On May 29 2016, 250 indigenous Itelmen and Koryaks living in Kovran village in the North of Kamchatka peninsula, traditionally celebrated the day of smelt. A ceremony was held at noon at the mouth of Kovran river, where offerings were made to the river and to the God of the sea Nuzavuch. All participants walked the trail from the mouth of the river to the place in the village where the racks for drying fish stand. But this year, tension hung in the air. Rather than fresh smelt, smelt from last year was hanging from the racks, which surprised the representatives of the Federal Fishing Agency who were closely observing.
Indigenous peoples in Russia
Of the more than 180 peoples inhabiting the territory of contemporary Russia, 40 are officially recognised as indigenous. While the Russian constitution and national legislation set out the rights of “indigenous minority peoples of the North”, there is no such concept as “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” enshrined in legislation and thus, indigenous peoples are not recognised by Russian legislation as such. Russia has a multitude of regional, local, and interregional indigenous organisations, but the national umbrella organisation, RAIPON, operates under tight state control.
Russia has not endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, nor has it ratified ILO Convention 169. The country has inherited its membership of the major UN Covenants and Conventions from the Soviet Union: the ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD, ICEDAW and ICRC. It also has ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) of the Council of Europe.
Indigenous peoples in Russia
There are more than 180 peoples inhabiting the territory of contemporary Russia, but only 40 are officially recognised as “indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East”. These groups consist of less than 50,000 members, and they perpetuate some aspects of their traditional ways of life and inhabiting the Northern and Asian parts of the country. Together, they number about 260,000 individuals, less than 0.2% of Russia’s population. Ethnic Russians account for 78%, and other peoples, such as the five million Tatars, are not officially considered indigenous peoples, and their self-identification varies.
The latest official population figures from the 2010 national census do not provide disaggregated data on the socio-economic status of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are predominantly rural dwellers while Russia is, on the whole, a highly urbanised country.
Main challenges for Russia’s indigenous peoples
One of the main struggles for indigenous peoples in Russia relates to land and natural resource rights. In 2015, an important article in Russia's legislation in regard to this issue was revoked. The articles stipulated that in places of traditional residence and traditional activities of indigenous peoples, local authorities should decide on the “prior determination of locations for the placing of objects” on the basis of the results of meetings or referenda of the indigenous and local communities. This means that local authorities have now lost most of their legal leverage in terms of being able to protect indigenous lands from incursions by business enterprises and other resource users. In 2015 and 2016, this led to a number of cases of violations of indigenous peoples’ land tenure.
The law on Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU) from 2001 is the only federal law affording some form of recognition of indigenous peoples’ land tenure. However, the federal government has never confirmed any of the several hundred Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU) created by regional and local administrations, in cooperation with indigenous communities, despite repeated calls from UN treaty bodies, indigenous organisations and human rights experts to do so. Thus, the regionally- and locally-established TTNU has no guaranteed legal status and can be dismantled at any time.
In relation to this topic, one more regulatory change passed in 2017, making fishing applications for members of indigenous peoples much more difficult. The legal principles are that they have the right to fish without special permits, but especially in the Pacific region of Russia, where fishing is big business, special rules and regulations require indigenous peoples to go through a tedious application process first, accept the amount, time and place assigned by the authorities for fishing and accept a number of additional restricts.
The next court hearing over the case of Sergey Kechimov, the guardian of the Imlor, a lake sacred to the Khanty people, will take place on 3 November. "Today a court hearing was held. Given that one of the witnesses on the part of "Surgutneftegaz" did not attend and, as in previous times, the evidence was inconclusive, the hearing was moved to November 3," Alexander Novyukhov, president of the indigenous "Association to Save Yugra" said to the news web site Nakanune.ru
The oil company "Taimyrneftegazdobycha" is planning to build an oil terminal on the Yenisei with a throughput capacity of five million tons per year. Environmentalists and indigenous peoples say that the company is not prepared for working in Arctic conditions and the elimination of possible oil spills. To increase
Greenpeace reports that it has studied the materials for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the terminal "Tanalau" on the Taimyr Peninsula and on July 15 submitted comments at the public hearing on this project in Dudinka, (Krasnoyarsk territory).
On September 29, a City court in Blagoveshchensk, the capital of Russia’s Amur region has sentenced Sergey Nikiforov, former head of the village council of Ivanovskoye, Selemdzhinski district, to 5 years in penal colony and a fine of 16 million roubles under charges of bribery. Villagers, most of them indigenous Evenks believe that the charges are fabricated. Nikiforov had been leading the village’s protests against gold mining on Evenk ancestral territories. The British based gold mining company "Petropavlovsk" intends to extract or from their territories.
Indigenous residents of Ivanovskoye village in Selemdzhinski District in Amur Region in Russia's Far East are outraged by the plans of a UK based gold mining company to start an open cast gold mine less than two kilometres from their village without their consent. I village gathering held 10 September, they vowed to defend their territories and threatened road blocks to stop the company from carrying out their plans.
Russia: Guardian of Khanty sacred lake facing prison for defending himself against stray dogs brought in by oil workers
In West Siberia’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District, an indigenous Khanty elder, who is the keeper of the sacred lake Imlor, is facing up to two years behind bars after defending himself and his reindeer against stray dogs which had been illegally brought into the area by oil workers. Criminal charges against Sergey Vasilyevich Kechimov were filed 13 January 2015 with the Magistrates Court of Surgut district. The members of Aborigen Forum, an informal coalition of indigenous rights activists, are appealing to the public prosecutor review the charges, pointing to numerous violations by the law enforcement agencies.