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How to compensate indigenous peoples for degradation of their lands

December 11, 2017, 8:26 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The issue of compensations to the indigenous peoples for the damage from work of other businesses is vital

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© Denis Kozhevnikov/TASS

MOSCOW, December 11. /TASS/. Russia’s authority on nationalities has initiated a bill on methods to calculate damage to lands of the North’s indigenous peoples. TASS has discussed with experts how this law may improve life of the indigenous peoples. Experts stress, it is most important to have a correct approach to the damage estimation and to make it clear who and in which form could receive the compensation.

According to Russia’s 2010 census, more than 316,000 people of 47 ethnic groups belong to the low-numbered indigenous peoples, including 250,000 living in Siberia, the Far East and North.

"The North’s nomadic low-numbered peoples first of all need assistance from the state - their unique culture, experience and traditions are very valuable for us," the State Duma’s head of committee on regional policy and problems of the North and Far East Nikolai Kharitonov said.

"When adopting laws of the kind, we do so first of all for the people who live and work in the severe Arctic conditions."

Available benefits

According to the legislator, the regions have their laws on support of the low-numbered peoples. In the Nenets Autonomous Region, where about 7,500 Nenets live, reindeer herders and those working at settlements receive regular social allowances, they buy oven wood at special prices. "They receive for free hygienic goods for the newly born, and parents receive monthly a compensational payment of 6,000 per every child between 1.5 and 8 years of age," the Region’s department for the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples told TASS.

In the Komi Region, live 559 representatives of the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples - the Nenets, Khanty, and Mansi. "Every year, the ministry supports representatives of those peoples - it allocates money for infrastructures' modernization in the areas of their traditional living and working," the region’s Minister of National Policy Galina Gabusheva said. For example, the ministry has financed intermediate bases at confluences of nomadic routes - those bases have wind-diesel complexes and modular houses. Every year, the regional budget covers expenses for taking the herders’ children to educational institutions and back home for summer holidays.

Karelia offers to the Veps low-numbered indigenous people free wood for construction and repairing of houses and yards, those people are exempt of the land tax, head of the local non-governmental Society of Veps Culture Zinaida Strogalshchikova told TASS. The Veps’ settlements every year receive federal subsidies for repairing of schools, social facilities, for organization of cultural events, for book publishing in the Veps language.

According to her, in the Prionezhsky district, where the Veps live, more than ten enterprises extract construction stone, six work at deposits of gabbro-diabase and quartzite. "The locals receive nothing from this intensive work of industrial enterprises, though they suffer greatly from the blast noise, from the heavy dust, which gets into the wells and the Lake Onega. The old residents say these activities damage their traditional occupation of fishing, as fish would flea the traditional areas. The roads in the area get ruined from the trucks carrying monoliths of a few tonnes," he said.

Formerly, she continued, Karelia’s budget offered additional financing for the Veps’ settlements from revenues of the mining companies, which work on their territories. "We hope, the new law will boost investments in improving life in the Veps’ settlements," she added.

Calculation methods

The issue of compensations to the indigenous peoples for the damage from work of other businesses is vital, but settling it requires clear methods for calculating the damage, head of the Reindeer Herders’ Union in the Nenets Region Vladislav Vyucheisky said.

"As of now, we can calculate the damage from using reindeer pastures for natural resources production, but the estimation does not consider the buffer zone, which is around the industrial or similar facilities," he said. "It is unclear how to figure out these buffer zones." Nor are there methods to estimate the damage [from neighboring enterprises to the pastures] from the emissions, he added.

How to register indigenous peoples

Experts share the opinion that the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples should be registered and calculated.

"The federal statistics service and regional authorities should resume calculating representatives of the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples," head of the Yakut legislation’s committee on the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples and on the Arctic Elena Golomareva said, adding about 40,000 representatives of the indigenous peoples, living in the republic, may be put on the registry of low-numbered peoples.

The Murmansk Region’s government also supports the idea of resuming the statistical registration.

"Thus we would be able to plan financing of the state programs in the social and economic spheres, when we know the realistic situation with the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples," press service of the regional administration said, adding the government had sent a letter to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development suggesting the federal statistics authority should collect information on the areas of those people’s traditional settlements.

Who receives the compensation

According to head of the Reindeer Herders’ Union, the access to compensations should be granted only to the people, who continue the traditional living. Thus, the country will support and promote the traditional activities and occupations.

"Currently, the Region’s reindeer breeding sector employs about 900 people, and together with their families - 2,500 people… How those compensations would be distributed? It is clear if compensation is paid to a family or tribe, or an agricultural company in which territory continues working an industrial company - but do they have a local governing body? The herders, fishers and hunters do not have time to be legislators or members of a coordinating council," he said.

Leader of the Veps Culture Society has a different opinion. According to her, the law will favor better living conditions for all the Veps settlements, where now about 2,300 people live, and among them fewer than one in two is a Veps - only 40%. "I believe, compensations for the damage from industrial companies should be sent to the Veps settlements’ budgets - this way, they would not get lost amid regional budgets," she said. "The locals should feel the effect."

However, the Reindeer Herders Union’s head does not rule out other forms of support. "Rather high payments may cause degradation of the people, and, consequently, alcoholism, suicides and crimes," the expert said. "This is why, I do not rule out other forms of compensation - those could be financing national schools, development and studies of traditional crafts, essentials' supplies to nomadic bases, and so forth.".

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