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

Kosvino Community waiting for help

A letter has come to the Association from the Evenk Autonomous Okrug (EAO) with a request for help.

Dear Sergey Nikolayevich!

We, Vitaliy Anatolevich Koptelko, Zinaida Borisovna Koptelko, Aurel Vitalevich Koptelko, Vladimir Vitalevich Koptelko, Tatyana Vitalevna Koptelko, Evgeniy Vitalevich Koptelko, members of the kinship community 1) “Kosvino”, village of Osharovo, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, appeal to you with a request for help in defending our native environment against the arbitrary behavior of the geological surveying and prospecting company Evenkiya – Geofizika, Ltd. and the authorities of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug whose activities have led to actual destruction of our land and taiga bequeathed to us by our ancestors and assigned to our community by the administration of the Baykitskiy Rayon of the EAO in accordance with the state act # 110 dated July 5, 1993.

We come from the Kureyskie family, one of the most ancient Evenk families mentioned in the works of such famous researchers and travelers as R.K. Maak, A.F. Middendorf, F.F. Miller as well as outstanding contemporary scholars: G.M. Vasilevich, V.A. Togolukov and many others. Generations of our family used to live on what is now the territory of the Baykitskiy Rayon of the EAO from time immemorial.

Our economic establishment is a non-commercial organization since our community used to lead a traditional way of life, like our ancestors did, being engaged in traditional subsistence activities: hunting wild animals (moose and reindeer); fur trade (squirrel, sable and ermine); fishing under properly formalized state licenses (grayling, lenok, dace); and gathering (lingberry, blueberry, currant, etc.) as well as timber and firewood-cutting for home heating.

We use the past tense writing about our traditional lifestyle and economic activities because the oil prospecting expeditions entered the territory of the Kureyskie family way back in 1973 and within the next 5 to 7 years of their operations we lost our reindeer stock. As a result, our parents and elders died too since they could not continue their traditional subsistence activities without their reindeer. The Evenk proverb is to the point: “No reindeer, no Evenk here”. Our generation of the 1970s has to adjust itself to the hard conditions of survival at the expense of hunting fur animals, wild ungulates, and fishing. As a result, we have been left homeless and without our Mother Taiga who used to feed our ancestors, our children and ourselves. It happened so because our Taiga the Food Provider was handed over to Evenkiya – Geofizika, Ltd. without our consent for geological surveying and prospecting under Enactment # 119 dated September 1, 1999 and signed by V.K. Sturov, head of the local governance administration of the Baykitskiy district, EAO.

We witness hereby to the fact that at present the activities of the Evenkiya –Geofizika Company headed by G.A. Ozerskiy have resulted in:

- Profanation of our kinship sacred plot of land in the area between the Kosvino, Krasiko and Topto Rivers where, according to our ancestors’ legend, guardian spirits of our family used to live: it has been turned into an area of felled timber cleared up for mounting a rig;
- The burial grounds of our ancestors dating back to the late 19th – early 20th centuries have been profaned and destroyed;
- Grayling, lenok, and dace breeding grounds in the upper reaches of the Kosvino have been totally destroyed;
- Our fishing implements (all sorts of traps) and hunting paths (little tracks) as well as nomadic routes have been destroyed;
- Our yards, stores, sheds and other outbuildings and winter huts have been turned into warehouse premises used by the Company’s workers who also go in for shooting wild animals without any licenses or our permission;
- All the animals: bear, elk, squirrel, sable, ermine have left the surrounding taiga. Reindeer have started to keep clear of our taiga. Wolves were the last ones to abandon our lifeless land;
- Our taiga has turned into a desert and lifeless plot of land with an ugly landscape torn to pieces by seismic explosions of geological surveyors and crushed by the steel caterpillar tracks of modern civilization by order of big shots and rich men.

We are ready to substantiate the above facts with documents submitting all the materials required.

We, six (6) descendants of the Kureyskie family, members of the kinship community “Kosvino” in the village of Osharovo, hereby state that as a result of barbarous prospecting for economic minerals carried out by the Evenkiya – Geofizika Company with the permission of the Baykitskiy Rayon administration and the connivance of the authorities of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, everything established by several dozens of our ancestors’ generations as well as everything we have built during the many years and everything we have spared neither our efforts nor financial means for has been totally destroyed. As a result, we have been left without means of existence, alone in the lifeless expanses of a dead land, fighting the cold and hunger single-handed in the severe climatic conditions.

We have approached the Company’s management with the question of by what right the geological prospecting is carried out and informed them of the destructive and colonial methods of work used by their personnel. We have tried to claim damages from the Company, insisting on compensation for the damage caused by such development of natural resources but our claims have been left unanswered. Instead, we have been insulted and humiliated by the depiction of our community as a bunch of blackmailers and extortionists in the eyes of the authorities of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, while tractors were crushing our sacred sites, axes annihilating the memory about our forefathers and explosions ripping our hopes for partnership and a dialog between land users in compliance with the laws “On Traditional Subsistence Territories …” and “On Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation”.

