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

Modern mutual relations authorities-aborigines-mineral resource users: an inward-looking essay

A.S. Sopochina, Chairman of the social organization “Yugra Rescue”, Surgut

He, who is able to cope with conflicts by recognizing and controlling them, gains control over the rhythm of history. He, who misses such a chance, gets this rhythm as an opponent of his.

R. Dahrendorf

At present, the Eastern Khants, including those of the Surgut area in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, are leading mainly a traditional way of life in their historical homeland in the districts of Nizhnevartovskiy, Surgutskiy and Nefteyuganskiy. Oil exploration is well underway and expanding on these territories. Due to this reason, constant conflicts between the two cultures are waging here.

One side of the conflict is represented by the mainstream population, which is supported by the entire system of state legislation and power, parties lobbying for its interests, and the majority of the population of the Russian Federation, which is in favor of the policy to explore mineral resources.

The other side, the aborigines, has no distinct features of being structurally formed and supported: the legislation determining their status is contradictory and practically not dealt with. There is no one in the power structures to represent their interests; the executive bodies in charge of aboriginal issues exist only within the framework of administrations, which is subordinate to the interests of mineral resource users. Indigenous peoples have no parties of their own; they themselves are divided into two parts – those leading a traditional lifestyle and those assimilated into the technogenically oriented mainstream civilization.

Since the perestroika times the Surgut Khants have been waiting for the following changes:

1.     legal fixation of the right to use their primordial territories with their wildlife, waters and air space, which can be passed on to their children;

2.     laws protecting the primordial habitat and a traditional lifestyle of the indigenous population;

3.     allocation of the revenue from the extraction of mineral resources on our lands for the socio-economic development, the education of the indigenous population, and the creation of bodies of self-governance;

4.     measures to minimize the human impact on the aboriginal lands to prevent fires on these lands, to protect them from pollution by industrial and domestic waste, as well as to impose restrictions on amateur hunting, fishing and gathering by the mainstream population.

These were the expectations of the Surgut Khants.

What has the state policy of the Russian Federation and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (KMAO) led to after all when it comes to Northern indigenous peoples’ rights? It goes without saying that the position of the mainstream population has got the upper hand today.

1.     All the vital problems of the indigenous people are over-politicized, starting with the State Duma and all the way down to village administrations. Using casuistry of the RF and KMAO legislation, veto is imposed on all the draft laws, which are, one way or another, connected with the interests of indigenous peoples of the North. The position of administrations of various levels and that of oil companies with regard to the native lands have become especially stern once the campaign to strengthen the vertical line of state power got underway.

2.     Using its overwhelming majority in all the power structures and at all administrative levels the mainstream population has pushed the indigenous problems to a dead end. In particularly, all the problems connected with native land issues are based on contradictions between the RF Constitution and the newly passed Land Code of RF. Instead of bringing the Land Code to conformity with the RF Constitution, deputies and functionaries of every level insist on and follow the articles of the RF Land Code, which fir the mainstream community best, but have a pernicious effect on the native peoples.

3.     Political gambling on native problems is in full swing. They gamble on the so-called “principle of equality of all peoples” in the distribution of budgetary funds between mainstream and indigenous population, and not in favor of the latter; the game is played with the distribution of official positions of both district and rural levels.

4.     Not a single political party, not a single body of power, not a single social organization is willing to consider the problems of indigenous peoples as a result of contradictions between cultures. Nobody wants to understand that mainstream and indigenous populations have different principles of life and consequently different needs.

The RF and KMAO legislations have not taken the conditions of aboriginal life into account. There is a law “On weapons”. During its implementation the families of “traditionalists” have suffered only, while the problem of large-scale poaching and crimes committed with the use of firearms among the mainstream population has been left unsolved. A law on wildlife has been passed, and “traditionalists” have been turned automatically into malicious killers of animals. Immediately, the problem of supplying themselves with traditional clothes and household necessities has cropped up to face the aborigines. Under the cover of suspension of issuance of a state certificate for kinship areas and abolition of the regulations “The status of kinship areas of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug” – without resorting to any transitional conditions – authorities at all levels have made it possible for private oil companies to industrially develop large aboriginal areas. Many orphaned and newly formed families have been left without any legal catch on the lands of their ancestors.

