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

RAIPON workshop in the Primorskiy Kray

Olga Murashko

A visit to Primorskiy Kray was organised during the period from 23 February to 2 March 2003 within the framework of the RAIPON project to convene training workshops on the subject of “Mechanisms to implement Russia’s federal legislation on the rights of the Northern indigenous peoples,” carried out with the support of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

Participants included Pavel Sulyandziga, RAIPON Vice-President; Rodion Sulyandziga, Director of the Russian Indigenous Training Center (RITC); Olga Murashko, IWGIA member; Olga Yakovleva and Yuliya Yakel, lawyers of the Legal Center Rodnik; and Maksim Kuchinskiy, research associate on a project of the Far Eastern Section of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund). In Vladivostok, Vladimir Shirko, President of the regional Association of Indigenous Peoples of Northern Primorskiy Kray, and Michael Jones, research associate of the Pacific Center’s Far Eastern Division, joined the group.

At first, it was planned to visit the Udege village of Agzu, whose reserved territories of traditional subsistence activities were offered for tender by the administration of Primorskiy Kray and subsequently granted on lease for 25 years to the “Terneyles” (“Terney Forest”) timber company. The aim of the visit was to render legal assistance to the Agzu villagers in their negotiations with the management of the joint stock company Terneyles, as well as to arrange for six village representatives from Agzu to participate in the workshop.

To reach Agzu from Vladivostok, it takes ten hours by car to the district center of Terney, and another two and a half hours by helicopter to the village. Terneyles helped RAIPON to organise this trip in the hope of getting the Agzu villagers to consent to timber felling in the Samarga area, which has been their primordial breadwinner. The Agzu villagers hunt, gather and fish in the Samarga River area, and these occupations are the only source of subsistence for them, as well as for the inhabitants of the village of Samarga, located downriver from Agzu.

The conflict created by the Primorskiy Kray administration, which offered for tender the forest section reserved in 1992 as a traditional subsistence territory of indigenous and local inhabitants, is now in full swing. The Terneyles joint stock company has already been paying rent for 18 months, but so far has received no profit from the leased forest sector. The Agzu villagers cannot give their consent to the timber felling, because, in their view, it means an end to their hunting and gathering. The construction of a temporary port in the lower reaches of the Samarga River, in the Bay of Adimi, means an end to their fishing, and these occupations are the only means of subsistence for the local inhabitants. The Terneyles joint stock company has proposed to conclude an agreement with the villagers to fulfill certain social obligations, but so far, the Agzu villagers find some details of the draft agreement unconvincing. In return for the villagers’ consent to timber felling (which would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the possibilities for hunting, gathering, and fishing), the company has offered, for the year 2003, 30 cubic meters of shaped timber for all the villagers, 100,000 rubles for the village administration, empty promises of job opportunities without any guarantees, and payment for the education of village youth. Other measures included in the agreement, such as the construction of a road and a temporary port, are needed for the Terneyles timber merchants themselves, and would have a harmful rather than a useful effect as far as the villagers are concerned.

Of course, the inhabitants of Agzu have no easy life in any case, all the more so since the district administration, whether intentionally or not, keeps the village on short rations. The acting head of the village administration lives in Terney (two and a half hours by air), there are no means of communication or electricity in the village, one brick costs 80 rubles, and all other prices of prime commodities are on a par with this brick. One person, with the support of Terneyles, has monopolised the village trade in necessities, and now this person has been given possession of a bench saw. It all has the appearance of premeditated economic pressure being put on the villagers.

18 months ago, 105 Agzu villagers (out of the total of 144) voted against timber felling and in favor of establishing a Territory of Traditional Nature Use. However, after two severe winters, the Agzu villagers, especially women who feel responsible for their children’s future, are ready to throw themselves upon the mercy of the leaseholder. At present Agzu looks like a nature preserve – forty houses on the bank of a beautiful river surrounded by mountains overgrown with woods. What will happen to this village and the surrounding nature when the road and the port are constructed and the felling starts? What will be the future of Agzu’s children? It is difficult and even unpleasant to imagine.

At the village meeting attended by 50 villagers, no agreement was signed, although those present were coming under heavy pressure from the Terneyles company representative. He pointed out that the felling could start any time, even the next day, and that the negotiations with the villagers were being conducted simply “for ethical reasons”, because Terneyles wants to help the impoverished population of Agzu. The company representative was cunning, though, since the Terneyles joint stock company has neither a feasibility study nor an environmental impact assessment to start any operation at the site - in other words, everything required by law to start felling is lacking. And the written consent of the villagers is needed not so much for carrying out an environmental impact assessment (as the company’s representative tried to convince the meeting) as for the company to obtain credit from the European Bank for Development (EBD). With this aim in mind, Terneyles tries to look respectable as a company with state-of-the-art technologies and civilised methods of public relations, while at the same time doing its utmost to press an entirely uncivilised agreement on the population.

