English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 8, 2001


In the last year workshops, training sessions and conferences became a widely used way to protect indigenous rights by the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON).

The topics of these practical forums where the Association and the NGOs gather indigenous representatives are legal education, training in the development of small businesses based on traditional activities, and case studies of foreign indigenous experience.

The first workshop this year was "The federal legislation on indigenous rights and its application", organised by the Association with support from the MacArthur Foundation and the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) on the eve of the IV Congress of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East.

December will see the workshops on application of the federal law "On Territories of Traditional Nature Use for the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East" and development of projects on traditional activities. Indigenous representatives of the North who prepare documentation to establish Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTP[1]) and those who develop projects on traditional activities will be invited. We hope that the participants to these workshops will leave Moscow with ready documentation to establish TTPs and with project documentation in concordance with requirements of potential sponsors.

“Mir korennykh narodov – zhivaya arktika No. 8” publishes information on some training programmes for indigenous people in 2001. Two of these articles (by E.N. Khmeleva and P.V. Sulyandziga) have been translated for this issue.

Training workshops of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre continue

E.N. Khmeleva PhD (Law), “Rodnik” Legal Centre

The fifth issue of the magazine “Mir korennykh narodov – zhivaya arktika” (2001) included an article by O.A. Yakovleva, the Head of “Rodnik” Legal Centre, titled "The indigenous peoples can and will protect their rights in court". The article concerns the workshop run by lawyers of our organisation on the island of Sakhalin.

Protection of indigenous rights is a priority for the Rodnik Centre; therefore we attribute great importance to workshops for representatives of the indigenous peoples. The indigenous peoples are lacking in legal knowledge and awareness. Three laws on indigenous rights were recently adopted. In these workshops, our lawyers attempt to provide the participants not only with the meaning but also with the spirit of these laws, and attempt to transfer to the students the understanding necessary to apply the laws in order to protect their own rights.

I would like to tell about the two recent workshops run by the lawyers of our organisation in the village of Tura in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug and in the city of Krasnoyarsk.

The preparation to the Evenk workshop started when the “Rodnik” Legal Centre received a request from RAIPON to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug whose reindeer pastures were alienated from them by a resolution of the Governor of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug. The result of the letter to the Russian President, the Russian Government, and the Office of the Prosecutor General by the “Rodnik” Legal Centre, supported by RAIPON and signed by many NGOs who protect interests of the indigenous peoples from various regions, was the Official Protest of the Evenk Public Prosecutor. The response to this protest was that the Governor cancelled all resolutions on withdrawal of rights to the lands from the indigenous peoples. The detailed description of this case was published in “Mir korennykh narodov – zhivaya arktika No. 5” (2001).

This was the start of cooperation between the “Rodnik” Legal Centre and the Association of the Indigenous Peoples in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug called “Arun” (Revival). When Olga Yakovleva, the centre’s director, met M.D. Smirnova, the president of the Association Arun, they came up with the idea to run a workshop for the indigenous peoples in Evenkiya. But no funding was available to implement it.

In early summer the centre’s lawyers received an invitation to carry out the workshop in August 2001 in the town of Tura. The Governor of Evenkiya allocated the funding at the request of the association of “Arun”.

The basic theme of the workshop was the establishment of Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTPs). The choice was well based. In May 2001 the federal law "On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation" was adopted. The lawyers of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre believe that establishment of TTPs is the most urgent problem for the indigenous peoples at present. With the adoption of this federal law, the indigenous peoples have an opportunity to establish such territories in order to preserve their traditional way of life and to protect their environment. However, it it is necessary to implement the law as soon as possible: when the recently adopted Land Code is in force, the active process of distribution and transfer of deeds will start.

The traditional indigenous territories are rich in oil, gas, gold and other minerals. Perhaps the mission of the indigenous peoples is to keep these treasures of the Earth. Unfortunately few understand what is involved. The land that is so rich with these minerals is worth a great deal, and once the Land Code is adopted, for certain many will want deeds to this land for other purposes than preservation of the traditional way of life. The bitter experience of many indigenous nations shows the irreversible damage to the environment incurred by geological surveys and production of minerals. Hence, doubt is cast on the preservation of the traditional way of life for the indigenous people and their survival.

