Tomsk : Struggle for rivers ended with indigenous victory

Polina Shulbaeva and Irina Shafrannik, Info Centre of Association of Indigenous Peoples “Kolta Kup”

From 7 to 15 September 2005 , Polina Shulbaeva, the expert on public relations and environmental curator for indigenous affairs of the Tomsk Oblast, made a reconnaissance trip on behalf of the clan community “Rodnik” of the Verkhneketsk District in the Tomsk Oblast. Rodnik is chaired by Nikolay Nikolaevich Karelin.

The aim of the trip was to find out about recent developments concerning the allocation of and claims to communal rivers, in other words, to investigate all points of view on the situation and to look at it with third party’s eyes.

On 7 April 2005 , the clan community Rodnik had forwarded a claim on two rivers, Pirino and Layga, on which there are settlements inhabited by members of the clan community engaged in traditional livelihoods. The clan community was founded by four persons; seven indigenous persons of the Tomsk area work on a constant basis for the community, and three other inhabitants of the settlement Stepanovka, and additionally seasonal workers, both indigenous and other inhabitants from Stepanovka and Belyy Yar are involved.

The Hunters’ and Fishermen’s Society of Verkhneketsk, with which the District administration at that time already had allocated 150 waters, claimed the same rivers! The administration refused to give the rivers to the indigenous community Rodnik, arguing that the fishing rights of the inhabitants of the settlement Stepanovka (2400 inhabitants, of which 110 are indigenous) would be infringed if the rivers would be allocated with Rodnik, made up of only 4 persons (employees were not considered).

The administration of the Verkhneketsk District explained its decision with the view expressed at a meeting of 50 inhabitants of Stepanovka, which took place on 8 April 2005, were they required the rivers to be reserved for the Hunters’ and Fishermen’s Society. The interesting fact is that all participants of the meeting were members of the Hunters’ and Fishermen’s Society!!!

The Verkhneketsk administration introduced the case to the Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Tomsk Oblast, as an official report to the Oblast administration’s Department of Municipal Education. The report ended up at the Representation of the President of the Siberian Federal District and at the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North. The final decision was made by the Federal Fishery Agency “Verkhneobrybvod”, which was addressed by the community Rodnik.

On 30 August 2005 , the Federal Fishery Agency passed the decision “… Having studied the relevant documents (authorisations and applications), Verkhneobrybvod gives priority concerning the claim of fishing sites to the indigenous clan community Rodnik, because the Charter of the Hunters’ and Fishermen’s Society does not indicate in any way that this organisation represents indigenous people”.

After her trip Polina Shulbaeva provided the following information:

1. From the settlement Stepanovka the first base of the clan community Rodnik can only be reached on the river Ket. The journey takes between 9 and 24 hours, depending on weather, natural conditions and technical circumstances.

2. Working brigades reach the bases on КS-100 boats. They live in specially constructed small houses on the base, where there are accommodations with bathroom, living room, toilet, and work facilities. All working brigades are supplied with full board, provisions and fuel.

3. In the clan community 7 indigenous and 3 other local workers are permanently employed, when necessary complemented by seasonal workers from among the local population. During her 32-hour stay in the settlement Stepanovka, 4 individuals (one indigenous and three non-indigenous) expressed their desire to be employed by the clan community.

4. During the time (ca. 80 hours) she spent at the bases of the clan community Rodnik on the rivers Pirino and Layga, situated over 40 km from Stepanovka, she did not notice any boat or person on the rivers, in the forests or in the bogs within the territories in question.

5. During conversations the workers of the clan community Rodnik expressed the opinion that the clan community is absolutely necessary, as it provides work which previously did not exist in the settlement. The local population is not against allocating the rivers and territories to the community as this will increase employment; any local resident can go to the territory of the bases and collect wildlife items but because of the remoteness and high fuel costs local people have not been there for some years, except for forestry employees; moreover, the clan community purchases wildlife items from the local population, giving them an income. This is important considering the high unemployment in the settlement.