We intended to teach the six representatives of the village chosen to participate in our workshop what an agreement should look like in compliance with international standards and how indigenous inhabitants could defend their rights making use of Russian legislation. The selection of representatives to join the workshop was in fact the only result of the gathering. Taking them with us, we came back to Vladivostok to meet other workshop participants who waited for us there, having arrived from Krasnyy Yar, Mikhailovka, and Gvasyugi, as well as young students from these villages studying in town. All in all, about 40 people attended the workshop.

The workshop started with an introductory speech by Pavel Sulyandziga, RAIPON’s First Vice-President. The attendees were given educational textbooks and supplementary materials: collections of federal legal documents prepared by RAIPON and pamphlets interpreting legal standards prepared by the Legal Center “Rodnik”. During the workshop, lectures were given on three major federal laws concerning indigenous peoples’ rights, and practical lessons were organised on how to exercise the rights stipulated by these laws in real situations. The workshop participants were trained in how to write applications to obtain information from the authorities on problems pertaining to indigenous peoples’ rights to defend primordial habitat and their traditional way of life, and how to draw up appeals about the establishment of Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTNUs).

The activity of the workshop participants, who started to write numerous enquiries to the authorities, seemed to have excited a great deal of apprehension on the part of the woman representing the administration at the workshop. She recommended the region’s indigenous inhabitants to direct all their enquiries to the regional association of indigenous peoples of Primorskiy Kray since, in her opinion, the applicants would undermine their Association’s prestige by showering their enquiries upon the Territory’s administration. The representative of the regional committee of the Ministry of Economic Development who is in charge of the implementation of the federal target programme “Socio-economic and Cultural Development of Indigenous Peoples of the North”, and who appeared at the concluding evening session of the workshop, said that he “had ceased dealing with this business altogether in 1998”, apparently in reference to the disbanding of the State Committee for the Affairs of the North in 1999. The true attitude of the Territory’s administration to the problems facing the indigenous peoples stands out against the background of such comments made by the few representatives of the territorial authorities one way or another interested in RAIPON’s activities.

Meanwhile, indigenous peoples of the villages at the workshop find themselves in similar situations. None of them knows where the money allocated to the aforementioned federal target programme goes. People residing in all the villages want to establish TTNUs but have no official information about the real status of their lands reserved for TTNUs a decade ago, and everybody is perturbed by the rumors going round about the possible transfer of their lands to other users. The example of the situation with the Samarga forests and the challenges currently facing the Agzu villagers unintentionally became a graphic example for the development of indigenous tactics under conditions of threat to primordial habitat, in this particular case, selling or leasing their primordial lands for timber felling.

The Agzu villagers should be grateful to their fellow villager Arkadiy Kaza, leader of the obschina (ancestral community) “Agzu”, who, having learned about a sector of the Samarga forest being offered for tender in August 2001, initiated a meeting of the villagers, at which they voted against the felling and in favor of the establishment of a TTNU, and sent an enquiry to the Ministry of Natural Resources. They should be also grateful to another villager, Igor Kryuchkov, who filed a civil lawsuit concerning the legality of the results of the tender offer, at which the Samarga forest area reserved for the establishment of TTNU had been put out to for felling. These activities created a situation in which the leadership of Terneyles, receiving a lease on the Samarga forest, nevertheless was obliged to obtain the consent of inhabitants and engage in negotiations.

The workshop participants, including the Agzu representatives, were able to get an idea of the way an agreement between the new forest users on the one hand, and indigenous and local people on the other, should look in accordance with international standards. Such an agreement should propose a long-term, wide-scale programme that creates alternative subsistence sources for the local population, provides for the creation of job opportunities through training and certification of local inhabitants to protect the nature of the territories of their traditional habitation and natural resource use, develops and provides services required for environmental and ethnographic tourism, establishes at the expense of the extractive industry new infrastructure in the village with hotels, access roads guaranteeing a way in for tourists and a way out for residents, and much more. But even in the event that such a programme is undertaken, the final decision about whether to preserve the primordial habitat and traditional lifestyle or to accept the conditions of extractive companies is to be made by indigenous and local inhabitants.

Three draft appeals regarding the establishment of Territories of Traditional Nature Use and three enquiries from the villagers requesting information on the problems of actual concern to the inhabitants were prepared by representatives of the four indigenous villages at the workshop. Making their farewell before leaving the workshop, the attendees, especially the Agzu representatives, thanked us for the information they had received during the sessions and insisted on our next visit in the near future. They expressed their regret that the workshop classes had not been taped so that all the Agzu villagers could hear what the participants discussed. Constant support, legal consultations and interaction with RAIPON are badly needed in such hot spots as Agzu, where the future fate of inhabitants isolated from information and facing extremely hard socio-economic conditions can be decided any day.