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Russia: "They want to destroy us as a people"

September 15 2015

Source: Ura.ru
Indigenous Khanty urge governor to protect their rights against abuse by oil companies

In a letter to the governor of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area-Yugra Natalia Komarova, the region's indigenous peoples are urging her to intervene in an ongoing conflict with the oil industry. The letter is signed by 11 representatives of the Khanty, the heads of the Sardakov, Shchukleyev, Sopochin, Lebedev, Aipin and Mayorov clans.

Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area is Russia’s foremost oil region. At the same time it is home to the Khanty, Mansi and Forest Nenets indigenous peoples, who traditionally engage in reindeer herding, fishing, hunting and gathering. Throughout the region, hundreds of Khanty families maintain a traditional semi-nomadic way of life, however oil development has had disastrous impact on their ancestral lands.

"In previous years most of the lichen [the main food of the reindeer] and the reindeer pastures have burned away. There are almost no fish left in lakes and rivers. We cannot feed our families by fishing and hunting wild game anymore. In the past, our lands were rich in game, fish, berries and mushrooms. Now, with every day that goes by they are more and more becoming a desert. Areas which the oil companies have been using are polluted, littered with debris, scrap and left over after the construction of oil wells. Instead of removing and disposing of the waste of their operations, the oil companies bury them in our ancestral lands, because this is less expensive", the representatives of indigenous minorities of the North write in their appeal.

Rivers are drying up

The Khanty claim that the oil companies are destroying the streams that feed the marshes and lakes with their heavy machinery, due to which the flow of water ceases and reservoirs are drying up. At the same time, they note that assessments downplay the impact of the extractive industries on the environment.

The Khanty regularly complaint to the authorities, but as they report , even when violations of environmental legislation are found, the oil companies face no noticeable consequences. The indigenous people believe that their people are being cheated, taking advantage of his ignorance and gullibility. The authors of the appeal believe that they being deliberately driven from their lands:

"By polluting rivers and lakes and destroying our pastures, depriving us of our traditional way of life and eradicating our traditions and customs, forcing our people to abandon their traditional way of life the oil companies are accelerating the extinction of our indigenous people. If their objective is to destroy us as a people, then, the oil companies and corrupt officials have chosen the right methods".

Authorities pressure indigenous families to give consent

According to the indigenous representatives, they are most severely affected by the companies Surgutneftegaz and Aganneftegasgeologia. Both companies demand that they consent to the installation of oil drilling facilities within their ancestral lands, which are recognized as Territory of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU).

"On 10 August 2015 during a regular meeting of the regional Commission on Territories of Traditional Nature Use of the Department of Natural Resources and the Non-Extractive Sector we, Renata, Andrey and Semyon Alekseevich Sopochin, were pressured to permit OJSC "Surgutneftegas" to install facilities in our home, our ancestral land […] in accordance with the plan proposed by the company. None of the officials comprising the Commission paid attention to what we said and proposed. Our constitutional rights are abused once again! The authorities fail to respect Federal and regional laws aimed at protecting indigenous people of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Area! We urge the acting Governor of the County to help preserve Yugra, our homeland. We ask you to make it clear to the oil companies that oil is not the only wealth of our country", the indigenous Yugrians write.

Surgutneftegaz planning major expansion into indigenous land

According to the news website "URA.Ru", "Surgutneftegaz" is planning to build a group of oil wells in the Surgut district at the Fedorovskoye field, as well as to construct roads and communication lines leading to them. The problem is that the area is part of the ancestral lands of several Khanty families.

As a rule, indigenous people land receive monetary compensation for the use of their land, usually about 1.5 million rubles per family (22.000 USD). To prove consent, they companies only need to obtain the families’ signature on the facilities placement scheme, which however the indigenous peoples are firmly refusing, demanding additional information on the facilities to be installed. [...]

Keeper of sacred lake persecuted

To date, the relationship between "Surgutneftegaz" and the indigenous peoples of the North are strained to the limit, due to the criminal accusations against the guardian of the sacred lake Imlor Sergey Kechimov filed by the oil company. He is accused of making death threats against company staff Bogdanov.

The indigenous peoples say that the true reason for the persecution is that oil has been found near the sacred places and the shaman would never have allowed them to develop them so as not to disturb the peace of the ancestors.

Source: Ura.ru (in Russian)