soviet republics, which have turned into foreign states. The number of “in-migrants” is more than one half of the total number of permanent residents in municipal localities.

The district authorities are trying to effectively fight with this social evil, passing district-oriented legislative acts, organizing and coordinating the activities of law-enforcing bodies under the guidance of the district headquarters in charge of the matters related to the fishing season.

As a result of a two-month campaign involving raids along the spawning rivers of the Karaginskiy district, the fishing inspectorate and officers of the district Internal Affairs section have revealed dozens of poaching cases; several vessels used for illegal fishing and transportation of fish and caviar have been arrested, and underground caviar processing shops have been destroyed.

As of now, however, law enforcement bodies are unable to curb the billows of poaching. This is not a job just for one summer. What is more, the war should go on not with the consequences of the social evil, but with its initial causes.

Ranking first among them are the appalling poverty and hopelessness facing the major part of the indigenous population and non-native old-timers. They have spent their best years to develop and strengthen the district and Okrug economy, and at present are coming face to face with the task of sorting out the problems that have stockpiled in the meantime. Besides, they have seriously undermined their health fishing at sea, on board the seiners, catching fish with aftercrop seine nets, using basket traps during navaga fishing in winter, grazing reindeer in the tundra and trapping and hunting animals in special hunting areas for the market.

At present, the majority of the former advanced workers of the once-great country are hiding along the banks of their native rivers, with every rustle that resembled distant sounds of a chopper giving them a start, feeding mosquitoes and keeping awake for days, pulling their seine nets and gutting hundreds and, according to some estimates, thousands of tons of fish. Most of the caviar procured in this way will go to repay the debts they have been driven into by crafty big pots that used to provide the aborigines with foodstuffs, mostly alcohol, “in return for caviar”, as a noble gesture in wintertime.

And here they are, running the risk of being caught and beaten up, humiliated and robbed by all sorts of officers of the court coming in helicopters.

Those who used to be proud of their fishing, reindeer herding, construction and hunting professions, those who could previously think themselves their families’ breadwinners on coming ashore or returning from the tundra are now called “the unemployed” officially and “poaching thieves” (“brakushniks”) on the sly.

And what about those who, having come to the Koryak land and in most cases having done a productive “caviar job”, would renew their auto park changing one jeep, which has become a real bore, for another one of a newer type on their return to town?

In contrast to what happens to local inhabitants, nobody would strike the newcomers on their heads with the butt of an automatic rifle during the roundup operations on the rivers. “The aliens” have far too many protectors among “the werewolves with shoulder-straps”, as Boris Gryzlov, Minister of the Interior aptly nicknamed them, and with whom honest representatives of law enforcing bodies are waging an uncompromising war.

Regretfully, though, the number of “the werewolves” does not seem to decrease, and that of “the roughnecks” they cover, either.

Taking advantage of the fact that the majority of Koryak aborigines do not know either their constitutional rights or federal and regional laws guaranteeing their priority right to carry out traditional types of economic activities, the aliens are trying to make use of the local population’s legal illiteracy to achieve their selfish ends.

Some people have started to appear on the territories of traditional nature use recently, time and again assuming functions quite uncommon to them, though, that is of getting things put “in order” in ethnic villages. A case like this has taken place in the Karaginskiy district. Transport vehicles, boats and motorcycles were stopped; ID papers as well as fishing licenses were demanded unlawfully from aborigines.

The case has been reported to the district administration, the Karaginskiy district Internal Affairs section, the Okrug Duma and, personally, the Federal inspector of the RF President’s Plenipotentiary Representative in the Far Eastern Federal Okrug.

The conflict between indigenous inhabitants and “aliens” has been settled only after the intervention of the Federal inspector from the Okrug center in the events taking place in the ethnic village of Tymlat.

The time goes by but there are no tangible changes in the aboriginal life of the Karaginskiy district in the offing. This conclusion appears from a careful analysis of the fishing season’s results.

52,000 tons of salmon were caught during the fishing season of 2003. For the sake of comparison and just to know whether it is a big or small catch, it would be appropriate to have a look at the data concerning the fish output of the biggest island in the world, Greenland.

Thus, in 1980, the Greenland Eskimos caught 48,000 tons of fish. It should be taken into account that more than 50 percent of Greenland’s economically active population was engaged in its fishing industry. Incidentally, Greenland’s population in 1980 was seven times greater than the total number of the Karaginskiy district’s inhabitants. Hence, there is a simple conclusion: our fishermen are no less able than their overseas counterparts. The question is, where have all the fish and caviar gone, which, according to the existing international resolutions and other decisions of the United Nations, should, in part, rightfully belong to the state and, in part, to the inhabitants of the riverside and coastal fishing villages. The economic and socio-traditional lifestyle and the methods of nature use of these villages depend on the possibility – guided by the regional legislation – to dispose of the output of marine bioresources.

However, as everybody knows quite well, there are fewer and fewer fishermen among the local population in the district, while the fisheries’ financial situation leaves much to be desired because they have to keep up with social security institutions (relating to education, health, welfare and security).

Though, even if our fishermen have caught 100,000 tons of fish, it is still very unlikely that the local inhabitants would be able to buy as many expensive offroad vehicles as the people who have done nothing useful either for the district or the Okrug are buying.

Now the prestige of a fishing profession cannot be compared in any way with that of a jeep owner or someone boastful of an expensive motorboat, - not a rarity any longer on the roads of the Ossorskaya Bay.

The uproar of the fishing season is over. Business people are counting up their profits; functionaries are dashing off their reports to higher authority about organization of a successfully accomplished fishing operation. And how will the aborigines manage to survive in the upcoming long winter? Where could he find a well-paid job and, generally speaking, is there a chance for the local people to find interesting and habitual work in the Karaginskiy district?

Here is a short inventory of enterprises where indigenous inhabitants used to work and have a chance to provide for their families not so long ago:

The collective farm “Tumgutum”, the state farm “Karaginskiy”, the state fishing farm “Karaginskiy”. This is a brief excursus to the district’s history, to the time when it was considered to be a stroke of luck to get fixed up with a job at such enterprises, and the teamwork there was assumed to be highly prestigious.

Now, there are more than 20 stores open in Ossor and only three fish processing plants…

There is not a single aborigine among the owners of the stores or the directors of the plants.

To distract the local population from the illegal salmon fishing on the rivers it is expedient to provide a possibility for the legal industrial sea fishing the way it has been done by the U.S. government in Alaska for the native population of the state.

Though, how could it be done legally in a country lacking the basic law regulating the introduction of industrial fishing?

While the big functionaries are still deciding in the far-away Moscow whether to give our Okrug or not to give it the right to regulate effectively the problems concerning the distribution of fishing quotas by the same functionaries, the aborigines of Koryakia continue to live and work according to the unwritten rules imposed by “the caviar bigwigs”.

In other words, next winter the local inhabitants will have to once again go cap in hand to “the roughnecks” and borrow the bare necessities from them. But next summer the borrowers will have to cover the debts with caviar, facing the risk of being caught and punished for the infringement of fishing regulations.

So far neither district nor Okrug authorities have been able to show the aborigines the way out of this continuous round of problems.

If only the balloting candidates willing to become deputies of the RF Duma could set things in motion and seriously accept the long-drawn-out local challenges of Koryakia! Possibly, the new membership of the Duma will pass a number of laws giving the inhabitants of the eastern coast of the Okrug the right to use the richest reserves of sea bioresources for the development of the entire region’s welfare.