English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 13, 2003

Extractive companies and indigenous peoples

S.N. Kharyuchi
(Based on a publication in the journal“Yamalskiy meridian”, # 5 (85)/2003)

A Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YNAO) meeting concerning the development of natural resources and future relations between oil and gas companies and the okrug’s indigenous peoples took place in Salekhard on 20 February 2003. The President of RAIPON and Chairman of the YNAO State Duma, Sergey Kharyuchi, elucidated a wide spectrum of Russia’s problems in his report pertaining to these relations. Fragments of S.N. Kharyuchi’s report were published in the journal “Yamalskiy meridian”, # 5 (85)/2003.

Our journal’s editorial board, offering now some excerpts from S.N. Kharyuchi’s report, believes that problems taken up in it and the proposed solutions are important and would be of interest to all our readers.

The orientation of the Constitution of the Russian Federation with respect to human rights has predetermined the state’s obligations with regard to indigenous peoples’ rights: “The Russian Federation shall guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance with the universally recognised principles and standards of international law and international agreements of the Russian Federation” (Article 69).

In international law these principles and standards are formulated in the fullest way in ILO Convention # 169 “Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries” adopted in June 1989. The special position of indigenous peoples is in the fact that in the sphere of natural resource use and environmental protection they traditionally used to sort out problems which are currently under the authority of state and municipal bodies. The Convention forbids solving these questions without indigenous peoples’ participation.

Individual articles of the already adopted federal laws (“On Environmental Protection”, “On Specially Protected Territories”, “On Fauna”, “On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of RF”, “On Mineral Wealth”, etc.) stipulate special rights of indigenous peoples with regard to the use of renewable natural resources and forms of compensation for damage. The access of indigenous peoples to certain types of resources for traditional economic activities is also stipulated. However, the rights declared in these laws are realised inadequately.

But time and tide wait for no man. The impact of aggressive industrial activity on the environment and the consequences of the deteriorating natural environment for the indigenous population are unpredictable.

One of the peculiar features of Russia’s North is that two opposite types of economic activities meet here in an especially vulnerable natural environment: a traditional, aboriginal one, ecologically interwoven with nature, and a modern industrial one which extracts mineral resources and, ultimately, exhausts and degrades the natural environment. Quite often mineral deposits coincide with reindeer pastures, hunting and fishing areas, or other territories of traditional nature use.

Another special feature is that throughout the entire span of Russia’s history the Far North has primarily played the role of the source of raw materials. At first, it was animal pelts, now it is oil, gas, silver, gold, diamonds, timber, coal and other valuable resources. The extraction of these raw materials secured the well-being of the country but, paradoxically, it was to the detriment of the North itself.

The extraction of the Far North’s natural resources has led to the dramatic reduction in the Territories of Traditional Nature Use of northern aboriginal peoples through the direct confiscation of land and its degradation as a result of pollution and other factors. In many regions huge reindeer pastures and river and lake areas have been lost. In the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug alone 11 million hectares of reindeer pastures have been destroyed and more than one hundred rivers polluted. The quantity of accidental oil spillage has grown amounting to 1.8 million tons a year, while the square mileage of polluted areas has increased four times in the recent years. 30 percent of lost oil products eventually reach rivers and lakes. The content of oil products in the lower reaches of the Ob River is 29 times the maximum permissible level, while in some other rivers of Western Siberia it is 80 times or even higher. The situation is the same wherever the industrial development of natural resources is underway in the Russian North.

It would be expedient to work out an optimum strategy of Siberia’s development making it possible to preserve nature and dovetail industrial development with traditional natural resource use. Such a strategy should be ensured by political and legal decisions, primarily in the federal center.

Russia’s environmental legislation is at a rather high level. In particular, it takes into account indigenous peoples’ interests: they are endowed with certain rights in the field of natural resource use and protection of natural environment. In 1995, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources approved its regulation “Concerning Environmental Impact Assessments”, which requires consideration of the cultural and historical traditions of aboriginal peoples.

At the regional level the share of legislative acts dealing with problems of natural resource use is considerably smaller. Moreover, regional environmental programmes have been ineffective due to the general neglect of environmental problems and the lack of funds. These programmes are oriented toward the solution of environmental problems of inhabited localities, including those inhabited by aboriginal peoples. Vast subsistence-related territories of indigenous communities remain outside the framework of environmental protection measures.

