Yakut-Sakha and the Siberian North-East
Date: April 1999
Funded by the University of Calgary-Gorbachev Foundation Joint Trust Fund
Timeline: October 1996 to October 1999
During the Soviet period, the central government in Moscow boasted of how well indigenous peoples in the Russian North and Siberia had accepted Soviet life while keeping many of their traditional culture, their language and their traditional economies. The collapse of the USSR revealed that the opposite was true. Many Native peoples in the Russian North and Siberia were living in substandard conditions akin to conditions in developing countries. While massive industrialization and resource extraction and development made the Soviet Union a world power, it led to the loss of culture, the extinction of languages and the degradation of the environment that these Native peoples need to practice their traditional economies.
As we near the end of the twentieth century, the most salient problems that the Sakha and other Native peoples in the Sakha Republic face are not the blatant imperialism and colonization experienced in the recent past under Soviet rule but rather the impact of resource and industrial development: environmental degradation and massive pollution. One of the most seriously effected areas is the Vilyuy River, in the northern interior of the Sakha Republic. The Vilyuy River is highly polluted with wastes from the diamond mines and salt mines that lay near its banks. This pollution and environmental disaster is most profoundly seen in its effects on the health of the population, which is mostly Sakha, living in the region. Prevalent is the incidence of cancer which has increased dramatically in the last decade, with hepatitis A and B also posing problems and health risks for the Sakha. A dozen or more situations such as these prevail in Yakut-Sakha. The goal of the project is to investigate the economic development of the Siberian North-East in the post-war period of Soviet Rule and in the period 1991-95, its environmental and health impact on Sakha communities (especially women), and to work with regional authorities regarding policy decisions.
This project examines the magnitude of this damage, what the people of the Sakha Republic are doing about it and what the government is doing to halt and, if possible, to reverse the tremendous damage done to people's culture, traditional lands and health.