Tribal communities

The Arctic peoples of the Sakha Republic at the junction of centuries
February 2001

Editors of the newspaper "Ilken", Yakutsk

Russian social and economic policy changes at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s went along with a sharp reduction of state support to industrial and agricultural production. The special protectionism concerning the indigenous people of the Russian North has practically been suspended. The history of the world’s indigenous peoples indicates that the various indigenous groups of the Russian North will also ultimately reach a common understanding of how to protect their well-being and preserve their identity. Only the establishment of legally recognised Tribal Communities and non-alienation of native lands can prevent complete cultural and economical degradation and guarantee the preservation of traditional ways of life. And these are inseparably connected to primordial lands given by God.

"But things aren't moving..." More than 30 Federal and Republican laws were adopted, more than 1000 legal acts were announced, but none of them were financially backed nor implemented. In 1992 the first president of Russia issued the decree, "About Special Measures for Protection of the Areas of Traditional Residence of the Northern Indigenous Peoples", which emerged as a legal base for development of laws on indigenous peoples in the administrative units of the Russian Federation. Among the peoples of the Russian Federation, ethnic groups living in the Arctic region of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya) have a special place. Since ancient times they have occupied vast Arctic lands. They continue to lead a specialised lifestyle based on traditional modes of subsistence and methods of nature management.

The deterioration of the Russian Arctic peoples' living conditions can be attributed to a number of reasons. One is their inability to adapt to severe and rapid changes of conditions. The government’s policy of accelerated industrial development of the North has been conducted without taking into consideration the historical and cultural development of northern indigenous peoples, nor their nature management practices.

The first Tribal Communities were organised in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya) in the beginning of 1991 on the basis of the "Temporary Guidelines" about Tribal Communities. In 1992 the law of the Sakha Republic, "About Tribal Community of Northern Indigenous Peoples", judicially established the legal questions of organisation and functioning of a Tribal Commu-nity. This law declares that Tribal Communities are formed with the purpose of revival and development of traditional branches of economy (reindeer herding, hunting, fishery), as well as preservation of indigenous peoples’ habitat and way of life. These issues became also key factors for the allocation of land funds.

In the Republic of Sakha there are currently 231 Tribal Communities which have received legal recognition. They integrate more than 15,000 members, of whom 2993 people out of the total number work. The communities are responsible for 46,3 million hectares of land, including 30,8 million hectares of reindeer pastures. As of 1 September 2000, Tribal Communities had 44,164 head of reindeer (i.e. 26,6 % of the total number of reindeer in the Republic), 636 head of cattle, 1500 horses, and more than 300 silver foxes and Arctic foxes. It is quite encouraging that the total number of deer in Tribal Communities has increased from 1999 by 4,3 %.

The process of organising Tribal Communities in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya) was very difficult and painful for several reasons. First, there were no well-defined projects. Second, the attitude of the officials of different levels was very ambiguous, especially early on in the process. The main reason for this was the fear of losing control of the vast territories. In spite of the remoteness and extreme climate, the extreme zones of the Far North are rich in natural resources and have a strategic value. Third, it was doubted whether the Communities could economically survive under rigid market conditions.

The Tribal Communities are enthusiastically involved in production activity to get out of their difficult social and economic situation. Statistical data demonstrate that in 1999, in comparison with previous years, a considerable decrease of the industrial productivity of Tribal Communities took place. It is connected to the fact that most producers did not have guaranteed customers and faced difficulties in selling their products. Consequently they were compelled to realise production at a very low price. In 1999, 1589 tons of reindeer meat (total weight) were produced by the Communities. The income from the sale of fur skins was 1,484,000 roubles. In addition, 9070 head of wild reindeer were hunted.

During the last years, a number of Tribal Communities began to be engaged in non-traditional kinds of industry, combined with traditional activity (these are the Communities of Gonam, Oron, Оmoloy, Tayga, Yukte, Irgichen, Kindigir, and Cheroda). We find quite encouraging the fact that new spheres of Community activities, such as gold mining, timber storing, tourism and processing of ornamental stone, are now being developed. Some of these Tribal Communities persistently search for ways of solving problems of cultural preservation and development of traditional economic activities. For example, the "Oytung", Allaykhovskiy District – in 1989 the first Tribal Community of the Republic (organised by E.V. Edukin and V.N. Slepzov) – has restored a nomadic Council; moreover it has constructed some apartment houses in the location of a future village.

