English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 3, 2000

Thoughts on what has been done and on the future strategy

Pavel Sulyandziga
Vice President of RAIPON

The movement of the indigenous minorities of the Russian North started on an informal basis by the people. It was established in late March 1990 at the movement’s first congress in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. Here the indigenous peoples of the North started the Russian Association of the Indigenous People of the North. It was the time of radical democratic change. On the wave of the democratic euphoria, gifted indigenous leaders came forward – Vladimir Sangi, Evdokiya Gaer, Eremey Aipyn and many others.

I was then chairing a village council, and was invited to take a place at the Presidium of the Congress. I sat next to the leaders of the Soviet Union – Gorbachev, Lukianov, and Vorotnikov. My heart trembled when I listened to the presentations at the Congress. I thought then that at last our problems would be solved. I remember the words of Mary Simon, then the President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. She said that the indigenous people have to get organised in any type of society, be it communist or capitalist: indigenous people face the same challenges, carry the same burden.

It was the time when the Udegey of Primorie continued their fight to preserve their own home, the Ussurian taiga. Russian and South Korean forestry companies tried to hijack the Bikin area, Cuban forestry companies tried to get their share of Samarga. It was a direct conflict: our hunters together with the Ussurian Cossacks guarded the taiga, while our women and children picketed the offices of the regional authorities in Vladivostok. Many supported us in this fight, including the local Soviet, the scientific community, and international environmental organisations. A group of Russian MPs came over on our request. The result of this meeting was the Decree by the Soviet of Nationalities (the upper chamber of the Soviet Parliament) which supported our claims. An expert group of Soviet ministries chaired by Evdokiya Gaer have expressed their support as well. Through this struggle we realised the need to get organised and to unite our efforts.

Simultaneously, the struggle for indigenous rights spread over the Russian North. We felt the emotional and spiritual uprising of our peoples. One could write down a long list of challenges the indigenous leaders and activists had to overcome. This was the time of hope.

Unfortunately, a lengthy period of disappointment and apathy followed. Locally, we felt that the euphoric period was over; we had to face harsh conflicts. I believe we did not know how to establish and run organisations, how to go about solving practical and very specific problems. Many were frustrated; we did not have enough knowledge and experience. We knew nothing of the indigenous movements in other countries, the work of the United Nations on indigenous affairs, or the support available from various NGOs in conncection with the indigenous struggle. Our association could not become the uniting force for the regional and ethnic associations. It was not because of our leaders; it was our common problem. Everybody went his own way to build a regional association in his or her own fashion.

I will not try to go into details of what was going on then. Neither do I want to analyse our common actions, actions of my colleagues or myself. I believe everybody who was at the start of our movement will need to do this analysis in the future. I will instead attempt to provide a general description for that period in order to understand where the indigenous movement is now and in order to suggest my vision for the work in the future. We have yet to draft the fundamental statements of our movement, to answer many important questions, define our principles and describe our working procedures. I understand many issues here require internal discussions; much has to be discussed with the wide range of associates and friends. However, the starting point for our discussions must be the suggestions made by the inhabitants of the indigenous villages - of the indigenous communities - since our movement was established to protect their rights.

The general development of our regional associations repeated the development of Russian society. In the beginning, many were quick to ‘put on the clothes’ of power; to be in authority to control funding and various quotas on fishing and forestry. Simultaneously, the indigenous people started to join the local and regional administrations. The people in power were frustrated at the time: they saw that the old policy did not work with any new policies in place. We have to admit that the new policy on ethnic groups and minorities was not formulated. Then everybody switched over to do so-called business. The associations started to form various companies and enterprises, whose main task was to earn money for the associations. I want to stress that I do not regard these processes as positive or negative; they were not specific to the indigenous peoples. Everybody did it. It went on all over Russia, when no clear understanding on the role of civil society and nongovernmental organisations was in place. No rules of the game were defined for any sector of economy and society.