Functionaries are making attempts to manipulate the fundamentals of the legislations, which, for some reason or other, are incomprehensible to indigenous population and deliberately get all the legal actions of people leading a traditional way of life trapped in a blind alley. For example, the idea of protecting native lands with the help of the law of things. As a matter of fact, protection of which property rights is it possible to talk about in the draft law on Territories of Traditional Nature Use? Hunting and fishing inspectorates keep an eye on hunting grounds and fishing areas, forests belong to forestry stations. Even reindeer pastures cannot be separated from the general categories of lands according to the RF Land Code. Kinship areas have been destroyed with sacred places becoming the prerogative of the committees of culture. Tell us, where are the indigenous peoples’ property rights? We do not have any rights – not only to the land of our predecessors, but also to its wildlife. Legal rights are all in favor of mainstream population and industrial structures: the lands used by the indigenous population to lead a traditional way of life can be penetrated at any time by any number of newcomers, by any type of activities of mainstream population, including timber felling, massive amateur fishing in distinctly indigenous areas, hunting, uncontrolled gathering of wild plants, berries and mushrooms. Functionaries regard any counteraction of an indigenous inhabitant in defense of his rights as a display of nationalism. The above legal provisions have a particular negative impact on the kinship areas occupied for industrial development and roads of federal subordination. Indigenous inhabitants, having found themselves in a “developed” environment by force of circumstances, make claims, with difficulty and sometimes in vain, to kinship lands of their forefathers. The office mechanism of actions used by administrations is built in such a way that the solution of any indigenous problem, even a tiny little one, dealing with primordial territories depends entirely on the functionaries.

Functionaries have mastered a new method to cope with problems of indigenous peoples: it has turned out that indigenous inhabitants alone are to blame for all their misfortunes. The taiga dwellers are guilty because they do not legalize their actions properly and in due time. The indigenous inhabitant is to blame even when agents of militia reluctantly and beyond the expected time go to the location of a criminal incident in the forest, as it was in the case of shooting down Yermakov’s reindeer by Kogalym hunters. In case an indigenous person happens to be right and the functionaries fail to find excuses, he can be even groundlessly suspected of forging the documents.

The Surgut district branch of the public organization Yugra Rescue is also guilty. The very fact that the Surgut district branch of the organization and nobody else used to halt, with the help of the Okrug authorities, incompetent actions of the Surgut district administration against indigenous population engaged in a traditional lifestyle speaks well for its wide scope of activities. For instance, the General agreement suggested by the open joint-stock company Surgutneftegaz, accepted and signed by S.A. Cherkashin, Chairman of the Surgut district administration’s Committee dealing with the problems of indigenous peoples.

On the basis of the above, I would like to suggest the following:

1. to solve the problem of legalizing the right of orphaned and newly formed families to kinship areas prior to the passing of the RF and KMAO law on Territories of Traditional Nature Use;

2. to work out a general scheme of contractual relations between indigenous population and all the oil companies;

3. to elaborate a strategy for socio-economic development of the vital areas for the taiga inhabitants’, where oil companies are operating or planning to start their operations;

4. to enter an earmarked post on the district budget to accumulate means and the funds coming from the oil companies in compensation for the development of kinship lands in order to financially back up the above program;

5. it is expedient to ensure the presence of a representative of the public organization Yugra Rescue during negociations of the disposition of oil production facilities, since there is a member of the coordinating council of Yugra Rescue on every administrative territory;

6. in order to relieve the tension caused by the housing problem it is expedient to build the micro-district of “Ethnic settlement” in the town of Lyantora as well a hotel in the village of Nizhniy Sortym;

7. to reflect in the economic agreements:

- construction of nomad camps taking into account modern housing requirements;

- construction of fences around reindeer pastures;

8. to build fences around oil and gas facilities, along communication corridors, especially roads, to separate them from the natural territories;

9. construction of power transmission lines to nomad camps by extending them;

10. provision of construction materials for running repairs of nomad camps;

11. financial compensation to all the owners of kinship lands irrespective of the place of their residence and employment, but on condition of carrying out economic activities in the areas concerned;

12. to achieve greater success in their work with the indigenous population, administrations should appoint indigenous representatives to the first- and second-ranking administrative positions;

13. to curb the negative human impact on kinship lands by constructing check-points on the commercial roads of the oil companies and providing properly equipped hunting grounds, fishing and gathering areas in the vicinity of inhabited localities;

14. to speed up the passing of KMAO laws on Territories of Traditional Nature Use and wildlife;

15. to work out a general scheme for administrations to work with ethnic communities of the Surgut district.