Published in the Novosti Yugry newspaper, January 15, 2002
Annually, officers of the State Hunting Inspectorate and law enforcement agencies confiscate dozens of units of firearms from the Khants. It happens due to the fact that representatives of the indigenous population, constantly being busy and residing far away from the district centers where their firearms could be registered, do so extremely rarely. Hence, they make use of their rifles and carbines, with many of them having expired certificates or none at all, quite illegally.
This problem, as is known, has been touched upon more than once and at various levels. While discussing this problem, many representatives of indigenous peoples of the North and not only them, as a rule, reproach the officials of corresponding agencies, allegedly far too zealous in performing their duties, with preventing the Khants from hunting quietly and, therefore, leading a lifestyle traditional for them.
To all appearances, the uneasy situation is now going to be aggravated. I am not going to discuss and argue about the entire Autonomous Okrug, but aborigines inhabiting the Surgut district this time have gone to the taiga to hunt wild animals for fur and pelt and meat without any licenses. In other words, they have become regular poachers.
“I have received information that a few days ago officers of the hunting inspectorate at Ugut filed a deposition for administrative action to be taken against some Khants,” says S. Cherkashin, Deputy Head of self-governing administration of the Surgut district and Chairman of the Committee for the Development of Economics and Culture of the Northern Peoples. “They brought a load of furs to sell at the local purchasing station but, due to the well known reasons, what they took out of their bags failed to have proper documents”.
Why, then, did the aborigines go to the taiga without licenses? In the past, they always used to get them by way of the local open joint stock company “POKh” engaged, as agreed with the district’s self-governing administration, in the deliveries of fuels and oils, foodstuffs and consumer goods to God-forsaken spots.
Many Khants were listed as hunters on the Company’s permanent staff, and this is why it registered their firearms officially with the hunting directorate. This time it did not work the way it should. And this is why. The federal authorities, as is known, have recently become a good deal tougher demanding strict observation of Russian laws in the localities.
It’s no wonder that it has come now to the legislative acts regulating the questions concerning organization of the use of natural resources and, particularly, hunting. So, when representatives of POKh came, as usual, to the local hunting inspectorate this year, its functionaries refused to do business with them, preferring to carry out the letter of the law, as the saying goes.
“Since your company has no land of its own it is not a hunting establishment. It is no more than an employer of the Khants”. The state officials explained politely. “Let them come to us, we’ll sign proper papers with them and issue the licenses after that”.
You would agree that one could hardly expect that the indigenous population, having thrown their work, would rush to the back of beyond to formalize packs of documents. Aware of the fact that everything could end up with what is now going on with registration of firearms, the local offices have joined the efforts to sort out the problem.
While the discussion of various compromise settlements suggested by the administration of self-governance with regard to the problem concerned was going on, the time was up and the hunting season was in full swing. The result was what it was: the Khants stepped on the poaching path. Unfortunately, nothing good will come of it.
Whatever grows and lives in the taiga is the state property by law. Any encroachment on it is nothing but infringement of the law. There are traditional verified methods used by the Hunting Inspectorate personnel to fight against infringements when confronted with ordinary poachers.
The question is if it is justified to resort to such methods? In this particular case, it is a matter of breaking rules by infringers who are not quite ordinary, hunting for them is not only an integral part of their traditional lifestyle but a source of subsistence. Actually, all there is to it is an additional headache for the law enforcement agencies.
Just to survive, the Khants will be hunting all the same although doing it on the quiet, pushing cheap goods to the black market of furs. There is only one way out in this rather complicated situation – to observe the law the way the Hunting Inspectorate demands. Incidentally, it could be done differently.
It is not necessary at all for indigenous families struggling through the huge red tape to become owners of hunting grounds. I would say more: in this case, in order to receive licenses regularly, it would be necessary for them to be on equal footing, for example, with the Surgut hunting society, to provide their kinship hunting grounds with everything necessary and maintain them in good order, to protect them from poachers, to keep the annual record of the fauna available there and to report regularly to the Hunting Inspectorate about measures taken.
The Khants would hardly like such conditions of cooperation with the state. They would not be to their liking for yet another reason – for the mere fact that the overwhelming majority of the Khants cannot fulfill these conditions, for instance, the enormous volume of time-consuming work with various documents done in both the Hunting Union and Inspectorate by specially trained experts. Now let’s have a look at another aspect.
All the hunters listed as owners of hunting grounds will have to travel frequently to Surgut and back as the need arises in the course of fulfilling their obligations. Would it be possible for everyone to find time for that? Certainly not. It would make a great difference if the scattered families of aborigines get together in their kinship communities which, having become corporate bodies, could easily acquire the status of a hunting establishment.
Jointly, it will be easier for indigenous population to fulfill the necessary criteria of game shooting of wild animals stipulated by the law. So far, there is only one ethnic hunting association “Yaunyakh” headed by V. Kogonchin.
It would be easier for community members to appoint literate Khants from their midst who would be able not only to duly represent their interests but also organize properly difficult activities which are obligatory for any hunting establishment operating in the taiga.
There is yet another reason to set up communities. Who would exclude a possibility that corresponding agencies concerned with fishing, gathering and forest felling regulations embracing this state property will display their own right-mindedness. In this case, indigenous population will never be able to catch fish, gather wild plants and cut down trees in present time quantities without annual formalization of proper documents.
To do all that at once and for all the families would be much easier in the community. A special emphasis should be made on the fact that it is not an attempt to impose a backbreaking rent on the Khants for making use of what is vitally essential for their survival in the taiga. Perhaps, payment for licenses, hunting tickets, secondary use of forests and other permissive documents could be even taken upon the area authorities and local offices.
The essence of the matter is in something different. If we want to live in a state accepting the rule of law, every one of us without exception should strictly obey federal laws. To our greatest regret, they are in such a shape so far that would not allow the Khants to enjoy full rights as masters of their kinship lands.
Comments from the Editorial Board
At present, a draft federal law “On Hunting and Running a Hunting Establishment” is being elaborated in the RF State Duma. Article 12 of this draft law entitled “Additional rights of citizens – representatives of indigenous peoples to use hunting animals and hunting grounds” stipulates that “provisions of Articles 32, 33 and 45 of the present federal law shall not be applicable to citizens belonging to the aforementioned groups of population”.
In other words, this law introduces the right for indigenous peoples to hunt without licenses in the areas of traditional inhabitance and economic activity of these peoples. The deputies moved these standards to the draft law as proposed by RAIPON. But so far this draft is still under consideration in the Duma. Neither the Government’s representatives, nor those of the organizations and departments concerned have worked with it.
So, time will show what would come out as the new Federal Law “On Hunting”. At present, discussion of the draft, article by article, is underway in the Duma. RAIPON representatives participate in the discussion and intend to stand out for the rights of indigenous peoples.