We realised that we had to change the tragic position of the indigenous people but we did not know how to do it. Of course, many of us believed they knew. Many did not understand that integration and coordination of our activities were as important as definition of aims and action plans for the indigenous movement. The contradictions between indigenous leaders and the clans behind them became the main obstacles to these processes. Again, this was not specific to the indigenous movement; it was typical for Russia as a whole. However, due to the small numbers of the indigenous peoples, the spatial limits to the areas they inhabited (the result of the Soviet policy for rural consolidation, when indigenous people were forced to move to denser settlements), and due to historical reasons in ethnic relationships, these contradictions in the indigenous movement took especially ugly forms. I strongly believe that we should not pay too much attention to it, that these contradictions are not subjects for public discussion, since they are internal issues for any indigenous minority and any clan. Yet others should be aware of these contradictions and take them into consideration. This is especially relevant for administrations. Unfortunately the contradictions are often used to harm the indigenous people. I understand that here I touch upon very delicate matters related to traditions and ethics. I hope that the indigenous people will understand that I did not want to offend anybody. I am an indigenous person myself; these are not mere reflections to me, it is my reality.

Today, ten years later, we all face one question: what is our Association (here I mean RAIPON as well as regional and ethnic associations), and what is that the Association should do? This may seem to be a far-fetched question since everybody knows what we shall do. It is a mistake to thinks so. It brings misunderstandings regarding what we should do and what we can do. Several episodes illustrate what I mean. One of our regional associations was accused last year in having no foodstuffs and fuel for the indigenous villages. Many come to associations for assistance on very important but private issues. When they get no assistance, they ask ‘Then what do we need you for?’ I do not want to explain here that these issues lie within responsibilities of local authorities, social authorities etc. I want to illustrate that we have to answer many questions to make our work on protection of indigenous rights more efficient.

These are not simple questions to answer. I saw many times how the problems of indigenous people are perceived, locally and at the international level (including the eternal problem: which organisations have the right to represent the indigenous people). Some international organisations tried to put our associations in the category of organisations which deal with poverty and the environment. Yes, according to national legislations and international standards we are NGOs. At the same time we represent ethnic groups. This inherent contradiction brings a lot of confusion and turmoil to our work. It also gives a wide scope for our activities, primarily in the field of law making at the federal and the regional levels.

There is yet another contradiction I want to discuss. It involves many indigenous leaders and affects the indigenous movement. It concerns ethics and, as strange as it sounds, personal attitudes. This contradiction is personal when you are to fight with yourself. Here I mean the first activists and the first indigenous leaders. They passed through the crucible of various counteractions by authorities and indigenous groups. Now these leaders take positions in power structures at the federal, regional and municipal levels.

It happened to me when I had to overcome the doubts I had when I worked in the regional administration of Primorskiy Kray as an advisor to Eugene Nazdratenko, the Governor. I wrote above that I have always remembered the words of Mary Simon in her presentation at our first Congress. I have always thought that due to the antagonistic conflicts between the Government and the indigenous people, the indigenous people and power structures cannot become partners. When I was about to take the job of the Governor’s advisor I asked the Governor, ‘Will I be a representative of the governmental administration among the indigenous people, or will I be a representative of the indigenous people in the governmental administration?’ The Governor answered, ‘Of course, you will be a representative of your people in the administration’. Nonetheless, during the decision making process the officials often hinted to me that it was the administration which paid my salary. I believe many indigenous representatives in governmental administrations faced the same contradictions. Unfortunately, they are also faced with negative opinions about themselves from their own people. As a result, many officials of indigenous origin stress their distance from the indigenous people. I believe a compromise may be achieved here and the indigenous representatives may and must work in the governmental administrations, though I have even heard from my people that those indigenous people who work for the government ‘have one leg on the shore, and the other in a leaving boat, and they are about to fall down’. In my opinion, if the government is in the boat, our representatives work to keep it from sailing too far away from the people. As an example, I point to the work of Andrey Krivoshapkin, Oleg Zaporotski, Pavel Kulyakov, Tatyana Gogoleva and Sergey Kharyuchi, RAIPON’s current President.

