Welcome to ANSIPRA

October 1998

Winfried K. Dallmann
(Norwegian Polar Institute / network coordinator)

Since colonisation, parts of the Russian North have gradually been converted into areas for alien settlement, transportation routes, industry, forestry, mining and oil production, as well as devastated through pollution, irresponsibly-managed oil and mineral prospecting, and military activity. Many residence and subsistence areas of indigenous populations of the Russian North find themselves subjected to catastrophic environmental conditions. Repeated reports of extremely-polluted rivers and wetlands, loss of reindeer pastures and hunting grounds, and a frightening health situation provide an alarming picture of the overall conditions.

Furthermore, severe social and economical transformations during the Soviet Era like collectivisation of nearly all traditional subsistence, restructuring of the supply system, forced relocation of population, russification by educational policies, etc., have provoked a wide-spread decay of the social network, loss of language and ethnic identity and loss of traditional knowledge. Now - after the break-down of Soviet economy - there is a significant lack of supplies, of markets for products, of necessary equipment for maintaining their economy, leaving the people often in a hopeless situation.

The indigenous peoples have organised themselves during the past decade and have informed the international community about their living conditions. There are positive attempts from the Russian government and local authorities to deal with the situation, but the severe socio-economic crisis of the country does not permit to take sufficient measures. There is an urgent need of financial means

Though the situation is extremely difficult for the entire population of the Russian North, the indigenous population is exposed to special threats: Indigenous peoples have very strong ties to their natural environment. This relationship has a combined spiritual and subsistence-related nature. Their societies and cultural identity are thus directly dependent on intact ecosystems within their residence and subsistence areas. Once their environment has ceased to support them, their culture is lost. Many of the indigenous peoples are today at the edge of cultural - and even numerical - extinction.

There is a number of organisations and initiatives at the international level that are concerned with the indigenous peoples' situation in the Russian North. These initiatives seem to be fairly well co-ordinated, or - at least - communicate with each-other through national initiatives and through the indigenous peoples' umbrella organisations. Individual projects carried out in Norway, however, have no common national forum to co-ordinate their activities, or to endorse project proposals and applications for funding towards Norwegian financing agencies.

Norway has underlined her concern for both the environment and development in the Russian North and for the situation of indigenous peoples in general at many occasions. One should expect that there is a potential for funding and use of expertise in order to improve the situation for the indigenous societies in the Russian North, and to include indigenous concerns more explicitly in the Norwegian environmental engagement in the Russian North.

The main idea behind the establishment of NNSIPRA is to create a forum for communication, information and stimulation for actions between all Norwegian agencies, institutes, organisations, consulting agencies and individuals with a definite or potential interest in the issue. It will further constitute a direct connection between the Norwegian participants and the Russian and international IPOs. The purpose and objectives of the Network are summarised on the first page of this Bulletin.

The main issue is to activate Norwegian expertise and to raise funding in order to help the indigenous society of our Eastern neighbour state in their struggle for ethnic and cultural survival.

NNSIPRA is continuously in contact with the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), which is the umbrella organisation of 28 local organisations of indigenous groups in the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation. Good relations exist also with the Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat (IPS) of the Arctic Council (formerly of the AEPS) and the Danish-Greenlandic Initiative for Assistance to the Indigenous Peoples of Russia, which has started a praiseworthy, officially funded programme to support indigenous issues in Russia.

A key to the success of NNSIPRA will be that it is used by all involved parties. We hope that Norwegian players use our Bulletin or the Network's Secretariat to spread and to gain information about activities and plans, that representatives of the Indigenous Peoples use it to inform about their needs, that Norwegian funding agencies will hear our voice, and that Norwegian companies with interests in the Russian North will consider the issues that are raised here.