Shifting to electric vehicles (EV) is seen as an important step towards a greener future. However, the process of extracting nickel, a crucial component of EV batteries, very often is not environmental-friendly. The world’s largest producer of nickel, Nornickel, has been destroying the environment and violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the Arctic for decades. Indigenous Peoples are now trying to bring the international community’s attention to the problem with the hope of protecting their ancestorial lands.
Indigenous Peoples are not recognised by Russian legislation as such; however, Art. 67 of the current constitution guarantees the rights of “Indigenous Minority Peoples”, (literally: “Indigenous small-numbered peoples”). The 1999 Federal Law “On Guarantees of the Rights of the Indigenous Minority Peoples of the Russian Federation” specifies that Indigenous Minority Peoples are groups of less than 50,000 members, perpetuating some aspects of their traditional ways of life and who continue to live on their ancestral lands. According to this and two other framework laws that were enacted during the late Yeltsin era, Indigenous Minority Peoples have rights to consultation and participation in specific cases. There is, however, no such concept as “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” enshrined in legislation. The last two decades have seen a steady erosion of this legal framework and a heavy re-centralisation of Russia, including the abolition of several Indigenous autonomous territories.
Of the more than 160 peoples inhabiting the territory of contemporary Russia, 47 are officially recognised as “Indigenous Minority Peoples”. Of those, 40 inhabit or used to inhabit places in “the North, Siberia and the Far East”. The latter together number around 260,000, less than 0.2% of the total Russian population, of which ethnic Russians account for roughly 80%. One more group, the Izhma Komi or Izvatas, is seeking recognition, which continues to be denied, and at least one other, the Kerek, is already extinct. Seven more Indigenous Minority Peoples live in European Russia.
On 29 May an estimated 20,000 tons of diesel fuel leaked into the soil and natural water system near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia after a fuel storage tank belonging to a daughter company of Russian nickel and copper giant Nornickel collapsed. A few days later, on 3 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the incident a federal scale disaster.