English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 5, 2001

Native American experience demonstrates that we ourselves should protect our rights

G.M. Volkova, President of the RAIPON Branch of the Khabarovskiy Kray

During December 2000, five representatives of Russian indigenous peoples visited the United States. The initiative was that of the Association of Indigenous peoples of the North of the Khabarovskiy Kray and David Gordon, Associate Director of the Pacific Environment and Resources Center (PERC) and it was discussed in February, 2000.

From 1 to 28 December 2000, the Pacific Environment and Resources Center organized a trip for five representatives of indigenous minorities of the North of Russia – from the Kamchatka Region, the Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk and Primorye territories (Lyudmila Ognatenko, Arkadiy Kaza, Nadezhda Novik, Ekaterina Semkevich; Galina Volkova) – to the states of Washington and Oregon. The aim was for Native Americans and representatives of indigenous peoples of the Far East of Russia to exchange experiences with regard to protection of our rights to land and natural resources.

For me, the word «reservation» has always been associated with something humiliating. But after I visited reservations during this trip I concluded that this is an appropriate solution to indigenous peoples’ problems in America. We visited eight reservations and found out that 550 Indian tribes have been recognized to date, and about 200 of these have been struggling for their rights. They gained rights to lands and natural resources on the basis of agreements (the first was concluded in 1850 as a result of the Bolt trial) on the basis of the US Constitution.

A reservation is a state within a state. It has a constitution of its own, its administrative body (the Council) and executive bodies. The reservation has lands administered by indigenous people themselves – they decide how many fish are to be caught and where, how much forest is to be felled, and where the forest is to be replanted without detriment to the environment. These matters are determined by the environmental protection department of each reservation’s council. Federal lands and those belonging to private owners are co-managed. The main directions of their activity are fishing, fish farming, lumbering, forest regeneration, and cultural development.

In addition to profits earned from fish, timber and casinos, funds are annually allocated from the federal budget for economic, social and cultural programs.

In Seattle (Washington) and Portland (Oregon) we met lawyers who repeatedly won cases in favor of Native Americans. The majority of Native Americans won their cases in court.

Despite the articles of the Russian Constitution, federal and regional laws, we indigenous peoples have no real rights to land and natural resources in Russia. For instance, in the 1990s in the Khabarovskiy Kray traditional subsistence areas of indigenous minorities of the North were defined by the decision of the head of the administration of the Territory. But we are not masters there since the forest, wildlife, and water resources are on federal property. We attempted, jointly with the Duma, to modify regional laws regarding traditional subsistence areas and the Forest Code of the Territory in favor of the indigenous peoples. Instead, the regional law «On the Indigenous Peoples' Community of the Khabarovskiy Kray» was repealed. The representatives of indigenous minorities of the North living in cities and villages were deprived of their rights when the regional law on «Traditional Subsistence Areas of the Khabarovskiy Kray» was reconciled to the federal law «On Guarantees of Indigenous Minorities of Russia». This is a violation of Article 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Any attempt to amend bylaws at the regional level fails.

The national policy of the President, the Government and the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation does not envisage any positive changes in relation to the indigenous minorities of the North. We should base our actions on the Canadian experience and file a charge against the state. If we rely on state bodies for miracles, our peoples will become extinct.