International Workshop on Key Problems
of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian North:
Conclusions and recommendations
17-18 September, 1999
The International Workshop on Key Problems of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian North was organised by the International Arctic Science Committee, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and the Russian Academy of Sciences, with the support and active participation of the Russian Ministry of Regional Policy (restored now as the State Committee of Russian Federation for Northern Affairs). The workshop coincided with, and was coordinated with, the Third Summit of Arctic Leaders (Associations and Organisations of Indigenous Peoples of the North) that took place on September 14-16 and was dedicated to health problems faced by indigenous peoples with special attention to the Russian North, Siberia and the Far East. This timing provided a unique opportunity to fully integrate the representatives of regional RAIPON branches into the workshop. There was also an opportunity for the foreign guests to participate in the workshop's discussions.
Workshop organisers forwarded the following research topics for discussion:
Legal regulation of natural resource use and land tenure in areas where indigenous peoples of the North live.
Analysis of socio-economic conditions and their impact on the livelihood of indigenous peoples.
Physiological and psychological aspects of alcoholism and the modern methods used to combat negative social tendencies.
The objectives of the workshop were to:
Analyze current conditions using materials gathered in the field;
Assess leading, currently used approaches to look for ways to reduce underlying causes of the problems discussed at the workshop;
Identify issues requiring additional methodological and scientific research and to suggest approaches to solve these problems at both the federal and regional levels.
A total of 112 people, including 33 foreigners, participated in the workshop. The Russian Academy of Sciences was represented by members from Moscow, St-Petersburg, Syktyvkar, Irkutsk, Vladivostok, Magadan, Murmansk, Norilsk and Yakutsk. Regions were extremely well represented as well. In addition to regional branches of RAIPON, the workshop's organising committee also invited land tenure and natural resource use specialists to the summit. Physicians, lawyers, and teachers whose professional activities are directly linked to the problems (legal, employment, health, education and culture) faced by indigenous peoples were also invited. Scientists from the USA, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Finland were among the foreign participants. These countries also sent representatives from both their federal and regional level administrative structures, people who are responsible for making decisions affecting native peoples.
The workshop participants remarked on how well the workshop discussions were organised. Four plenary reports had the form of a draft decree, and those present were introduced to the range of issues to be discussed. All those present were give a chance to make a presentation, ask questions and obtain answers. High quality, professional, synchronic translation made it possible for all participants to engage one another during the two-day workshop.
DISCUSSION TOPIC ONE
The following issues were discussed in the context of discussion topic one:
Relations between local and federal authorities on land tenure and natural resource use issues;
Appropriate legal measures to protect the most important natural resource use rights of indigenous peoples of the north;
Directive on the legal status of associations of indigenous peoples of the North and the law on representative bodies that are legally binding;
Development of conciliatory and contract terms;
Effectiveness of foreign legislation to resolve problems faced by indigenous peoples of the North and their adaptation to Russian conditions.
Regional RAIPON representatives made presentations on the most acute problems in their regions, districts, and villages affecting the lives of indigenous peoples.
Based on a discussion of these issues, the workshop participants identified the following areas that are in need of special scientific study:
Assess the current conceptual basis of, and develop new terms and criteria for, determining the ethnic affiliation of individuals to specific groups of Russian peoples that are currently designated as "indigenous peoples of the North", in accordance with Russian experience and international practice; this should include standardization of the terms used in legal acts regulating the activities of this group of the populace.
Standardize the term "territory of traditional nature use" (TTP) by establishing a conceptual basis for this kind of territory: status of TTP and the rights of indigenous peoples of the North; the procedure for defining boundaries and for changing possession; acceptable types of economic activities; management principles; ethnic composition.
Develop model projects emphasizing sustainable, ethno-ecological territories and models for self-management bodies for indigenous peoples of the North in view of the historical, socio-economic, cultural and regional features of their life-style.
Support establishment of an Indigenous Training Law Institute in the Russian Federation. The objective of this initiative is to promote the implementation of existing laws and to ensure the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation by providing training, textbooks, and exchange visits.
