Reindeer is our life and the future

In the modern industrial society the traditional lifestyle of the northern indigenous peoples becomes more and more affected by the outside world. Vladislav Peskov, the president of Yasavey - the Association of the Nenets People, is confronted by these problems every day. He heads a non- governmental and non-commercial organization, which fights to protect the rights of indigenous people. The association has 21 departments in all the main settlements of the region. One of Peskov’s main occupations the last years has been the project "Reindeer is our life and the future".

This year there will be several important dates, says Vladislav Peskov. -First of all this is the last year of the indigenous peoples’ decade, announced by UN. Secondly, this is the 75 year anniversary of the Nenets autonomous okrug, which was formed by the Soviet government. And finally, it is now fifteen years since Yasavey was established in the Nenets Okrug. It is the right time for a sum-up, Peskov says in an interview to BarentsObserver.

 What influence does a public organization like Yasavey have in the Nenets Okrug?

-Of all the regional organizations in Russia, engaged in indigenous peoples’ matters, we are the only one with the right to propose legislative initiatives. This right is officially laid down in the legislative Charter of the Nenets Okrug. Now, for the first time, we are taking advantage of this. Two draft laws on the relationship between indigenous peoples and the oil-producing companies have now been prepared by our experts. This is one of the priorities of the association as it allows us to set the «rules of game».

We work with a number of different projects. The last three years many of them, both small, and big ones (such as the "Kaninskij red chum" project) have been carried out. The main purpose of these projects has been to help people who live and work in the tundra to adapt to modern conditions of life. For example, we inform them about the situation in the region, about new laws, even provide elementary legal aid as many people do not know their rights. Of course, also social aid is central in our organization. Recently, we have initiated several business-promoting measures. It is vital to encourage people to earn money just as their ancestors did here before, but within the frames of the modern conditions of the surrounding world and with use of competitive technologies.

How do the authorities address indigenous peoples’ issues?

-Yasavey is very well informed about the current problems of the indigenous peoples and those who are involved in traditional fields of industry. Every day we receive letters and visitors come from all the different places of the region. All year around we try to make as many travels as possible to the settlements and to reindeer breeders wandering in the tundra. Just a few days ago we returned from Khongurej, and before that we visited Karatajka and Kharuta. Our experience from these trips is that a sore point for my fellow natives is the lack of housing and telecommunication. Nomadic reindeer breeders are also very worried by the low profits of reindeer breeding. These people work in the severe conditions of the tundra for scanty wages. In my opinion, the main reason for this is that the management system of their enterprises has not been adjusted to the requirements of the modern market. Qualified personnel are almost absent and there is no system for the training of reindeer breeders in our okrug.

Nevertheless, the most important problem, I would say, is the lack of information - people simply do not know what that is going on in the country and region where they live. One recent example is the decree from the fishery control agency "Sevrybvod" which prohibits the enterprises and inhabitants of the Nenets Okrug to fish. However, the people who live along the rivers still keep on catching fish, though some of them have heard somewhere, that it is forbidden. People who signed this decree did not think for a moment that fishing is vital for a large part of our population. For some people fish is the only food they got. Of course Yasavey will oppose this decree. Unfortunately I must say - even our regional officials are very far from the problems of the indigenous people. For example, now the authorities propose to buy powerful electric generators to the reindeer breeding enterprises, though there is no such need. Such generators weight around 40 kg, while the portable generators with capacity of 1 Kilowatt would cost less and weight just 12 kg. The wandering reindeer breeders bring their own stoves and do not need much electricity in their tents. I say all this to show how important it is to have such an organization like Yasavey in order to inform the authorities about the needs of the population and explain them how to solve problems the best way.

How do the oil companies address indigenous peoples’ issues?

-Together with the authorities our organization is entitled to participate in the process of land allotment for construction of industrial objects. All companies which want to start up construction works in the tundra are obliged to coordinate their plans of activity with us. This right is laid down in the regional legislation. However, here we encounter a problem which is characteristic not only for the oil industry, but for the whole Russian society - everyone is afraid of transparency. Many companies, despite their declarative openness, hide what they are doing, even if it is, for example, to help reindeer-breeding enterprises. This desire to make everything top secret bears witness of the unwillingness to share information with the local population, and with us as a public organization. However, at the same time we are cooperating well with companies such as «Polar lights», "SeverTEK", "Severnaja neft" and several others.

Of course, some of the oil companies do not always understand our goals the right way. For example, the largest holder of production licenses in the region - the Lukoil-owned "Narjan- Marneftegaz", which is a successor of the "Arkhangelskgeoldobycha" company (AGD), has refused to accept the obligations of the former "AGD". After a change of management in the company, we ended up in an unpleasant situation where the implementation of our projects, in particular the "Kaninskij red chum" project became impossible. In June 2003 we wrote a letter to the president of "Lukoil" requesting him to explain with whom we should work in the future and how they are going to collaborate with indigenous people. A copy of this letter was sent to "Narjan-Marneftegaz" and to the Russian Association of indigenous people - RAIPON. We have also announced to all "Lukoil" companies that Yasavey now rejects requests from Lukoil on land allotment until we receive an answer to our letter. Nevertheless, we still have not got any answer. It turns out, that even such a giant Russian oil companies like "Lukoil" is absolutely unpredictable in their actions. It is easier for us to work with foreign funds. Their "yes" really is a "yes", and not a «maybe».

How will Yasavey mark its 15 years anniversary?

-On March 17-19 this year we will hold a Yasavey congress, to which 2-3 delegates from each of our structural division will be invited. Also our colleagues from Taimyr, Jamalo-Nenets autonomous okrug and Murmansk oblast will be invited. In the course of three days of work we want to assess what has been done during the last 3 years of the program «Reindeer is our life and the future». We will also organize meetings with leaders of oil companies, federal authorities, and finally we will conduct elections for a new management team of Yasavey and plan our activities for the next three years. I do not know whether I will be re-elected president or not, but I am sure that Yasavey will continue to protect indigenous peoples’ rights for a long time.

By Jury Tjuljubaev, Naryan-Mar, 18 February 2004