A letter about problems of Omolon reindeer herders
from Reader’s letters, “Mir Korennykh Narodov – Zhivaya Arktika” No. 9-10, 2002

“Esteemed Pavel Vasilevich,
I, Alla Valentinovna Rypalo, residing in Chukotka, in the town of Bilibino, am writing this letter to you. We have a lot of questions about environment, particularly concerning the village of Omolon. Our inhabitants submit this petition with a request to send a competent commission with the aim of carrying out some research into the effects of the activities of the gold mining company “Kubaka” (Magadanskaya Oblast) on human health. The Omolon River, the tributary of the Kolyma River, is being polluted. The fish stock in the river has reduced considerably, dead fish are floating in its waters and specimens with three or four eyes are regularly found in the catch. The limited liability company “Kubaka” is based in the Severo-Evenskiy Rayon of the Magadanskaya Oblast and gets subsidies for its use of land. The village of Omolon, in its turn, gets nothing except pollution of its natural resources. However, from time immemorial, the Omolon River used to provide us, the local people, the fishing areas which we depended heavily on. The villagers of Omolon are increasingly worried about the situation and raise the question of including the territory of the Omolon River basin in the list of specially protected territories where it is permitted to be engaged in traditional occupations of Chukotkan indigenous peoples only (hunting, reindeer herding, fishing). The village of Omolon is one of the centers of traditional occupations where people hunt, fish, herd reindeer, live in the tundra with their families and pass their traditions and customs over to their children. It is their lifestyle, and if the only assets of theirs – clear water, air and tundra - are taken away from them the people themselves will vanish from the face of the earth.

The next question comes from the tenth team (open joint stock company “Ilguveyem”, a branch of “Kaiettyno” community). The closed joint stock company “Istok” has obtained a license to develop the oil fields on the tenth team’s territory in the upper reaches of the Ilguveyem River (the right tributary of the Olloy River). Vladimir Mikhailovich Strauzov, Director of the open joint stock company “Ilguveyem” has signed the allocation of land for the operations of the closed joint stock company “Istok”. But the reindeer herders are against his decision: the closed joint stock company “Istok” is about to start exploration of the oil field in the area overlapping the routes of reindeer grazing. The “Kaiettyno” community is also against the land allocation. The closed joint stock company “Istok” has not yet commenced its operations. How could the reindeer herders suspend the operations?

One hundred adults and 40 children live in the “Kaiettyno” community. The community population will be left without means of existence if the oil field exploration starts. There is no delivery of foodstuffs and medicine. The people have to live by subsistence farming. The reindeer are all they have now. If there are no grazing lands left for reindeer herding their stock will be reduced and the routes will be lost. The herders bring their foodstuffs from afar once a year all by themselves. The reindeer herders’ request is to establish a specially protected territory on the Olloy River, the right tributary of the Omolon River, and arrange a nature reserve “Omolonskiy”. Chukotka is on the one side of the Omolon River and the Magadan Region is on the other. Fishermen, hunters come here, destroy nature barbarically, do not clear up after themselves leaving garbage everywhere, and do not observe the rules of behavior in the taiga. The forest fires raging through the taiga in the area surrounding the village of Omolon in 2001 prevented aircraft from landing on the airstrip because of too much smoke around. However, forest protection service was removed from the village while the great distances have remained and all the forest areas around the village of Omolon have to be inspected as before. The villagers request you to restore the forest protection so as to avert fires. The taiga is dying, and wild animals are put to death. 30 to 50 years are needed to rehabilitate nature. Fires cause irreparable damage to Chukotkan nature, leading to heavy losses and, on the whole, upset the natural balance of the Earth.

April 8, 2002
A.V. Rypalo”


(1) The application written by members of Reindeer herding team # 10 to T.A. Terletskaya, chairperson of the Bilibino section of RAIPON, Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug (CAO) and V.N. Danilova, Chairperson of the Omolon section of RAIPON, CAO;
(2) The map with an indicated oil field to be developed by the closed joint stock company “Istok”;
(3) The decision of the presidium of the Association of Northern Indigenous Peoples of the Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug to convene a general meeting of “Kaiettyno” community members and the team of the open joint stock company “Ilguveyem” to discuss, with participation of representatives of the closed joint stock company “Istok”, the expediency of exploration of the “Ruchey Taiga” oil field, signed by I. Khomitskaya, President of the Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug.

Editor’s comment:

It is quite clear from Alla Rypalo’s letter that the problems facing the Omolon reindeer herders are stockpiling. How to sort them out?

The idea to establish two specially protected traditional subsistence territories is absolutely correct. It is necessary to approach the Governor of the Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug and the Government of the Russian Federation with the above declaration (application) and the map of the territories concerned.

As to the assessment of the impact made by the gold mining company “Kubaka” (Magadan Region) on health of the population inhabiting the Omolon tundra, RAIPON can approach the RF Ministry of Public Health.

However, with regard to both the license of the “Kubaka” company and the license of the closed joint stock company “Istok” the Association of Northern Indigenous Peoples of the Chukotkan Autonomous Okrug should approach the state authorities of the CAO, the RF Ministry of Natural Resources, the RF Procurator-General with a request for information on the basis of what documents these licenses have been issued. Besides, indigenous peoples can demand from state authorities, the “Kubaka” company and the closed joint stock company “Istok” to conduct an socio-cultural impact asessment of their operations. You can read about how to write a request for information and what an socio-cultural impact asessment is all about in this issue of our journal, the section on “Indigenous Peoples and Oil”.