The last 300 years saw several ideological swings of the pendulum in the governmental policy towards indigenous people – from laissez-faire and conservation-minded toward the traditional lifestyle, to attempts toward full integration and modernisation of the indigenous peoples. One may remember many negative and positive examples of this policy in the times of tsarist Russia, and then during the Soviet era. This has been described well by professor Vladimir Kryazhkov and by researchers Olga Murashko, Vadim Turaev etc. In one of my presentations I said that ‘together with openness, democracy and market reforms in Russia, the nature of the indigenous problems changed. The Soviet power together with the Communist Party led us to a ‘bright future’ and attempted to eliminate our culture, customs and traditions. Now the so-called democrats, with the assistance of multinational corporations and domestic businesses, buy our lands, extract resources, and do the same thing as the Soviet power did, i.e. elimination of the indigenous people’.

Our daily life saw no significant changes. Our people on the taiga and the tundra do not envisage a better future, do not believe in it, and do not hope for it. A foreign journalist asked me recently if I believe my people will survive. I answered that I did not know. I would give the same reply today. However now I am sure that the answer does not depend on governmental policy alone. Our survival depends upon the work of everybody, every friend of mine and every colleague. Our survival depends upon us, the indigenous people. I am far from naive optimism but I believe that the framework for our activities has been established.

Firstly, the new Russian Constitution protects rights and interests of the indigenous minorities in accordance with the norms and principles of international legislation. The Constitution protects native environments and traditional ways of life. It is possible to define principles of the Russian policy towards ethnic groups upon this legal basis. It is also possible to set the legal framework for the indigenous people in the spirit of worldwide trends, i.e. the transition from the paternalist policy of integration into modern high-tech society towards the policy of recognition of indigenous cultures in a way that supports their endeavour to control their own development and resources. This policy is based upon the concept of partnership between the state and indigenous people. In Russia today, indigenous peoples do not have the authority to direct their own development. In my opinion, this should be the priority for the Association at the federal and regional levels.

Secondly, our young people do a lot to help the indigenous people. It is important to help them, to support their initiatives and to direct their energy towards constructive work.

Thirdly, a consolidation of the indigenous organisations is taking place today. We have to coordinate this process, assisting in structuring the work of the indigenous NGOs and helping them strengthen the organisational capacity.

Fourthly, the international community is undergoing significant changes. The international organisation and governments have realised that there are values which cannot be sacrificed for the sake of business profits. They have also realised that the indigenous people may consult others on environmental and cultural challenges based on the indigenous experience of communication with nature. The cultural challenges arise as a result of hasty and destructive exploitation of natural resources. In the global economy, this may have catastrophic results. Many governments took on the policy of partnership with the indigenous people. Resolutions of the UN General Assembly, the Convention on Biodiversity, the establishment of the Nunavut Government in Canada, the principles of the Arctic Council, the World Bank's Operational Directive 4.20 - this is an incomplete list of success stories in the development of the partnership policy.

I have already mentioned my earlier view of the antagonistic relationships between indigenous people and governmental authorities. However, the success stories for the policy of partnership and the trends in development of the international community tell us that only cooperation and partnership in every sector of the civil society may provide us with solutions to conflicts between indigenous people and governments, between indigenous peoples and industry, and between indigenous people and newcomers. Indigenous people are not the only party to these conflicts that needs the understanding of other parties. The other parties need to clarify their goals and define what they want of us. We have to explain what we want from these other parties as well.

Therefore, in a discussion of the protection of indigenous rights, a number of considerations concerning the new policy making process seem to be important. Due to such problems as the high rate of mortality, unemployment, poverty, problems related to preservation of native languages, cultures and traditions, conflicts around the control of traditional land and traditional economies, it is vital for the government policy on indigenous minorities to be accompanied by short-, middle-, and long-term development programmes. These programmes must be implemented simultaneously.

The aim of a short-term (3-5 years) programme must be the levelling of the quality of life of the indigenous people to the average regional levels (phase 1) and then the national level (phase 2). This aim defines the main task for the relevant development programme as: the development of policy tools for government support to the indigenous people with obligatory federal funding of health care, social development, and general and professional education.

