ANSIPRA Bulletin (No 3, November 1999)

The immense need for aid and support

Thoughts on relations between funding/implementing agencies
and indigenous peoples' organisations and representatives in Russia
November 1999

Winfried K. Dallmann
(Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromso)

Tove S. Petersen
( Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secreatariat, Copenhagen)

Since the start of perestroika, global society has increasingly gained access to detailed and up-to-date information from the Russian North. We learned that indigenous societies were facing enormous problems with respect to environmental degradation, dismantling of traditional heritage and ethnic identity, and deterioration of social conditions and health. During recent years, a new political indigenous consciousness has developed. In a country with a very weak civil society we have witnessed that the indigenous peoples have organised themselves politically and developed ideas of cultural revival and self-determination. However, despite the growing political freedom, the overall situation was - and still is - becoming increasingly desperate. This applies to socio-economic aspects such as the unstable and decreasing food and goods supplies, sky-rocketing unemployment rates, degradation of the natural resource base, as well as a catastrophic health situation.

In order to mitigate these disastrous trends, several Arctic countries like Canada, Denmark-Greenland and Norway - and certainly also Russia herself - have developed support programmes with various targets and sources of funding. These pioneering and praiseworthy initiatives do, as far as we can judge, aim at fundamentally important targets in areas related to networking, distribution of information, capacity and institution building, environmental restoration and conservation, health care, business development, etc.

Despite the generous contributions and laudable efforts on the part of the various projects, we have to admit that international efforts are still very limited and do not meet the scope and volume of needs among Russian indigenous people. The Russian North consists of vast areas spanning nine time-zones, with hundreds of indigenous communities, lying far from each other and from urban centres. Poorly, if at all, connected by modern transportation lines, they often lack even basic tools for communication such as operative phone lines.

In light of the immense need for assistance, it does not make sense when representatives of international assistance and funding agencies or programmes express their concern about possibly overlapping or competing measures. We do not share these concerns; there is much more to be done on every single issue than any one donor or country is willing or able to cover completely. We also believe that indigenous organisations have an interest in avoiding dependency on a single donor. Donors should avoid attempting to monopolise cooperations with indigenous representatives, and should recognise that indigenous groups have a legitimate interest in diversifying their donor base. In practice, this means that no one should criticise the fact that indigenous representatives seek funds for similar purposes from various sources.

We support the idea of some sort of a coordinating forum that can promote professional coping tools for dealing with the rapidly proliferating needs and the measures initiated to address them. In our mind there should not be any doubt that such a forum could best be initiated and implemented by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation (RAIPON), which is the legitimate representative of the indigenous peoples of Russia. The Association encompasses 29 chapters of indigenous organisations across the entire Russia. Enjoying the status of a permanent participant of the Arctic Council on behalf of the indigenous peoples of Russia, it is currently seeking a consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Since the start of the ICC-Canadian and, later, the Danish-Greenlandic initiatives, only a few years ago, RAIPON has undergone a notable transformation. Its capacity to forge international and regional links, to coordinate activities, to raise important issues at various political levels and forums, and to engage in constructive dialogue with other sectors of Russian society has grown enormously. Apart from the human resources of RAIPON, the financial basis provided by international and western donors has been crucial for these achievements. But there is much to be done. To link the regional organisations - and not to forget the hundreds of indigenous communities - all across the Russian North together by communication, to build capacity at regional and local levels, including the building of a legal and economic infrastructure that will ensure the survival of indigenous peoples, are all enormous tasks that have hardly been started. RAIPON's increased capacity is - along with western money - a very important prerequisite to achieve this goal.

In this context, it might be advantageous if individuals working at RAIPON were not paid by money from individual projects, so that donors would not expect those persons solely to work with "their" projects. The complexity of problems and of coordinating work needed today demands more flexible solutions where RAIPON plays a more central role in making the appropriate allocation of human and financial resources. This is exactly what RAIPON has gained the capacity to do. Everybody, here in particular the western/international donor and project agents who have contributed to what has been achieved should be proud of this and build further on these achievements.

Update 22-12-2000