The TTP should be considered the basic land holding for indigenous peoples of the North and it is essential to introduce this term into several laws at once. Even more daunting is the task of putting the procedure into practice. The most immediate and demanding issue is coming up with a scientific formulation for the very notion of a TTP and a single procedure for using these holdings in all areas where indigenous peoples of the North live. This research is also connected to the question of integrating scientific and traditional knowledge on nature use and requires obligatory follow-up ethno-ecological monitoring. The workshop's discussion of the legal status, as well as other aspects of the TTP question, showed that there are large differences in views and approaches on the issue of how to resolve land tenure among indigenous peoples of the North. Scientists and local specialists expressed contradictory, and often conflicting views on the topic.
Further study is needed to prepare materials for federal laws on "Lands for Traditional Nature Use" and on "Reindeer Herding", as well as to prepare comments and other legal acts for already existing Russian Federation laws "On Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples", on "Production Sharing Agreements", "On Minerals", as well as for inclusion in all the charters of autonomous regions and other Federation relations on whose land live indigenous peoples of the North.
DISCUSSION TOPIC TWO
The second discussion topic - living conditions and quality of life - highlighted the continuing decline in the quality of life and a sharp worsening of all demographic indicators. A decline in the life span, especially among indigenous males, and an increase in suicides among young and middle age people are also observed.
Extremely unfavorable socio-economic conditions for indigenous peoples of the North serve as a basis for these negative trends. The workshop participants developed a basic list of research on circumpolar living conditions for indigenous peoples. A first step is international scientific research planned by RAIPON together with foreign researchers on the Kola Peninsula and on Chukotka.
In their report, RAIPON pointed out that the declines observed among indigenous peoples of the North cannot be explained by unfavorable socio-economic factors alone. The reason is more obviously the continuing degraded state of other aspects of society that are having an impact on the way of life of people of the North. The workshop's foreign participants pointed out that the problem is significantly more complex than often thought and that it cannot simply be explained away by impoverished economic conditions. Suicide remains a serious problem even in those Acrtic countries (USA, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavian countries) where land tenure for indigenous peoples has been resolved and where federal financial support is provided to address underlying causes. In this context, the issue of "Ethno-Sociological and Psychological Reasons for the Growth in Suicide among Indigenous Peoples of the North" requires special research that would be best carried out through joint scientific efforts from Arctic countries.
Changes in diet have a negative impact on northern peoples. The result of government policy and market oriented structures is that unfamiliar food products are being foisted on indigenous peoples when at the same unjustified restrictions in the use of a traditional diet - fish, wild game, birds and marine mammals - are being put into place. This has a pernicious impact upon the health of indigenous peoples, their resistance to illnesses, on the adaptive capacities of the organism to deal with extreme natural and climatic conditions. This problem is so vital to preserving the health of current and future generations of indigenous peoples that the scientific study of their nutritional needs must be a part of any study of the conditions affecting the way of life of indigenous population and is an area that requires special research.
The collapse of traditional economic activities and the shift of a part of the indigenous population, especially young people, to urban settings are at the root of a number of social and economic problems. One problem is that indigenous peoples have trouble finding work in non-traditional areas. It is the opinion of the workshop participants that it is essential to conduct research to advance new views among indigenous peoples on their position in modern society and the economy, with an orientation on the need for both a renaissance and adaptation of traditional economic areas, and on opportunities to find a satisfying lot in life. This research should lead to radical changes in social policy at the regional and local levels, and also to new understandings that will help in finding ways to solicit federal financial support.
The issues of living conditions and alcoholism are closely related and combining them for discussion at one workshop provided an opportunity for various specialists to present their views on this complex problem. The problem of alcohol abuse in Russian society is a generally known fact, however, this problem is also very acute in other countries and so it is expedient to combine the efforts of scientists and specialists of various countries to work on ways to reduce the impacts of alcohol abuse on indigenous peoples.
