English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 11-12, 2002

Seminar on the legal education for indigenous peoples in Yakutsk

Olga Murashko

A seminar was held in Yakutsk from 20 through 26 October 2002 entitled “The Legal Status of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation: Application and Development”. The seminar was held with the support of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) within the framework of IWGIA and RAIPON (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and Far East) joint project “Institutional construction and assistance with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples”. Lawyers from the Public Legislative Center Rodnik participated.

The objective of this seminar was to disseminate knowledge among the regional leaders of public organizations and communes of the indigenous peoples on legal matters concerning the rights of indigenous peoples as well as to carry out in practice the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in court.

The first part of the seminar was informative and attended by about 60 persons: 26 heads of regional RAIPON departments and commune and organization representatives of the Yakutsk indigenous peoples. S.N. Kharyuchi, president of RAIPON, P.V. Sulyandziga and M.A. Todyshev, vice-presidents, and O.A. Murashko, the Association’s consultant. They informed the participants on the present state of Russian jurisprudence, the rights of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, and procedures and trends to amend the present legislative system. This is in view of the commission’s work, under the President of the Russian Federation, to prepare proposals to divide authority and jurisdiction between federal and regional authorities, and local self-government bodies. RAIPON achieved the right to participate directly in this work in order to protect the present level of indigenous peoples’ rights in Russia and, if the opportunity arises, to expand these rights.

However, until this work of introducing amendments into the legislation is completed, the present law remains valid and indigenous peoples must learn to take advantage of their current rights. Further work of the seminar was directed towards practical legal knowledge, juridical examination of specific situations – teaching participants to write documents, approaching officials, and writing complaints and applications to court officials. Practical information and legal consultation was given to more than 30 persons. Three main problems materialized during the seminar which disturbed the students: legal registration of communes of indigenous minorities; practice used to form Territories of Traditional Nature Use; and problems involving the marketing of traditional nature use products, when monopolies appear based on re-processing and sale of traditional products.

Several other events were taking place at the same time as this legal seminar. These included: a meeting of the National Organizational Commission for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with the participation of the chairman of the National Organizational Commission, Minister of Nationalities’ Affairs V.Yu. Zorina; the regular Coordinating Council of Associations of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East; and the scientific and practical conference “Social Government and Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East: the Right to Territories of Traditional Nature Use and Social Protection”, organized by the Institute of Problems of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) CO RAS.

Such a combination of different events had pros and cons for the participants of the legal seminar. On the one hand, because of the meetings with officials, there was insufficient time to carry out the business game “Defending the rights of indigenous minorities in court”. But on the other hand, the participants of the seminar (most of them representing public organizations and indigenous communes from Yakutia who rarely are in Yakutsk) had the opportunity to meet directly with representatives of the federal and republican authorities, express their requests and receive first-hand information from them.

Participants of the seminar were provided with texts of all the relevant laws and normative acts and the addresses of the federal authorities to whom they could turn with various questions. Furthermore, the participants of the seminar were presented with a set of models of legal documents to assist them in compiling applications, complaints and other documents to provide the court when they turn to it with their own specific affairs. The participants also received a model of how to address an issue in the appropriate manner to be sent to the RF Government in case a territory that is of traditional nature use is converted.

We sincerely hope that as a result of this seminar the participants have received fundamental theoretical knowledge to defend their rights as well as the necessary practical skills. We also hope that they overcome the psychological barrier of ignorance and loneliness arising from the distance between their homes and the centers of officialdom and the headquarters of indigenous peoples’ organizations. We hopethey have managed to acquaint themselves with lawyers who in the future can defend their rights in court.