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

Significance of protecting sacred sites of the Arctic’s indigenous peoples


M.A. Todyshev, RAIPON vice-president

A session of CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna) Program was convened at Akureyri (Iceland) on April 9-10, 2002 to consider the submitted results of the pilot project “The Significance of Protecting Sacred Sites of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic: Sociological Research in Russia’s North” carried out in the Russian Federation from January 1, 2001 to January 1, 2002. Mikhail Todyshev, vice-president of the Russian Association of indigenous peoples of the North (RAIPON) and project coordinator made the project’s presentation.

It was a pilot project implemented in the Arctic region for the first time. The Tazovskiy Rayon of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the Olyutorskiy Rayon of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug were selected as model territories for the investigation.

During the year, as the project work proceeded in the Tazovskiy Rayon of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, more than 70 interviews of reindeer herders, fishermen and elders of the Gydanskiy, Antipayutinskiy and Tazovskyi tundra were made identifying, describing and mapping 263 sacred sites.

In the Koryak Autonomous Okrug the survey interviews were conducted in three villages of the Olyutorskiy Rayon: Tilichki, Khaylino, Sredniye Pakhachi. 30 villagers were interviewed: 13 in the village of Sredniye Pakhachi, 13 in Khaylino and 4 in Tilichki. 84 sacred sites were identified, described and mapped.

The project was carried out by the CAFF programme in cooperation with the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and with the financial support of the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (DEPA).

The Project Committee comprising representatives of the Association, CAFF Secretariat, DEPA and Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat (IPS) was set up for the project’s general management and administration. The objectives of the CAFF Secretariat included control over the execution of the contract and the project budget.

The following nominations were approved after a contest with due account of recommendations from indigenous peoples’ organizations:

Project Coordinator: Mikhail Anatolevich Todyshev

Assistant Project Coordinator: Ayvana Viktorovna Enmynkau

Regional Researcher for Yamal: Mikhail Nikolayevich Okotetto

Regional Researcher for Kamchatka: Albina Viktorovna Yaylgina

To fulfill the work oriented at collecting information about sacred sites, nominees were suggested and approved to fill the vacancies of regional assistants: Leonid Alekseevich Lar, Galina Pavlovna Kharyuchi, Roman Khasavovich Yando (Yamal); Nadezhda Semenovna Kuznetsova, Larisa Georgievna Khamidulina (Kamchatka). Larisa Georgievna Poutyanina, resident of Khaylino, was enlisted as a voluntary assistant. The assistants were trained during a number of workshops acquiring skills to conduct interviews independently or jointly with a regional researcher as well as to collect written and field information. Training workshops were organized for the regional assistants just as well.

Field surveys made it possible to collect formidable information about the philosophy of life, spiritual, religious, cultural, social and environmental values which had become generally accepted by indigenous peoples guiding their behavior from time immemorial. Going through the collected materials permits preliminary conclusions only. Time and additional research efforts are needed to specify the collected materials about certain sacred sites or expand these materials making them more detailed.

Concrete laws and other enforceable acts are slated for adoption in the Yamalo-Nenets and Koryak autonomous okrugs with regard to protection of indigenous peoples’ sacred sites as a result of the project.

CAFF members assessed highly the results of the project, especially with regard to involving indigenous peoples themselves in carrying out sociological investigations. They also opted for a speedy finalizing of efforts to publish the project report and made a decision to submit the project for consideration at the enlarged CAFF session in August 2002 as well as at the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in October 2002 with a recommendation to spread this experience to other regions inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

With this aim in mind, we are planning to publish the project materials concerning the system of methods of information gathering as well as the project results in a special supplement to our journal “Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”.

The results of the project efforts taken in the Tazovskiy Rayon have immediately found practical application. The data collected about sacred sites of indigenous peoples in this district have been used in drawing the conclusion of the ethnological appraisal of the impact made by the prospecting and reconnaissance program of the open joint stock company Gazprom now underway in water areas of the Gulf of Ob and Taz bays.

In connection with getting ready for the Circumpolar Workshop slated for this fall within the framework of Stage II of the Project with invitation of international donors to participate in its sessions, we hereby request everybody interested in realization of similar projects in other regions inhabited by indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation to post their project proposals to the Association, care of Mikhail Anatolevich Todyshev:

117415 Moscow
Pr. Vernadskogo, 37
Korp. 2, Room 527
Tel.: (095) 938-9527
Fax: (095) 930-4468
E-mail: raipon@online.ru