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.
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.
Rodion Sulyandziga is an indigenous activist well-known internationally. In 2014 he was one of the lead organisers of the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and was prevented from leaving the country, sparking a diplomatic scandal in the UN. Today, he was scheduled to chair the “Aborigen Forum” seminar in Moscow. In the early hours of Sunday morning, police conducted a search of his apartment in Moscow, he was subsequently taken to the police department in Moscow’s Kon’kovo district, where he is being questioned.
On Yamal Peninsula, the administration has announced that it wants to slaughter 250,000 of the currently 700,000 reindeer living on the peninsula. At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources is speeding up the development of new gas fields in the Arctic. Between June and September, a subsidiary of Russia’s second gas producer "NOVATEK" has received 4 licenses for areas located on the Yamal and Gydan Peninsulas in the region. Many herders may lose their means of existence.
In the Far East of Russia, the indigenous Udege people have for decades fought to protect their land with support from IWGIA. In July, their long struggle was finally rewarded as an area nearly four times the size of Yosemite National Park has been awarded World Heritage Status.
Over 2000 residents of Myski district in Russia's coal mining region of Kuzbass in Southern Siberia have signed the following appeal to stop the ongoing destruction of the Shor ancestral land which they fear is leading up to their genocide.
At the world's largest nickel mine and smelter, Norilsk Nickel on Taimyr peninsula in Norther Siberia, a severe pipeline spill has occured. Taimyr is home to some 20,000 indigenous Dolgans and Nenets, most of which depend on reindeer herding, hunting, fishing and gathering for their survival. The industrial city of Norilsk with some 200,000 inhabitants located in the peninsula although administratively separate from it, is considered one of the world's most polluted cities.