1) obschina = family-based producers’ co-operative community; here called ”kinship community”.

Dear Sergey Nikolayevich!

We are pretty sure that geologists will make way for extracting companies coming in their turn to take away our last possession – life itself! Today, they cheat us, making empty and false promises of a happy life in exchange for our Mother Taiga the Feeder but we already sit and wait for them to come and finish off our kids and us with accidents and vodka.

This misfortune has already come to make trouble at the plot of land inhabited by two old men, the last representatives of the Khadanchins family. Their land is covered with oilrigs, industrial warehouses, airfields and roads. Two old men, sick, helpless and almost illiterate, stay in a tarpaulin tent all the year round feeding on what an incidental boat (in summer) or a truck (in winter) would bring them since after the advent of the explorers they have lost all their reindeer while taiga animals abandoned their land. The land of the Kunnoir community is likely to suffer the same fate in the nearest future.

All the members of our community are absolutely sure that this trouble has fallen on kinship lands of other peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East since the regional authorities have been giving our lands into the hands of various dubious companies by fair means or foul, violating the laws of this country, doing so without our knowledge, permission or consent.

We, the Evenks, indigenous people of the taiga, the six of us from the Kureyskie family, members of the kinship community “Kosvino” at the village of Osharovo, Evenk Autonomous Okrug are quite aware of the fact that federal laws do not exist for them. There are no moral standards and principles for them in their profit hunting. They do not care about human rights, they ignore the decisions taken at the meetings (congresses) of Evenkya’s indigenous peoples – the direct custodians and masters of these lands. We, therefore, request you:

- To inform the federal bodies of power and control, the Russian and international public of the misfortune that has come to us and crushed our home;
- To appeal to V.V. Putin, President of RF so that we would be given a possibility to participate on equal footing with the regional authorities in the disposal of our forefathers’ lands which we have preserved as well as to put this process under the constant Presidential and Procurator’s supervision;
- To assist in stopping the activities of oil prospecting and extracting companies on our territory;
- To render assistance to our community in restoration of our economy and rehabilitation of our territory;
- To render assistance in getting compensation for damages caused by the activities of the Evenkiya – Geofizika Company.

We look forward for your help since we have already lost every hope in the regional authorities fencing off from us with silence and false promises to sort out our problem. Today this problem for us is a matter of life and death.

Hoping to receive your help, respectfully yours, members of the indigenous kinship community “Kosvino”, village of Osharovo,

Vitaliy Anatolevich Koptelko
Zinaida Borisovna Koptelko
Aurel Vitalevich Koptelko
Vladimir Vitalevich Koptelko
Tatyana Vitalevna Koptelko
Yevgeniy Vitalevich Koptelko

The Russian Association of Indigenous peoples of the North (RAIPON) has sent a letter to the respective bodies of power with a request to look into the facts mentioned in the above letter and, prior to any court action, find a possibility of assisting the victimized communities of indigenous peoples in getting fair compensation and stave off illegal actions with regard to indigenous peoples in future.

From the Editor’s Board

Unfortunately, problems arising from the irresponsible destruction of the environment of Northern indigenous peoples’ traditional areas of inhabitance and economic activities touched upon in the letter written by the members of the kinship community “Kosvino” are typical. Geological surveying and prospecting companies as well as extracting industries operating throughout the enormous expanses of the North, Siberia and the Far East frequently treat the environment as if they are on a hostile planet rather than in their own state. Doing their work, they do not think of what will be left on that land when their work is over. They do not care about preservation of the environment or the fact that they are destroying the subsistence basis of the population inhabiting the area. They operate as if there is neither environmental legislation nor legislation concerning the rights of indigenous peoples, or constitutional standards with regard to citizens’ rights to a favorable environment.

It is also stated in Article 72 of the RF Constitution that “protection of native environment of habitation and traditional lifestyle of indigenous communities” is subject to joint authority of the Russian Federation and admistrative units of the Russian Federation. It means that the state and bodies of power of RF admistrative units bear responsibility for the consequences of activities carried out by extracting companies licensed by the state and/or respective RF admistrative units. We are of the opinion that state bodies of power should closely study the question of legislative regularization of activities carried out by geological surveying/prospecting and extracting companies leaving technogenic deserts behind. In fact, it will not be possible to make up for the results of thoughtless destruction of the environment with any advantages gained from the minerals mined in this way. The barbarous methods of extracting companies are posing a threat not only to indigenous peoples. They are a real threat to the security of the entire country.

We call on our readers who happen to witness or become victims of the plunderous attitude toward the environment on the part of geological surveying/prospecting and extracting companies to inform our editor’s board of such facts. Only by obtaining the required information we can jointly save our nature for present and future generations.