English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 9-10, 2002

The Second Congress Of Russia’s Reindeer Breeders

Vladislav Peskov

The Second Congress of Russia’s Reindeer Breeders was convened in Salekhard (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug) on March 12-13, 2002.

On the eve of the Congress, the YNAO reindeer breeders having gathered in Salekhard made a decision to establish a Union of Yamal Reindeer Breeders.

Delegates arriving from other regions were received at a high level. Guests were met on the tarmac as they got off the plane with bread and salt and strips of raw frozen muksun – a type of char or vendace fished in the Ob River. Then, they were escorted to their hotels. The program of the Congress commenced on the day of their arrival. Both the delegates and guests were invited to attend the opening of the Polaris Youth Center. Generally speaking, Salekhard has changed dramatically during he last two or three years. Construction of many new buildings of modern architecture has been underway and there have been a good number of public events.

The Congress was convened at the Center of Ethnic Cultures. 124 representatives were delegated to the Congress from the regions with a hundred delegates attending. The list of officials present included Yuriy Vasilevich Neyelov, Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets AO; Sergey Nikolaevich Kharyuchi, Chairman of the State Duma of the Yamalo-Nenets AO; Stanislav Nikolaevich Kazarez, Chief Federal Inspector of the Yamalo-Nenets AO; Nikolay Kuzmich Dolgushkin, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation; Johan Mattis Turi, Chairman of the World Association of Reindeer Breeders. Also attending were deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation and legislative agencies and leaders of RF admistrative units, members of the RF Federation Council, heads of municipal entities, leaders of social organizations, foreign guests and media representatives.

Yu.V. Neyelov addressed the Congress with a welcoming speech reflecting depth of thought and shaping the major subject of discussion: “Much to my regret, reindeer breeding has been recently treated as a venison production branch only. It is far from being that alone. First and foremost, it is a means of survival and subsistence of indigenous peoples of the North. It is worthwhile to be taken into account and it should be kept in mind”.

After the opening ceremony and greetings speeches by the guests D.O. Khorolya, president of the Union of Russia’s Reindeer Breeders made a report covering the current situation in Russia’s reindeer breeding, the activities of the Union of Russia’s reindeer breeders and plans for the future. The report also dealt with such issues as insufficient attention on the part of the state and the lack of state support. The Federal Law On Reindeer Breeding has not been adopted so far and it is vital to initiate its adoption once again. There are far too many problems concerning reindeer breeding which should be resolved without delay. Dmitriy Khorulya mentioned the following facts:

“The state of utter collapse of reindeer breeding is all across the Chukotkan, Koryak and Evenk autonomous okrugs, the Republic of Tyva, the Kamchatkan, Magadan, Irkutsk and Chita oblasts and the Khabarovskiy Kray. As of today, the total number of domestic reindeer in the country as a whole has dropped by 50 percent compared with 1990, while the volume of reindeer production sales has declined to a third.

The only exception is the Yamalo-Nenets AO where the number of domestic reindeer has grown by 3 percent reaching 505,000 heads constituting 42 percent of the total Russian and 28 percent of the total world reindeer herd. It can be also stated that the situation in the Republic of Komi and in the Murmanskaya Oblast has been quite satisfactory. The number of reindeer there has been maintained within the planned reindeer per pasture capacity in the last decade. Somewhat stretching the point, the Nenets AO could be referred to satisfactory reindeer breeding territories as far as preservation of stock is concerned (71 percent of the 1990 estimate), while the Taymyr (Dolgano-Nenets) AO could be similarly reckoned as satisfactory judging by reindeer production sales – 1,200-1,300 tons including ‘wild’ reindeer products”.

Yuriy Vello’s report exposed deeply rooted reasons for the contemporary crisis in reindeer breeding:

 “It is truly a great misfortune that we have been unlucky – oil, gas, gold and diamonds catch one’s eye under the hooves of our reindeer. Regretfully, our state sets no value on us but on what is under the reindeer feet. However, it is exactly what is going on in other states. But the right to property does exist. In real terms, I am quite aware of the fact that at present the state is unable to return all the land to the indigenous peoples of Siberia, the land it once conquered. So, let’s examine the available possibilities – how much, on what conditions, at full cost and partially, in percentage – let’s discuss this question. In the post-Soviet times several laws have been carried into effect presumably in our favor, and I have sent 4 applications with a request to legalize the right to land under the feet of my reindeer. I was not demanding the right to mineral resources, only to the surface needed for herding my reindeer. The officials say: “The state does not want it.” And I understand that the state does, the official does not.

The whole event has left a bright impression in our minds thanks to the attention given to the Congress of Reindeer Breeders by the authorities of the Yamalo-Nenets AO: excellent conditions of organizing and convening the Congress, media coverage. Russia’s Congress of Reindeer Breeders was convened as a summit indeed. Its agenda was pretty tight. It can be noted though that it was not possible to rub shoulders with reindeer herders of Yamal themselves in a free and easy way and to find out how they actually were. Not everything in Yamal is ideal; active changes have been evident in the center so far while the outlying districts are still hard to reach. However, it seems to me that the policy pursued in Yamal with regard to reindeer herders and breeders will bring about positive results after all, bringing improvements to the remotest corners of Yamal. There is something we could learn in Yamal. The establishment of the Congress of Yamal Reindeer Breeders will make it possible to focus on solving reindeer breeding problems in Yamal thus becoming an example for other regions of the North. Close interaction, cooperation and mutual assistance between RAIPON and the Union of Russia’s Reindeer Breeders, interaction between regional unions of reindeer breeders and social organizations of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East will make it possible to achieve a still greater effectiveness in meeting the challenges facing our peoples striving to survive and preserve reindeer herding under the new conditions.