Problems of indigenous peoples of Evenkiya
from Reader’s letters, “Mir Korennykh Narodov – Zhivaya Arktika” No. 9-10, 2002

A letter from Evenkiya addressed to the editorial board of our journal had an enclosure containing the report made by Altynai Pankagir, Deputy of the Legislative Assembly (Suglan) of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug (EAO): “The analysis of social and economic development of indigenous peoples of the North in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug”. At the same time we learned that in August 2001 G.I. Khutokogir, Federal inspector in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, had completed his assignment producing analytical material, on the basis of state statistical data of 2000, subsequently submitted to the supreme bodies of power of the Russian Federation and containing information about the reduced natural growth of population, a low birthrate, high rates of mortality and employment among indigenous peoples inhabiting the EAO.

This information along with the facts given in the letter from the Kosvino Evenk community is a clear signal that there is a serious demographic and economic crisis among indigenous peoples of the North in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug.

We are of the opinion that both sources of information require a serious examination on the part of state bodies of power of the Russian Federation and urgent adoption of an anti-crisis program of action to halt further decline in the number of indigenous population in the EAO and defend the native environment of habitation and traditional lifestyle of indigenous peoples in this region.

The following is the report made by Altynai Pankagir, Deputy of the Legislative Assembly (Suglan) of the EAO.

“The problem of social and economic development of indigenous peoples of the North in our Okrug is so extremely topical that it is simply inadmissibly to sit and wait until anything positive in this respect comes all by itself. In 1994, the United Nations adopted the program of activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, its major goal being the saving of indigenous peoples, defense of their rights and interests.

Two years later the time would come to review the results of what indigenous peoples, particularly in our Evenk Autonomous Okrug, have gained. Having made some analysis of the social and economic position of indigenous peoples of the North in the EAO, I would like to emphasize the following.

In 1995, the total number of population in the EAO was 20,300, including 5,180 indigenous people of the North. As of January 1, 2002 the total number of population was 18,029 with only 3,312 Northern indigenous people left.

At present, indigenous peoples of the North inhabit:
- The Ilimpiyskiy Rayon – 1,270 people (excluding 695 Yenisei Yakuts);
- The Baykitskiy Rayon – 1,558 people;
- The Tungussko-Chunskiy Rayon – 484 people.

The majority of indigenous peoples of the North in the EAO live below the poverty level with more than 60 percent of them not involved in any economic activity.

The disastrous situation with the state of the indigenous population’s health, when only 10 people out of a hundred consider themselves healthy, their beggarly existence and unemployment have led to an increase in alcoholism, infringement of the law and suicide rates among indigenous peoples of the North.

The TB mortality rate assessed as an epidemic in the EAO is almost three times higher among indigenous population. According to the Siberian Section of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the reserve of historic health of the indigenous population of the North with prevailing tendencies in mind can be exhausted in two generations.

The agro-industrial complex of Evenkiya has also reached a state of crisis.

Taking a glance at seven years back, I would like to emphasize that the reform of this important sector of economy went on without due account of specific features of agriculture in the North. As a result, it plunged into a deep crisis. There was a sharp decline in production. The social sphere of the village is disintegrating. It should be noted that further attempts to disregard the specific nature of economic activities in the North and the refusal to take it into account in the tax and tariff policy will definitely lead to liquidation of traditional branches and aggravation of social problems.

Indigenous peoples of the North are predominantly villagers whose traditions and skills historically formed have determined the development of reindeer breeding, fur trade, cage fur farming, reindeer hunting and fishing.

The general negative development tendency of traditional branches is their degradation and, at times, disappearance of both fur farming and reindeer breeding alike. In 1992, ten years ago, the total number of domestic deer in the EAO exceeded 24,000. Today, this number is less than 2,000. In 1992, there were more than 3,000 silver foxes and Arctic foxes. Today, there are only 117 silver foxes left. The stock of Arctic foxes has ceased to exist this year.

In 2001, there were only two state farms engaged in reindeer breeding while back in 1995 there were 15 farms like that. As of January 1, 2002 13.5 tons of venison were produced in the EAO during the previous year while 75.7 tons of meat products (meat and sausages) were delivered during the same period from outside.

The attempt to artificially force the involvement of Northern ethnoses in the market economy has aggravated the crisis of agro-industrial complex. The destruction of the state farm-oriented system of organizing traditional branches of production established as deliberately unprofitable though essential for the survival of indigenous peoples of the North, and abolition of state protectionism in the form of subsidies and compensations have had a pernicious effect on the life of indigenous peoples in the EAO.

Villages are not supplied with fuels and lubricants, foodstuffs in the required quantities. The local population has forgotten when industrial products and building materials were delivered last. Such villages as Yessey, Chirinda, Ekonda are situated in the forest-tundra zone. The energy-consuming, vital village facilities including schools, kindergartens, clubs, hospitals, midwifery stations and other social and production units use exclusively firewood as fuel. The secondary school built in 1994 in the village of Yessey to be heated with imported coal only has been frozen out for the last seven years for there have been no coal deliveries ever since. The majority of villagers live in the private sector where firewood is used as fuel just as well. The area of annual forest felling in the above three villages is up to 120 hectares and the consumption of firewood is about 28,000 cubic meters. The reserves of forest resources have been practically exhausted. The lots of forest for felling are as far from the inhabited localities as 60 to 80 kilometers away. An irremediable damage is done to the environment. There has been no systematic effort on the part of state authorities and power supply bodies to sort out the problems of supplies of boiler and stove fuel (coal, oil) to the Northern villages. Against this background, the lack of any strategy to solve the problem of stable energy supplies to the villages at Okrug level is clearly evident.

There is an excellent experience gained by foreign Northern countries where state support secures not only physical survival of indigenous population but also their development in line with modern requirements.

The village infrastructure is now disintegrating in many rural localities of the EAO. Construction is halted, hospitals, schools, clubs are closing down. Diesel power stations and boiler rooms use obsolete, worn out equipment. The cornerstone of the development strategy envisaged for the energy industry of the EAO should be orientation at the development of local fuel basis, namely coal basis in the Ilimpiyskiy Rayon, oil and gas basis in the Baykitskiy and Tungussko-Chunskiy rayons.

I do not want to dwell in detail on the problems of education, healthcare and culture of Northern indigenous peoples, especially those inhabiting the villages of the EAO. Other deputies will cover the subject in their own reports.

Until now, there has been no practical effort to realize the Program called “Economic and social development of indigenous peoples of the North in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug for the 2001-2005 period”. The Program fails to give sufficient consideration for specific peculiarities of the Northern indigenous peoples’ settlements in the EAO. In other words, it hardly takes into account the natural and climatic heterogeneity, the complicated transportation scheme, the production development pattern with due account of industrial expenditure on reproduction of labor resources and sustenance of the population.

Summing up my report I should say that credit should be given to the executive and legislative authorities of the EAO for adopting the laws taking into consideration the rights and interests of indigenous peoples of the North but, unfortunately, the adoption of such laws does not necessarily guarantee their implementation. By and large, they become sheer declarations.

The time has come when representatives of Northern indigenous peoples themselves should know, understand, insist on the realization of their rights and stand up for their interests. We should realize that, if not everything, than a lot depends on us, deputies of the Legislative Assembly (Suglan), on every representative of his or her ethnos.”