Social and economic problems of the indigenous population of the Magadanskaya Oblast, with the example of the Ola village

by Winfried Dallmann (Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø), mainly based on material collected by:
M.T. Yaschenko (coordinator of economic development of indigenous peoples, Ola),
I.M. Yaschenko (economist, chairman of clan community ”Nevte”, Ola), and
A.P. Yakushkova (
Ola Village Organisation of Northern Indigenous Peoples)

The Magadanskaya Oblast (Magadan Region) in the Russian Far East experienced a more than 40 % drop in its population, especially at the end of the 1990s, from 397,310 (census 1989) to 227,200 inhabitants (Jan. 2001, Goskomstat). As many of the people leaving the region were educated personnel, this clearly had a major effect on the social and economic situation of the region. At the same time the number of inhabitants belonging to Northern indigenous peoples was slowly rising, from 5283 (census 1989) to approximately 6100 now; this means a doubling of the percentage, from 1.3 % to 2.6 %.

Rayon (district)




























































Total of Magadanskaya Oblast (Region)






Social distribution of the indigenous population in the Magadanskaya Oblast according to numbers provided by regional administration and indigenous peoples’ organisations. The real unemployment rate is thought to be much higher; only registered unemployed persons are listed.

The Ola village

The Ola village in the Olskiy District, situated about 20 miles east of the town of Magadan , is offi­cially recognized as a place of con­centrated (“compact”) indigenous habita­tion. Out of a total population of ca. 6400, the indige­nous portion con­stitutes 715, or 11 %. These inhabitants belong to the Even, Kam­chadal, Yupik (Eski­mo), Chuk­chi, Orochi, Shor, Chuvan, and Itelmen peoples, with Evens forming the largest and autochthonous portion.

From the earliest time the traditional occupation of native people in this area has been fishing, which still plays a role in all indigenous economic enterprises and clan communities of the village. Seven enterprises in the village have the status of “Economic Subject of Aboriginal People”, and there are six recognised clan communities (“obschiny”).

Family units


Families with more than one child


Total number of children


Children of pre-school age


Children of school age


Total number of students (middle- and high-school)


Persons with completed middle-school education


Persons with completed middle-school education


Retired persons


Total number of handicapped persons


Handicapped adults


Handicapped children


Social distribution of the indigenous population in the Ola village

Lack of economic resources

The main problem for the majority of the indigenous economies is lack of own capital, no access to loans at low interest rates, and difficulties obtaining a fishing quota. These problems are urgent as they are closely interconnected. The absence of a firm materialistic and technical base for the enterprises decreases their possibility of receiving the commercial quotas, which are distributed on the basis of competition. Applicants cannot participate in a competition unless they can document the necessary technical resources.

This regulation applies regardless of the fact that indigenous people of the area consider the fish resources as their property since time immemorial. They do not accept that the non-native administration of the area has any right to deprive them of their traditional resources and consequently expel them from their primordial ground. In 2003, dissatisfaction with these conditions led to an action of civil disobedience among village fishers.

Today, only about one third of the indigenous work force of the Magadanskaya Oblast work in traditional economic branches.

employment categories

out of these: traditional occupations

state authorities




municipal auth.




















Distribution of indigenous work force in the Magadanskaya Oblast; numbers indicate employed persons.


The exact number of unemployed aboriginals is unknown, as many of them are not registered at the labour administration. The registered number for the Magadanskaya Oblast as a whole is 12.8 %, but the percentage is higher in the districts with a high proportion of indigenous residents (for the Severo-Evenskiy District 17.5 %, for the Olskiy District 16.9 %). The real number is estimated to be three times higher and may be close to 50 %. Efforts to create new jobs have not been successful, because the indigenous population is passed over by employers, who favour more qualified non-indigenous villagers. Unemployment has marginalized a group within the population, people who were cut off from their traditional occupations and could not adapt to modern society. This group is largely asocial and has a high rate of addiction to alcohol. Their prospective jobs are not in the advanced branches of industry, but in subsidiary production and infrastructure, such as auxiliary workers, loaders, watchmen, and technicians.


