English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 4, 2000

IV Arctic Parliamentarians Meeting (Rovaniemi, 28 August 2000)
Statement of Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)

Sergey Kharyuchi, President of RAIPON

Dear Arctic Parliamentarians, dear friends and colleagues,

During recent years indigenous peoples of the North in Russia have become actively involved in the international process shaping the concept of sustainable development. This includes participation through RAIPON’s representation in the Arctic Council and its specialized programmes. It also includes close cooperation with the UN and its agencies: UN Environment Programme, International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Development Programme. In addition, we co-operate with the International Red Cross Organization. With respect to this participation I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the parliaments and governments of Denmark, Canada, USA, Norway, Sweden and Finland for their regular support and funding allocated for the indigenous peoples of the Russian North. We also are grateful to the northern countries, above all, to Denmark for its active position at all stages of the discussion concerning the issue of the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples within the UN. We greatly respect your initiatives. As you know, the recent Economic and Social Council Session in New York has adopted the decision on establishing such a forum and we hope that in the forthcoming Political Declaration of the Acrtic Council Ministers this fact will be noted as a new, important step towards partnership and integrity at the global level.

A national concept of sustainable development in Russia is now being formed. Broader participation by the indigenous peoples of the country is of primary importance because they have a great deal to contribute to the government's idea of sustainable development. The sacredness of land (the Earth) is the basis of indigenous beliefs and traditions. Basic to this spirituality is respect for all things in the world. We are taught right from the day that we learn to walk to respect nature and its relationship to all elements of our universe. Our knowledge of our environment − our universe − is deep and extensive. Our understanding of it is even greater. We do not separate ourselves from the land. We do not dare to destroy that which we do not understand. We do not seek to conquer all things, but rather, we strive for understanding, appreciation, respect and acceptance. Recognizing the unique character of the indigenous attitude towards nature, land and the environment, broader participation by indigenous peoples in the building of a National Strategy and a National Plan of Action for sustainable development is of primary importance.

Policy options for the transition towards sustainable development include accelerating the adoption of legislation on the rights of indigenous peoples in Russia, definition and legal protection of the territories for traditional land use, and support for sustainable economic development in the aboriginal subsistence areas. The current Russia’s legislation is far from perfect, and there are problems in the process of its adoption and enforcement. It took nine years within the Russian Parliament to adopt in April 1999 the framework law “On guarantees of the rights for indigenous minority peoples in the Russian Federation”. Parliamentary hearings in June 2000 revealed that not a single article of this law can be realized without specific enforcement measures. It means that there is an urgent need for the development and introduction of a whole set of rules and procedures at the national, regional and local levels. The indigenous peoples’ organizations are the parties with the most at stake in this process. Using experience and capacity gained through its involvement in international projects, RAIPON is ready to work on these legislative issues. Established cooperation and partnerships with scientists and specialists in the Federal agencies will also be useful for determination of the borders of traditional subsistence areas, and their conceptual description and classification for establishing protection and self-management in the regions of the North.

Examples of a parity approach towards sustainable development in the aboriginal lands in the North can be found in the agreements between the Inuit and the Canadian government. These agreements not only define territories under the jurisdiction, but also the rights of aborigines and permanent residents on the territory, the rights of the non-indigenous population, the rights of regional and federal governments to land and mineral resources, as well as methods of land and nature use and a partnership for monitoring and management. We do not know the detailed history preceding the conclusion of these agreements. However, we can imagine that there were many decades of conflict and a long period of joint work by government and aboriginal organizations aimed at preserving the indigenous lifestyle, regulating their claims to government on the basis of bilateral agreements, and thus setting up conditions for sustainable development of the regions in which indigenous people live. The experience of Canada and the other Northern states in creating the conditions for sustainable development in the regions based on a parity approach is extremely important and might be useful for Russia today and in the future.

In order to resolve the problems in a most effective way, the peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia need to work in partnership with the Russian government and with other groups of the Russian society to attain the goal of sustainable development of the region. It will be necessary to elaborate basic concepts for every region, with input from Russian and international experts, and taking into account local conditions.

To effectively solve their problems, the indigenous peoples have to establish a voice in the supreme governmental body – the State Parliament. At present indigenous peoples in Russia have no such forum or representation. During the last elections not a single indigenous person became a Deputy at the State Duma. It does not mean that we do not have appropriate candidates, just that the Federal legislation does not include any quota, or permanent seats, in the Parliament for indigenous peoples, which makes the election of indigenous candidates difficult. Therefore an establishment of the Indigenous Parliament, a Saami-style innovation, could be of great importance for us. Jointly with the State Duma and Saami Parliaments of the Nordic countries, RAIPON organized in March 1999 a Round Table for sharing experiences of work with the respective governments. We are now striving to follow up the Round Table Resolution and foster its recommendations. This autumn we are going to submit to the Duma our draft law, «On the Parliament of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Russian Far East». We have to establish this body eventually, and this might be an issue for international Arctic assistance and support.

Today, in this period of reforms, the indigenous peoples of Russia must propose a stable, non-confrontational relationship between government and the non-indigenous population, aimed at preserving the indigenous culture, lifestyle, traditional economy, and self-management as well as the environmental protection of their territories. Partnership, in our opinion, is the most promising instrument. It is possible only when both parties pursue a common goal to ensure sustainable development of the traditional territories where indigenous peoples live and, eventually, social and economic stability.

Thank you for your attention. May I wish you success in all your initiatives!