DISCUSSION TOPIC THREE
The third topic at the workshop was dedicated to a discussion of alcoholic abuse and the specific features of this illness among the indigenous peoples of the North. Workshop participants supported the view that the problem is extremely important both as a medical and a psychological issue. It is paramount that scientists find out more about the results of various programs being carried out to combat alcoholism. The assessment made by practicing physicians and scientists was to recommend a further exchange of opinions to make programs more effective. Coercive hypnotism and vitaminization of food products as methods to combat alcoholism are viewed in different way by native peoples, especially when the results of psychological methods have a more successful and long lasting effect. A close tie between alcoholism and increasing incidents of suicide and violent death was shown. This problem, in the opinion of the Russian and foreign participants, requires further comparative study in different parts of Russian Federation and abroad. Simultaneously, research on exclusively medical aspects of the disease must be accompanied by study of a broad spectrum of social and economic issues: employment and unemployment, social position and political status, the freedom, on the one hand, to express ones ethnic-cultural heritage while, on the other, the ability to adapt to the new demands of life, a claim to individuality in society, etc. Only an integrated, systemic study of chronic and universal tendencies will put society on track. All that can be confirmed for the time being is that there is a rather simplified understanding of what is an extremely complex issue and that there is a limited understanding of the real reasons underlying alcohol abuse. So the issue "Socio-Political and Medical-Biological Aspects of Alcoholism Among Peoples of the North: Comparative Research in Arctic Countries" was acknowledged by workshop participants as an urgent topic that needs the active involvement of scientists of various countries.
Aside from planned activities, the workshop participants raised and discussed other key problems facing indigenous peoples of the North.
Workshop participants showed concern for what is an obvious lack of legal aid in the regions where indigenous peoples live. There are great difficulties, both financial and in terms of a shortage of qualified legal personnel capable of defending indigenous peoples' rights. Two suggestions were made to remedy that situation.
Firstly, there is a distinct need to issue a guidebook on current legislation affecting indigenous peoples, on their rights and responsibilities. Such a guidebook should contain commentary that makes it easier for indigenous peoples to understand and use laws in their daily lives. Involvement of foreign legal experts capable of providing commentary on practical implementation of analogous laws in the countries where they practice was broadly encouraged. The commentaries should contain examples of problems and how they are resolved based on experiences implementing the law. Such a guidebook would have an enormous impact in the field.
It is RAIPON's opinion that a section of the guidebook should contain specific examples of violations on indigenous peoples' rights and recommendations on protecting the interests of victims.
Secondly, a center for the protection of indigenous peoples' rights should be created to provide consultation on current issues, to litigate to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and to train legal experts in skills necessary to deal with the needs of indigenous peoples. Ms. Irina Degtyar', Head of the Department of Indigenous Peoples of the North (Goskomsever), supported this idea and suggested that federal financial support be started at the early stage with an eventual shift to self-financing. "Ecojuris," a law office already litigating to defend the rights of indigenous peoples, was acknowledged and earned high praise and support. The firm's opportunities are, however, very limited and is unable to satisfy all the demands of indigenous peoples for legal aid.
In RAIPON's opinion it is critically important that a center for legal aid for indigenous peoples be an association, whose creation and activities be carried out as part of the RAIPON program and be under its leadership. Only in such a case will its activities be maximally effective.
Industrial disturbance and environmental pollution found in several regions has not only made traditional economic activities impossible, it has also created serious living problems for the indigenous peoples of the north living on these lands. Ecological research to assess the impact of environmental changes on the lives of indigenous peoples should be conducted and a system of compensation payments to communities to restore the environment in their natural habitats (in part, carry out the re-cultivation of lands and the organisation of new forms of economic activities) could be an outcome of such research.
Thirdly, based on the materials presented in the RAIPON report, it was convincingly demonstrated that resolving the problems of indigenous peoples of the North, including nature and non-nature use on land-use territories, cannot be successfully carried out without significant improvements in the physical and psychological health of the population.
