Russia: Khanty take action to stop road construction through sacred site by oil company
Oil workers are trying unsuccessfully to extend a road to an oil field through a sacred lichen grove and Khanty ancestral lands 180 km from Nizhnevartovsk.
On 28 April, Representatives of the Khanty community of Nizhnevartovsk district blocked operations of an oil companies, which is building a road to an oil deposit leading through their ancestral territory. Local residents errected a Chum – a Siberian nomad tent, blocking passage for the equipment of the company "Varyoganneft" and are not planning to remove it until the oil workers leave their lands.
According to community representative Alexander Aipin, the Agan lichen grove is a sanctuary. Here Khanty have been worshipping the patroness of the Agan river for many centuries.
The community’s lawyer Galina Obolenskaya, who is also a member of the city council of Raduzhny works to protect indigenous rights. She says that the representatives of the company "Varyoganneft" are unable to produce the necessary permits for the operation, therefore, their actions are unlawful: "The oil company has neither the legal nor the moral right to work on these lands. These are territories of traditional nature use. Indigenous peoples assert their right to live on their traditional lands where their ancestors lived".
Moreover, according to Obolenskaya, oil companies intend to dispose of the waste by dumping it into a tailings pond in the immediate vicinity of the Khanty ancestral lands, threatening mass contamination of the territory. In addition, bulldozers have already removed the lichen layer, which is the main food of the reindeer. The recovery of lichen takes decades. In addition, since the beginning of the year, oil spills have occurred near the the protected area.
After the action by community members, representatives of the oil companies came to the site for talks, but no compromise could be reached. Oil workers filed a complaint with the police alleging that the actions of the local residents are causing the company suffers losses. However, the police decided that there are no grounds for filing a civil complaint.
The company "Var'yoganneft" refused to give any comments, noting that this case is being dealt with by court.
Meanwhile, Khanty from the indigenous village of Varyogan established a civil organization “Khranitely” ("The Keepers") to defend their rights, their lands and interests in disputes with local extractive companies.
The conflict between oil companies and the residents of the ancestral lands began in late last year. Two years ago, a concession for the Martillovskoye field, located on the land of Khanty, was sold. This year, oil workers started to extract oil from the deposit, and to build a road through the lichen grove and the ancestral land.