The federal law "On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation" permits special legal status for the lands where the indigenous peoples live; environmentally hazardous activities are excluded.

Article 1 of the law defines "the Territories of Traditional Nature Use of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation" as protected nature areas established to conduct traditional land use and traditional way of life. As defined by the law, traditional land use by the indigenous peoples is "a historically determined and sustainable use of plant and wild life, as well as of other natural resources by the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation".

A TTP, according to the law, is a territory under special protection in order to preserve its natural environment for indigenous traditional land use. Therefore, the status of a TTP legally prevents any activity that conflicts with the purpose of establishment of this protected territory, i.e. an activity that may hinder traditional land use.

This concept and the idea to establish such Territories of Traditional Nature Use guided our workshop in the village of Tura. Mrs O.A. Yakovleva, the head of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre , Mrs E.N. Khmeleva, a Moscow barrister, and Mr V.A. Preobrazhenski, the cecntr’s lawyer,d provide workshop participants with an understanding of this law and legal tools to implement this knowledge.

The programme included lectures on constitutional and legislative guarantees of the indigenous rights to the traditional way of life and environmental protection, as well as the right to live in a sound environment, and the right to information. The key lecture at the workshop was the analysis of the federal law " On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of The Russian Federation " by Mrs O.A. Yakovleva.

When we, the lawyers of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre, give lectures, especially to the indigenous people, we try to teach students to see “living” and practical tools in the dry and strict text of the law, the tools that everybody can and should apply on their own. Further, we teach the students not to confine themselves to one or two laws that most directly pertain to their rights, but to apply a broad set of laws, as well as the Constitution. It is very important to remember Article 15 of the Russian Constitution that sets the Constitution as the highest law with direct application all over Russia.

An important part of the Centre’s workshops are the exercises designed to indicate participants’ understanding of what they have learned, and to give them practice in applying their knowledge – making the laws “come to life”. In these exercises, the students learn how to compose legal documents, such as inquiries for information, official letters to various authorities and court complaints. This will help them afterwards to apply the law. Appropriate to the theme of the workshop in Evenkiya, participants composed official letters to the Government of the Russian Federation on establishment of TTPs with a federal status. The students learned to provide reasons for the establishment of such a territory, to determine its purpose and define the borders that meet this purpose. For this workshop, the lawyers of the Centre selected an example based on establishment of a TTP with federal status. The federal status for a TTP is much more difficult to justify than territories of regional or local status. Having studied the most difficult situation, it is hoped that the workshop participants will be able to apply their newly acquired knowledge in less difficult conditions.

Article 6 of the law "On Territories of Traditional Nature Use …" states that "the establishment of TTPs of federal status is done through decisions by the Government of the Russian Federation based on co-ordination with appropriate regional authorities. However, the legal initiative belongs to indigenous people and indigenous communities or to their authorised representatives". This means that in order to establish a TTP, the indigenous people should direct official letters to the Government of the Russian Federation, the decision-making body. Such letters may be sent in by representatives of the indigenous peoples and by their communities. The law does not say that the communities must be registered. Therefore, the indigenous communities that are not registered by the government and have no status as legal entities may address these letters as well. The law says that the official letters may be directed by the authorised representatives of the indigenous peoples – indigenous peoples associations, NGOs, scientists and other persons whom representatives of the indigenous peoples have entrusted to initiate the process of establishment of a TTP as they themselves are sometimes lacking in the expertise required to do so.

By composing a sample of an official letter at the workshop, the participants learned to justify the establishment of a TTP and its borders, according to the provisions of the law. The sample developed by the lawyers of the Centre together with O.A. Murashko, includes exсerpts from the relevant legislation.  Exact explanations are given regarding which information is to be included in such an official letter in order to prove competently the necessity to preserve the indigenous environment and the traditional way of life and economy of the indigenous peoples. This sample is attached to the article and may be used at your convenience[2].