A middle-term programme (5-10 years) must include development of the legal framework and strengthening the economic and resource bases of development, first of all the traditional economies. Here it is necessary to: a) complete definition of boundaries and transfer of the areas of traditional natural resouce use to the indigenous people, including the waters where indigenous people hunt sea mammals; b) to implement the gradual transfer of collective titles for lands, subsoil and other natural resources to the indigenous people in their native environments and areas of traditional use of natural resources. In a middle-term programme, it is important to establish the legal, financial, communication and fiscal environments for development of SMEs to process the products of traditional natural resource use. Here it is vital to establish a fund with a clearly defined source of revenues, for example, from the tax on use of natural resources. A number of issues on tax and civil liabilities have to be considered, for example, tax-free status on VAT and other taxes such as income tax, contributions to the pension fund etc. for enterprises engaged with traditional economies in native environments with at least 70% indigenous employment. To support the national villages, a system of quotas (shares of hunting, fishing, etc. resources) for aboriginals is to be established. The system must include principles for the distribution of quotas.

However, to give the revenues of the quotas to the indigenous people is not enough. The money will be consumed. We have to use the funding to achieve the long-term, sustainable development for indigenous villages and communities. A long-term programme (10-15 years) should involve establishment and development of indigenous self-government, with gradual transfer of the governing functions, the powers of local authorities and resources to the indigenous people, including definition of the local funding sources. Further, a long-term programme must target establishment of contractual relationship between indigenous individuals or indigenous self-governments and the industry that undertakes economic activity in the traditional areas. Finally, the long-term programme should envisage adoption of legislation and definition of implementation procedures for participation of the indigenous people in the revenue-sharing agreements when the natural resources are industrially developed in the traditional areas, through the institutes of indigenous self-government.

Currently, the Federal programme, "The economic and social development of the Northern indigenous minorities until 2010", is the most important policy tool. The programme states its aim to be "building the framework for sustainable development of the Northern indigenous minorities in the areas of their compact living based on rehabilitation of the traditional use of natural resource and of traditional economy, and on the basis of the currently used natural, industrial and infrastructural resources". The responsibility of the state to protect its most vulnerable minorities is of course preserved. Here provision of health care and education to the indigenous villages and to reindeer herders is maintained. It is important to find such tools and management models that will allow maximal participation of the indigenous people in the programme, from the drafting stage to the period of implementation.

Currently, the federal and regional authorities invite the associations of the Northern indigenous minorities to define priorities and desired levels of governmental support. In the future, the role of associations must increase during the implementation stage. Another important step is to include the assistance in communal development – the tribal communities, the local ethnic communities who attempt to maintain the traditional way of life - in the modern forms of governmental programmes, including gradual transfer of local governance to the tribal communities. Three main directions for governmental efforts are feasible here – support to the labour market (in contrast to the newcomers, the indigenous people have no home place to emigrate), establishment of a new training and re-training system for indigenous professionals, and the assistance to development of the indigenous self-government. In short, the government must define the policy to transfer its authorities (the rights and the responsibilities) to the indigenous institutes. Thus the indigenous people will be able to solve the problems of their development. Social history tells us that everybody solves his or her own problems best. It is equally valid for individuals, ethnic groups and nations. Others may only help.

Finally, I want to draw your attention back to something mentioned at the start of this article. Our Association is rather young. We have just made the first steps; we have just built the foundation for our activities. However we have no time to waste, we have no time to rest: due to the high vulnerability and sensitivity of the indigenous people who live so close to nature, the strength of our peoples melt as snow under the sun. It does not mean that we have to rush all the time. On the contrary, I believe that now we have to apply the wisdom of our ancestors, we have to stop and give some time to thinking for a while, to answer the questions we face, to move forward deliberately and on solid ground.

P.S. One of my last regional meetings started with harsh criticism at the Association. Many negative comments were made regarding the managerial activities. When I took the floor, I asked, ‘May I tell you perhaps what we did or at least attempted to do?’ Suddenly a woman told me, ‘ Please do not feel hurt by our harsh words. We waited so long for the Association to start work, and finally work started. If you do not like the criticism, please tell us so and we will not tell you anything bad. Remember, however, only the dead are never criticised.”