Another problem is that of housing conditions. In the Ola village, 27 indigenous families have registered at the village administration that they wish to improve their housing conditions. Two families do not have their own accommodation at all, while 22 families need major renovation of their apartments. The real number of families in need of better conditions is much higher. Many do not even apply to the village administration, because things happen far too slowly and they do not expect any help.

Promises and reality

In April 2004 leaders of indigenous enterprises and clan communities of the Magadanskaya Oblast met to discuss the situation. The oblast administration offered to establish an Initiative Group at the governor’s office to develop a concept to improve the employment situation for the indigenous population of the area. The news was reflected in the press, so the public could read that something would be done.

The inhabitants of native villages were sceptical towards this news, taking into account the critical condition and the problems concerned with these villages (Yamsk, Takhtoyamsk, Gadlya, Orotuk, etc.). The idea of creating a programme for the development of indigenous peoples of the North based on individual communities had been worked with for a long time, and the Programme of Revival of the Native Settlement Orotuk was soon worked out. However, when the Initiative Group delivered a proposal, the interest of the administration had waned and the proposal was rejected.

The Concept stands

To preserve the traditional way of life, employment of the native population must be based on their interest in helping themselves, their families and relatives. Therefore, we expect obligatory participation of village inhabitants in maintaining employment through the establishment of clan communities, small business enterprises, and individual labour.

 When developing a Concept, emphasis must be placed on actions which will promote the creation of new employment opportunities, particularly in remote areas.

The recent approval of the Directive titled “About the procedure and conditions of competitions for financial support of ‘Economic Subjects of Aboriginal People’ and Clan Communities of the Magadanskaya Oblast” does not aid in solving unemployment among indigenous people, because it is limited to providing continuing financial support to existing enterprises.

The Directive is convenient for strong enterprises, while the chance for weaker enterprises to receive financial support  is almost nil. These are hardly able to raise the necessary funds to even register their projects. There is a paradox in that  while we are trying to solve a problem, we build new barriers on the way to solve it.

In Magadanskaya Oblast, a total of 50 ‘Economic Subjects of Aboriginal People’ and Clan Communities are registered. Nevertheless, nearly two thirds of these registered enterprises do not receive their share of quota in coastal fishery. Why? The answer is simple: all enterprises which passed competition, are the personal enterprises of public leaders and administration officers. It is easy for them to pass this competition, and it is also obvious that the above-mentioned Financial Support Directive is mainly intended for themselves, and not as a benefit to the simple natives.

The Russian saying "Rescue of the drowning is a task for those who drown" may as well be applied to the Initiative Group, which put forward the idea of a Concept of Actions. The Concept is aimed at sustainable development of indigenous peoples. This means promoting the economic development in the region and an harmonious development of production, social sphere, population and environment.

The group has established a “ Coordination Center for Social and Economic Development of Northern Indigenous Peoples and Old Settlers” to improve the situation by creating real conditions to increase the employment possibilities of the indigenous population.

The purpose of the Center is to study the marketing of production and services, to establish promising branches, and to help to develop business plans. Within this framework, the Center will primarily help communities and business people, beginning with a business planning and strategy concept. The next step is to design business planning, search for investors, and to support the project in every way possible.

On the one hand, support by and participation of the state is necessary, for instance the provision of grants to support traditional economies. Actions to protect the environment are urgently needed, for instance allocation of territories sufficient for traditional wildlife management. On the other hand, vocational training of indigenous individuals is necessary to prepare them for working with the economic and administrative staff, so that they can contribute to adjusting traditional indigenous economies to the market economic system.

The basic purpose of the Concept is the creation of conditions for a sustainable development of indigenous peoples based on self-supply. This must be pursued by working simultaneously on many different levels, including—but not restricted to—traditional management, the resource and industrial base, spiritual and cultural development, improvement of education, and health issues.

For further information on this Concept, please contact:
Mikhail T. Yaschenko,
RUS -686010 Magadanskaya Oblas, pos. Ola, ul. Lesnaya, 3-a, kv. 4, phone (+7) 41341-25271, e-mail: