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Developing territories and keeping traditions: what support Northern peoples expect

Exprets note the North’s residents want to have the right to participate in discussions on the development of the territories

MOSCOW, December 21. /TASS/. A balance between interests of the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples and companies, developing the Arctic, remains an acute issue, experts told TASS. The locals are still unable to influence use of their lands, they require support to keep traditional occupations and culture, experts say.

On December 14, during an annual news conference, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin touched upon this problem. It is most important to mind interests of the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples, Putin said. "It is unacceptable to ruin their traditional interests, and if something inevitably contradicts with implementation of major national projects, then, of course, there should be measures of compensation," the president added.

Cooperation with industries

The North’s residents want to have the right to participate in discussions regarding development of the territories there. President of the association of the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples in the Krasnoyarsk Region Artur Gayulsky said about gaps in the legislation. "A subsoil user may come to the territory, without asking our opinion, without asking the local authorities - the only thing required is just to get a license agreement at the regional level; and we and local authorities can learn about it only post factum," he said.

The North’s indigenous peoples, living in the region, point to the international experience. "When subsoil users come to those territories, everything is agreed with local communities of indigenous peoples, they sign agreements, which contain provisions on compensation for the damage to traditional habitats," he added.

The local authorities agree this approach is correct. Some districts use this practice already. "We have been signing agreements, working on them to have three parties to the agreement: municipal authorities, subsoil users and the Krasnoyarsk Region’s government," the region’s Deputy Premier Yuri Zakharinsky told TASS. Thus, he said, local authorities have the opportunity to lobby interests of the locals.

He told TASS about certain examples, showing that practically all companies participate in the local settlements’ social life. "Take, for example, Lukoil-West Siberia, which builds a school at the Nosok settlement, where children will begin a new academic year in the new school. We have cooperation examples of the Igarka city and Rosneft, there are quite many examples in Evenkiya and Taimyr," he said.

However, he continued, there are certain problems about compensation to the indigenous peoples for use of their traditional lands. "Not all have ready methods to calculate the compensation," he added.

Yakutia’s legislator Elena Golomareva, who is the head of the committee on low-numbered indigenous peoples of the North and on the Arctic, highlighted importance of this topic. "We are pleased to see the country’s President Vladimir Putin controls the issues, which make the legal base for <…> the Arctic’s people. The president earlier gave an order to the government to offer methods to calculate compensations to the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples for the damage to their native lands," she said.

Supporting the culture

Special financing is also required to keep the traditional living and culture of the indigenous peoples. Most local authorities are offering this support.

In the Sakha Region (Yakutia), where 120 nationalities live, authorities are paying special attention to teaching national languages. The republic’s ministry of education and science told TASS the region’s 401 schools (out of 632 secondary schools) teach native languages. Besides, students at 121 schools may choose to learn the Yakut language.

The Murmansk Region for keeping the Saams low-numbered indigenous people organizes national holidays and festivals, the regional government said. "Every year, we organize national holidays, festivals, exhibitions, roundtables, seminars, and conferences," the regional government said.

According to press service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region’s governor, the local budget helps the indigenous people’s representatives in receiving education. "For this purpose, the local budget allocates 4.6 million rubles ($78,000). This money will be used to compensate for the expenses of receiving the first higher education, as well as to pay out additional social allowances and to cover the hostel expenses for the indigenous people’s students from low-income families," the press service said.

North peoples’ traditional occupations

Experts point to necessary financing for the North people’s traditional occupations. Head of the Nenets Region’s Union of Reindeer Herders Vladislav Vyucheisky told TASS the district co-finances the region’s support for the northern reindeer breeding. From 2011, he said, every herder and the family receive 2,000 rubles a month ($34). They receive free medical assistance and free medical kits.

Yamal’s budget allocates for keeping the traditional environment, occupations and cultural values 277.8 million rubles ($4.7 million), which is 43% more than the current year’s expenses. "We shall continue the practice of grants for work in keeping the native environment and traditional life," the regional press service said. "Every year, we allocate nine grants worth 4.3 million rubles ($73,000)."

The Krasnoyarsk Region increases support measures for the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples from 500 million to 800 million rubles (from $8.5 million to $13.6 million). The Murmansk Region’s government reports the local communities use the allocated money to buy wooden houses, snow vehicles, off-road vehicles, cars, motor boats, electric generators and other equipment for traditional occupations.

"Every year, the indigenous peoples, working in reindeer breeding, receive paid vouchers to spa resorts," the government said.

Komi’s ministry of national policies say the regional budget allocates money for modernization of traditional settlement facilities, where more than 650 representatives of the low-numbered indigenous peoples live (the Nenets, Khanty, Mansi). For example, the federal and regional budget had paid for a wind-diesel generator and module houses for nomadic reindeer herders in Vorkuta and Inta.