English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 11-12, 2002

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How can Samarga Woodland Udeges live on?

Materials were published in one of our journals issues (# 8) shedding light on the circumstances of the Primorskiy authorities having put the virgin Samarga forests―“the primordial habitat and the basis for a traditional lifestyle”―out to tender and then leasing them out to the joint stock company “Terneiles” for a period of 25 years.

The forests were leased for tree-felling ten years prior to that, in accordance with the President’s Edict # 397, dated 22 April 1992, “On Urgent Measures to Protect the Places of Residence and Economic Activities of Indigenous Peoples of the North” and “The System of Protected Natural Territories”, adopted by the session of the Territory’s Council on 28 June 1991 (decision # 145). Covering 660,000 hectares, the Samarga river basin in its upper and middle reaches had been reserved and included in a special environmental defense fund before acquiring special indigenousterritory status.

The Udeges of Agzu village adhered to their traditional way of life, engaging in hunting and gathering on these lands. This used to be the only source of their subsistence since the state authorities appeared to have forgotten about their existence during the past decade: there was neither electricity nor transportation (one can reach Agzu by helicopter only), nor any supplies. It turned out, though, that it was only the local people who had passed from the state authorities’ memory. The functionaries remembered well about the forests, which could be sold out. And when a buyer turned up they sold them without giving a thought about the local people.

Having learned about that by chance, Arkadiy Kaza, head of both the community and local administration, convened a general meeting on 25 August. He informed the villagers about the events and interviewed them on the next day. The results of his survey showed that 105 residents (the majority of the adult population of Agzu) vigorously opposed forest felling and were in favor of the establishment of traditional subsistence territories in compliance with federal legislation.

The Legislative Assembly of the Primorskiy Territory had earlier supported the initiative to establish a traditional subsistence territory but kept silent on 5 March 2002 with regard to the motion made by community head A. Kaza that the results of the forest tender should be nullified. I.D. Kryuchkov, a resident of the village, and, later, a group of people residing in the Primorskiy Territory, applied to the Frunzenskiy district court of Vladivostok with a claim “about nullification of decision # 7 dated 9 April 2001 made by the Territory’s Commission on holding forest tenders”. The court ruled to dismiss the claim.

On 9 October 2002 the case had to be tried by the appeals instance of the Primorskiy Territory’s Court.

At the same time, representatives of the joint stock company “Terneiles” were working with the Agzu population. In September, they convened a general meeting of the villagers and, as a result, the majority of the attendees approved the “Terneiles” decision to start up large-scale timber harvesting in Samarga forests.

According to the “Vladivostok” newspaper (16 October 2002), which quoted a participant of this meeting, the vote was taken only on the motion with regard to the idea put forward by “Terneiles” to set up a group of villagers assigned to define the requirements and conditions which would need to be fulfilled for the villagers to agree to timber logging in the Samarga river basin. Forty Agzu villagers attended the meeting, 19 of them voted in favor of setting up such a group, 3 voted against the motion, 4 abstained and 14 did not take part in voting. Thus, the appeal was not heard, while the public opinion of a small village was split. A small community failed to compete with a commercial company.

A new meeting of the Agzu villagers is scheduled for January 2003 to hold a vote on the list of requirements and conditions formulated jointly with “Terneiles” representatives.

Neither the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East nor the Primorskiy Territory’s Association of Indigenous Peoples can call for this or that decision by the Agzu villagers though they both believe that the loss of the Samarga forests would be irreplaceable for the primordial habitat and preservation of the Udege people’s culture.

We can hardly offer our help to the Agzu villagers in the establishment of civilized relations with the “Terneiles” company to stave off and alleviate the unavoidable negative consequences of forest felling for their lives and their children’s futures. In this connection, RAIPON appeals to the management of the “Terneiles” company with the following proposals:

«To: Mr. V.F. Shcherbakov,
Director-General of the open joint stock company “Terneiles”

Dear Vladimir Fedorovich:

The Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation and the Primorskiy Territory’s Association of Indigenous Peoples in their capacity of legitimate representatives of the numerically small peoples of the North and defenders of their rights and interests, taking into account the interests of the “Terneiles” company, which is under your guidance, with regard to traditional territories of the Samarga Udeges and the ensuing conflicts of interests, rating highly your readiness for cooperation as well as the company’s excellent reputation, propose the following:

1. To conclude a special agreement between the Primorskiy Territory’s Association of Indigenous Peoples and the “Terneiles” company on the development of a socio-economic development program for the Samarga Udeges’ territory. The recognition of numerically small peoples’ rights and interests as well as the willingness and ability to find possible compromises should form the basis of such an agreement. Getting slightly ahead of the events as well as taking into account our recent negotiations we believe it is vital and essential to supplement the aforementioned agreement with paragraphs dealing with the observance of environmental requirements with due account of traditional knowledge of the Samarga Udeges (regarding productivity of hunting grounds, migration of animals, etc.), the educational training of representatives of the Agzu village community in the development of traditional businesses and self-governance, and the establishment of a special fund to support local initiatives. As to the details and specific nature of the agreement, its formulation will be possible after your consent to conclude such an agreement.

2. The company’s consent to provide the Primorskiy Territory’s Association of Indigenous Peoples with technical documentation concerning the commercial exploitation of the Samarga forest areas and, in particular, a feasibility report and the conclusion of an environmental impact assessment is one of the mandatory paragraphs of such an agreement. Among the essential conditions are the assessment of the impact of large-scale forest cutting on the traditional lifestyle and primordial habitat of the Agzu village population during and after the harvesting, definition of the system of compensation for damages caused to the primordial habitat and traditional lifestyle of the Agzu village population, as well as the development of the program of socio-economic rehabilitation and adaptation of the Agzu village population to the conditions emerging during and after the completion of the large-scale commercial exploitation of the forest.

3. To start mutual cooperation oriented at linking the “Terneiles” company up to the development programs of indigenous peoples carried out by the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation jointly with the Government of the Russian Federation, Governments of the Arctic Council and various United Nations programs. We extend invitations to such cooperation to companies with a high international reputation, recognizing and observing indigenous peoples’ rights, and using ecologically sound technologies. Participation in such programs would help companies maintain their high profile.

S.N. Kharyuchi,
President of RAIPON

P.V. Sulyandziga,
President of the Primorskiy Territory’s Association of Indigenous Peoples»