Given rapidly declining general health in Russia, research must be conducted in the area of health protection and developing medical methods to identify and overcome illness given certain physical conditions (distance of the population; its scattered and dispersed nature; migratory way of life; the lack of hospitals and field clinics). An acute need to develop and legitimize a new concept of health protection for the people of the North is needed. RAIPON identifies the following three practical need areas:
Create and organise in district and regional centers integrated mobile medical units with diagnostic, preventive health and treatment capabilities to service indigenous people. The aim will be to eventually transfer these facilities to the authority of a single federal service responsible to protect health and provide treatment for indigenous peoples of the North. Mobile medical units that currently exist where indigenous peoples live are very ineffective or do not operate at all for a variety of regional reasons. The main reasons are a lack of understanding of their role and significance, the narrow range of their capacities, inadequate gear and financing, the lack of a full range of specialists and organisational miscalculations.
Create a single federal service for protecting the health of people on territories of traditional nature use and of indigenous peoples of the North.
Create a health center for indigenous peoples of the North as part of RAIPON to gather positive experiences, treatment and preventive medical procedures, and information on a healthy life-style and sport to be distributed where indigenous peoples of the North live.
The international workshop recommends, as priority scientific projects, types of research that will promote improvements in socio-economic conditions, health and civil rights status:
Analyze the current conceptual basis, and develop new terms and criteria, for determining the ethnic affiliation of individuals to a specific group of Russian peoples currently designated as "indigenous peoples of the North", in accordance with Russian experience and international practice; standardization of terms used in legal acts regulating the activities of this group of the populace.
Standardize the term "territory of traditional nature use" (TTP) by establishing the conceptual basis for this kind of territory: status of TTP and the rights of indigenous peoples of the North; the procedure for defining boundaries and for changing possession; acceptable types of economic activities; management principles; ethnic composition.
Develop model projects emphasizing sustainable, ethno-ecological territories and models for self-management bodies for indigenous peoples of the North in view of the historical, socio-economic, cultural and regional features of their livelihood.
Analysis of the impact of environmental changes on the health of the indigenous peoples of the North. Economic and legal rationale for developing financing mechanisms that compensate indigenous peoples of the North that conduct a traditional way of life for the losses incurred from seizure of lands, from environmental pollution and from destruction of traditional ways of life.
Contemporary tendencies in the creation of new views on one's position in society and in the economy that direct indigenous peoples of the North toward both a renaissance and adaptation of traditional areas of economic activity, and toward participation in other areas of economic activity. 6) Socio-political and medical-biological aspects of alcoholism among indigenous peoples of the North; comparative research in Arctic countries.
Ethno-sociological and psychological reasons for the growth in suicidal behavior among indigenous peoples of the North.
Traditional and non-traditional methods of preventing and curing alcoholism: study of its ethno-sociological and ethno-psychological roots; develop effective approaches to preventing this problem in regions where indigenous peoples of the North live since it is a basic obstacle to their future development.
Determine the basic health indicators for indigenous peoples of the North with the goal of defining, in stages, federal and regional criteria for developing and implementing a program of health measures. In making proposals to develop measures to protect the health of indigenous peoples of the North, the workshop also recommends that the latter two points, numbers eight and nine, be combined into a single bloc and examined in the context of a special medical program. In addition to these two scientific projects, the following should also be included:
Research on living conditions in all regions inhabited by indigenous peoples of the North.
Ecological research on territories of traditional nature use with the goal of identifying radionuclides, heavy metals, other harmful substances and to determine their degree and levels in humans.
Research on the aetiology and pathogeny for tuberculosis among individuals engaged in reindeer herding and other traditional branches of the economy to develop and introduce effective methods for diagnosing and additionally studying the disease where patients live on a full time basis.
Develop portable X-ray equipment and other portable medical equipment for the remote Northern regions.
Scientifically based nutritional needs in the current diet of indigenous peoples.
This is a list of priority scientific projects that have the support of the State Committee of the Russian Federation for North Affairs (Goskomsever) and Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON).
At the same time, RAIPON believes that these and any other research on problems of peoples of the North should be carried out in full cooperation with the Association.
The organisers and workshop participants are appealing to various organisations with a request to provide financial support to carry out this research.