The Tribal Community "Nutendli", Nizhnekolymskiy District (head: V.I. Kemlil) has achieved an increase in the total number of reindeer obtained at the expense of the share. Now it works on development of the tribal flock. The Community "Yukte", Bulunskiy District (head: S. Isakov) – without any support and means – has created its industrial base: a fish processing factory, a smoking plant, and apartment houses for tourist accommodation. The Community "Tayga", Ust-Mayskiy District, is oriented towards proces-sing of timber. In 1997 it also established a mini-plant for meat processing. Besides reindeer herding and other basic economic activities, the Community "Cheroda", Olekminskiy District (head: M.V. Bagaev) is engaged in processing of colored stones.

Arctic and State

Today, with the enthusiasm of the nomadic Communities and the financial support of the Ministry of the Peoples and Federative Relations of the Republic of Sakha, there are 12 restored settlements: Ugino, Gonam, Upper Amga, Uugut, Happarastakh (Aldanskiy District), Oytung (Allaykhovskiy D.), Utaya (Upper Kolymskiy D.), Ulakhan Kuel (Anabarskiy D.), Uyandi (Ust-Yanskiy D.), Alekseevka, Cheroda (Olekminskiy D.), and Tumul (Ust-Mayskiy D.). Tribal Communities are the main supporters of these villages.

The Tribal Communities have overcome huge difficulties. Shortly after the organisation of Tribal Communities, various state departments pronounced an economic boycott of them. Trading, transport and other organisations simply refused to purchase products of these Communities. More than tens – and sometimes hundreds – of tons of top quality meat and fish could not be sold on the market. The state departments – originally organised to implement the state policy of developing a strong material and technical base for reindeer herding, hunting and fishing – have turned into state-supported, commercial, monopolies – which view Tribal Communities as competitors and which therefore seek their economic failure.

Now, it is essential to gain state support for the formation of a normative and legal system, and for implementation of the laws. Such a system must regulate the relationship of the Arctic indigenous peoples and the State, mainly in the sphere of traditional economy and nature management, landholding, and forms of self-organisation which should be based on the terms of equal partnership.

Those individuals which have work in the Communities usually find a meaningful life and get out of social trouble and dependency. With definite support, Tribal Communities could become the real basis for a revival of traditional economic activities of the indigenous peoples of the North. Now, Communities have got strong links with comprehensive schools. Their members are engaged in training pupils, give classes on traditional branches of economy, and promote studies of their native language. In these circumstances, it is important to suspend processes of Communities division, i.e. the creation of smaller and less powerful ones. It is necessary to band together in order to maintain economic viability.

The Union of Nomadic Tribal Communities of the Republic of Sakha introduces a proposal to consider the following nomadic Tribal Communities as the main ones:

1. The nomadic Tribal Community "Oyotung" and "Linkeev Oldan", Allaykhovskiy District;
2. The nomadic Tribal Community "Oron" Nerungrinskiy District;
3. The nomadic Tribal Community of the village Beresovka, Srednekolymskiy District;
4. The association of nomadic Tribal Communities of the Ust-Mayskiy District;
5. The nomadic Tribal Communities "Gonam", "Happarastakh", Aldanskiy District;
6. The nomadic Tribal Communities "Udya" and "Kitillakh", Anabarskiy District;
7. The nomadic Tribal Communities "Sakhandisa", Bulunskiy District;
8. The nomadic Tribal Communities "Tekki Odulok", Verkhnekolymskiy District;
9. The nomadic Tribal Communities "Notari"and "Bakhikay", Yiganskiy District;
10. The nomadic Tribal Communities "Nutendli" and "Turvaurgin", Nizhnekolymskiy District;
11. The association of Tribal Comminities of the Ust-Yanskiy District.

Most of the territories of Tribal Communities have got a particular protected status. For example, the licensing for digging of mineral resources is conducted only after the coordination with local associations of the northern indigenous peoples and Tribal Communities. The nomadic Tribal Communities pursue the aims of reviving traditional ways of economy and also meeting the requirements of market conditions. Their activities today demonstrate viability and adaptability. The nomadic Community is how the nomadic peoples of the North are adapting to new market relations. The activity of communities has got real legal support. It is rendered by the laws of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya): "About Tribal, Patrimonial Nomadic Community of the Northern Indigenous Peoples", "About Legal Status of the Northern Indigenous Peoples", "About Hunting and Hunting Economy", "About Fishery, Fishing Economy and Preservation of Water Bioresources", and "About Reindeer Herding".