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

Clan-based community – necessary for stable and efficient indigenous employment in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug

S.V. Lebedev, PhD (Econ.)

Russia is primarily and essentially a Northern country. It is in fact an Arctic country with a very high Northern influence on virtually everything – from the demographic patterns to incomes per capita. Russia cannot live without the North, as the North cannot live without Russia. At the same time, the economy of the Northern regions is as depressed due to the crisis of recent years as the rest of the national economy. The indigenous people are in the most vulnerable position – their traditional lifestyle involves lengthy environmental exposure in the most extreme Arctic zone. The indigenous people of the North have a traditional culture, economy and lifestyle. In this context they are "ethnically valuable": the global community is interested to preserve this value.

Interaction between the industrial society and the relatively isolated communities with clan structures and a subsistence economy results in social, economic and legal conflicts. An extensive legal base on indigenous issues has been estrablished by now. For example, since the Koryak Autonomous Okrug became an independent unit of the Russian Federation in 1992, the Presidential Decree No. 2163 (16.12.1993) "On governmental support to socio-economic development of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug" and the Governmental Decree No. 972 (19.08.94) "On urgent measures to solve social and economic problems in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug" were adopted. However some of these measures were never implemented. Various programmes of economic and social development of the North were not carried out as well. Even basic problems were not solved, and in many cases were actually aggravated, unemployment being one of them.

The issue of employment has always been essential and very special to the indigenous population. In the North, there is no concept of an unemployed person according to the traditional way of thinking of the Northerners. The indigenous people have always worked to ensure survival. Therefore unemployment is not acceptable in any form.

On the other hand, the issue of indigenous unemployment is not new. It has a lengthy history. Before the revolution of 1917, every day was devoted to exhausting physical work in order for every family member and the whole clan to survive. Everybody had a role defined by the way of life of the group. Work as such was automatically the driving force underlying the ethnic identity of the Northerners.

Everything changed with the revolution. The policy of incorporating the peoples of the North into the national economy and their transformation – carried out without regard to indigenous practices and culture – from a nomadic way of life to a sedentary one resulted in the destruction of the traditional economy as the main means of subsistence. The state severely deformed the natural historical development of the labour relations, properties, and forms of management of the indigenous way of life. The main reasons for the reduction in indigenous employment are the reduction of reindeer livestock due to reforms in collective farming, closure of forestries, the drastic decrease of investments in industrial construction, and the privatisation of trade – these are the factors that contribute to reduction of employment opportunities that traditionally belonged to the indigenous people of the North.

Frequently the indigenous inhabitants are forced out by immigrants from mainstream Russian society even in such traditional economic activities as fishing, hunting and partially in reindeer herding.

The traditional economy of the Northern indigenous population – the basis of their existence in the recent past – faces tough challenges today. The future of the indigenous peoples of the Russian North lies in developing the traditional economy.

It is necessary to remember that solving employment problems for the indigenous peoples is a rather special and in many respects a delicate issue that will not stand hasty and rash actions. Maintenance of employment is essential for the development of the indigenous people in the modern world. Applied economic measures must be coordinated and take into account the special features of Northerners. This process must not be based – as it is at present – upon imposed, artificial forms of indigenous participation, but on upon principles of self-organisation, self-management and self-development. Hence, the important features here lie in these fundamental changes, expansion of opportunities, and the increased participation of indigenous peoples in the decision-making processes.

The measures developed to improve the socio-economic situation of indigenous Northerners should be related to the traditional economic activities. The focus must be on the expansion of labour opportunities for the indigenous population.

The government's Northern policy should promote the gradual revival of traditional economy in clan-based communities of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug. In the context of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug the complexity of the present situation is that the indigenous peoples were not traditionally oriented towards the market economy, and the Koryak environment does not provide opportunities for intensive use of its bioresources. The indigenous inhabitants subsisted by balancing consumer needs with the natural limitations of bioresources. The reproduction cycle of these resources did not allow for capital innovations as in a modern economy. The choice for the indigenous peoples of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug, as well as the rest of the North and the population of Kamchatka especially, depends on the involvement of the peoples themselves in the development process. They need the support of a legal base and an appropriate governmental policy regarding the North, including sensitive environmental and cultural policies.

The territories of traditional land use for the indigenous peoples of the North are historically determined as the land and the water used by many generations of our indigenous ancestors.

Setting up clan-based communities will contribute to solving a whole complex of economic, social and other problems. In this sphere the aid of indigenous intellectuals will bring prompt results in the improvement of the socio-economic situation of the indigenous peoples of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug.