Image of the Kazas community of the Indigenous Shor people in Kemerovo Oblast, which was displaced by the expansion of coal mines. Photo: Nelli Slupachik
Of over 190 ethnic groups inhabiting Russia, 40 are classified by Russian legislation as “small-numbered Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East” and thus recognised for their unique way of life and the need for an exclusive set of laws to protect it. As can be deduced from such a classification, these peoples, altogether numbering around 250,000 individuals, inhabit vast territories of the Russian Arctic and Siberia. Even in this area, known for its harsh climate, exceptional richness in natural resources and a very low population density, so-called small-numbered Indigenous Peoples constitute a minority and live surrounded by larger ethnic groups; although in some remote rural districts they do at times account for the majority of the population.
Indigenous Peoples are not recognised by Russian legislation as such; however, Article 69 of the current Constitution guarantees the rights of ‘Indigenous minority peoples’. The 1999 Federal Act “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 inhabiting the Northern and Asian parts of the country. According to this, other framework laws, which were enacted during the late Yeltsin era, guaranteed that 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 dismantling of several Indigenous autonomous territories.
More than 160 distinct peoples inhabit the territories of contemporary Russia. Forty of these peoples are officially recognised as the indigenous minority peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East. These are groups of less than 50,000 members, who are able to preserve some aspects of their traditional ways of life and continue to inhabit their territories across the northern and asian parts of the country.