A basic part of all training workshops by the lawyers of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre is a role game named Judicial Process. The workshop in Evenkiya was no exception. The premise of the game is that indigenous communities have addressed the Government of the Russian Federation regarding the establishment of a TTP. Their request was not met on the grounds that oil extraction and construction of an oil pipeline are planned on this land. The indigenous communities address to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation a complaint on the infringement of their rights.

Usually every role in the judicial process – a judge, an assessor, a public prosecutor, plaintiffs and their lawyers, defendants and their representatives – are played by the workshop participants, while the instructors only observe. However, this tradition was broken at the workshop in Tura, and Mrs. O.A. Yakovleva, the director of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre, played the judge.

The plaintiffs and their lawyers were well prepared, supporting their position well, and providing good arguments regarding infringement of the indigenous rights as a result of refusal by the Russian Government. They also brought proof that oil development and construction of an oil pipeline would have adverse effects on the fragile and unique ecosystem of Evenkiya, where the Evenks have conducted a traditional way of life for centuries.

However, the judge was very rigid towards the plaintiffs: she supported the position of the defendants. She posed provocative questions, and even did not allow representatives of the Association to speak. This shocked the plaintiffs. They did not expect usually polite Olga Alekseevna, who understands indigenous problems so well, to behave in this manner. This had been planned in advance to immitate a real situation which, unfortunately, develops in many cases, especially when a defendant is the Government or governmental agencies.

The plaintiffs came out of this situation with credits. They challenged the objectivity of the judge. Though the application to demur the judge was not satisfied, the plaintiffs felt much more confident as they saw a way to solve this difficulty. During the pleadings, they proved their position excellently, using the constitution and the current legislation. And they used not only the laws on the indigenous peoples, but also referred to the environmental legislation. With this experience, the participants of to the workshop are better able to protect their rights.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants thanked the organisers and the lecturers. Especially remembered are the words of one participant, the head of the Kuyumba community. She said that the words of the lawyers went from their heart to the hearts of the students. It was the best appraisal of our work. We are sure that the knowledge given to the participants of the workshop in Evenkiya will be successfully used and will contribute to actions to protect the traditional way of life.

Mrs E.A. Sinkevich, the head of the indigenous association of Krasnoyarskiy Kray, took part in the Tura workshop. She invited the lawyers of the “Rodnik” Legal Centre to carry out a workshop on the same subject in Krasnoyarsk. The Governor of Krasnoyarskiy Kray allocated funding for the workshop. Since this workshop took place on the eve of the congress of the Krasnoyarsk Indigenous Association, it differed from the workshop in Evenkiya. The students were the leaders of the indigenous movement from various districts of the regions, and from the Evenk and the Taymyr autonomous okrugs. The congress and the elections of the president of the Association took some attention away from the workshop. But it did not prevent them from successfully completing the exercise on development of an official letter, a complaint to court, and to carry out the role game Judicial Process.

The lawyers were happy to use the opportunity to transfer knowledge and practical skills on protection of indigenous rights to the most active representatives of indigenous peoples from various regions. The latter, in turn, can disseminate this information further. In this respect, the success of this workshop was that even remote regions were covered where no separate workshops are perhaps possible otherwise.

The fact that regional authorities have begun to support these sorts of indigenous actions, for example, by funding these two workshops, is notable.

We, the lawyers the “Rodnik” Legal Centre, hope that the samples of the legal documents on establishment of Territories of Traditional Nature Use will help representatives of the indigenous peoples to initiate the process of establishment of these territories, and will contribute to the preservation of traditional ways of life and the nature environment in Russia.

[1] TTP: Abbreviation of the Russian term: Территория традиционного природопользования (Territoriya traditsionnogo prirodopolzovaniya)

[2] Refers to the original article in Russian language