The agreements made at local or regional levels is one of the mechanisms to protect the environmental rights of the Northern indigenous peoples. These include agreements between indigenous peoples (communities and associations), administration and industrial enterprises.

However, the established system has a number of drawbacks. Chief among them are: the lack of a scientific foundation for compensation payments with respect to land allocation; the lack of legal assessments of agreements and the control over their implementation; agreements concluded for the period of one year can be used by industrial enterprises much longer; paragraphs are included in agreements about gratuitous transfer of a parcel of land to a mineral resource user, which regulate full-value compensations for services  rendered on the request of the mineral user. How to assess the extent of the damage to the natural environment and how to compensate the indigenous population have not been worked out. Agreements do not always correspond to civil legislation and, therefore, cannot be subject to legal procedures. All this is aggravated by the legal incompetence of Russian indigenous peoples, their apathy and the lack of protection on the part of regional authorities.

However, one cannot help recognising the practice per se of making such agreements as both useful and important, since the practice is conducive to gaining useful experience and arriving at better relations.

RAIPON is conducting an active policy with regard to the conclusion of agreements with federal and regional authorities and industrial companies. These agreements on the whole have a general nature but, without any doubt, are setting a good example of partnership relations in meeting the challenges faced by the North’s indigenous peoples. As of today, RAIPON has agreements with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the State Duma’s Commission on Nationalities and the Federation Council’s Committee for the Affairs of the North and Numerically Small Peoples (National Minorities Committee).

No matter how the northern territories are called as administrative units in the state structure they have been and will remain territories where indigenous peoples are concentrated and where they are are still following a nomadic, tribal lifestyle with 90 percent of them engaged in traditional economic activities. It is impossible to separate their f subsistence activities from their way of life.

In accordance with the decisions of the Fourth Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East (convened in April 2001) dealing with the ways of making RAIPONs efforts more effective at the regional level, a lot of attention has been given to the establishment of relations with the regional authorities in the various subfederal units of the RF.[HVG2] .

The agreement between RAIPON and the administration of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug was the first one to be followed by agreements with the administration of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Interregional Association of Economic Interaction between Units of the Russian Federation “Sibirskoye Soglasheniye” (“Siberian Concord”), and the authorities of the Sakha Republic (Yakutiya).

I would like to place special emphasis on the relations established with industrial companies involved in the development operations in the territories of the Northern indigenous peoples.

Almost a four-year long cooperation has tied us up with the Arctic Gas company operating in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Our business oriented relationship as well as mutual respect can be defined as relations featuring a high degree of mutual responsibility, a sense of obligation, a constant exchange of information and holding consultations.

There is cause to speak with warm feelings of the employees and management of the firstcomer of the gas industry in the country’s arctic zone – the “Nadymgazprom” company. It seems to be the first industrial company to become aware in the early 1990s of the necessity of establishing partnership relations with communities and social organisations of the North’s indigenous peoples.

An intricate dialogue went on for several years between the authorities of the Tazovskiy District, the district section of the Association “Yamal to its Descendents” and the “Yamburggazdobycha” company. The sides never allowed the territory’s population and the company’s employees to get involved in the disputes; difficult negotiations were conducted in search of common ground and reasonable compromises. As a result, a long-term contract (agreement) was signed, taking into account everybody’s interests. This is an example of a civilised effort undertaken by the executives of industrial companies, politicians and representatives of the public.

There are other facts, though. Complicated relations have prevailed for years between the leaders of indigenous peoples’ communities, industrial companies and the authorities in the Nenets and Evenk autonomous okrugs, the Belovskiy District of the Kemerovo Region and many other northern regions.

I would like to emphasise that the urgent problems concerning the relations between mineral resource users and indigenous peoples should be resolved without delay in order to avoid the emergence and expansion of conflict situations. Otherwise, these problems would sweep away both those who have created them and those who have involuntarily fallen victim to them. There is only one way – the search for effective solutions to do away with both the causes and consequences of the destructive impact of the man’s industrial activity on the nature of the North.

Drawing on international practice, RAIPON has and will exert every effort to do whatever is necessary to make the indigenous peoples participate directly in managing all the processes now underway (especially with respect to mineral resource extranction) in the lands which they inhabit and carry out traditional economic activities.