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Date: Tue, 18 Mar 97 22:44:14 CST
From: rich@pencil.UTC.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Reindeer Herders Under Siege By Oil Industry In Siberia
/** headlines: 140.0 **/
** Topic: Reindeer Herders Under Siege By Oil Industry In Siberia **
** Written 11:08 AM Mar 17, 1997 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 5:44 AM Mar 16, 1997 by in env.siberia */
/* ---------- "Siberia: Reindeer herders under siege" ---------- */

Indigenous reindeer herders under siege by oil industry

INFOE: Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology, 17 March 1997

Report from a fact-finding-mission to Khanty-Mansi autonomous region

"If you take 100 pound of my gold, then why can't you leave me just two", Yaloki Nimperov wrote in a letter to Senur Markianovich Khuseinov, Head of the Kamynskoye oil field which belongs to the Company Surgutneftegaz.

Yaloki is angry. For many centuries his ancestors have been inhabiting this piece of land in the West Siberian Taiga, northern from the middle Ob on the river Pim. For centuries reindeer breeders and fishers knew how to sustain themselves within this barren land, how to withstand the chilling colds in the wintertime and the swarms of mosquitoes in the summer. Now their traditional way of life is in danger.

Since the 60ies, when first oil was discovered here, derricks, roads, pipelines and the workers' estates are eating their way through the land of the Khanty people, one of which is Yaloki.

In Soviet times the only thing the reindeer herders could do, was to draw back more and more into the northern marshland. Those, whose lands were already totally occupied were forced to move to their relatives or to one of the new villages that had been built up to make the nomads settle down in order to gain better control of them.

With the arrival of the Perestroika a new wind began to blow. At least in theory today the oil companies are no longer allowed to do just what they want. Indigenous activist have united themselves in the "Association to Save Yugra". (Yugra is the historic name of the region) They fought hard and achieved that today for every new derrick and for every new production platform the consent of the local indigenous people is required. Still Yaloki feels besieged. From 1989 on 14 new production platforms and exploration bases have been erected on his land, the nearest one just two kilometers away from his summer camp. Day and night you can hear the noise from there. On the opposite shore of the lake on which he lives a road lead to many more platforms. It's only natural that Yaloki is one of the sharpest critics of the oil industry, at least on words.

His neighbors say that in the past he even fired on the oil workers with his gun. And with pride he tells the story about the bus: In past years the bus that takes the oil workers back to the city never stopped for the Khanty - until they threatened to blow up an important bridge. From that time every Khanty was allowed to ride on the bus - for half of the regular price.

It seems as in recent years the oil industry practices a stick-and-a- carrot strategy. Due to frequent complaints about poaching on indigenous territories a checkpoint was established on the road to the oilfield. It was meant to control all cars and to deny access to persons without permission. Yaloki was made the person in charge of the checkpoint (for appearance's sake, at least) and granted a regular salary. Now he has his own cordless telephone at home which enables him to communicate with the nearest village. When it came to negotiations on three new production platform he was threatened with the possibility of loosing his job as person in charge of the "shlagbaum" (the checkpoint) if he refused to give his consent.

Other Khanty, who cannot be put under pressure this way are forced to agree to oil development by other dubious means.

E.g. Yaloki's neighbor Anna Petrovna didn't even receive a copy of the agreement she had signed. It had been negotiated by her sons-in-law. They said, they had been taken by helicopter directly to Senur Markianovich Khuseinov, where the table had already been laid with bottles of Vodka. While they emptied the bottles a lot of promises were made. But what exactly they said, they couldn't remember when they came back, urging Anna Petrovna to sign. They just supported the people from the oil company, saying, that the helicopter couldn't wait, therefore she should sign the agreement immediately. Everything would be all right.

However, Anna agreed only to the construction of three exploration platforms and only under the condition that the exploration be carried out in wintertime. Due to the chilling cold this causes less harm to the marshland. And after one year all equipment has to be moved away. For oil development, roads would have to be build through the marches, dams thrown up, pipelines constructed. Consequently the land would be unsuitable as reindeer pasture for many years. This is why Anna Petrovna didn't agree to the oil company's demand.

The reindeer herder Pires Iki and his family have suffered far more worse. A few years ago the company started drilling for oil on his land. But every year new platforms are set up. Last winter he allowed the construction of a new derrick on the other side of the river. But before he could turn around plans had been changed. Exactly 500 meters from his summer camp, right in the middle of his reindeer's summer pasture oil workers started to prepare for drilling. Pires Iki didn't even haven time enough to get his things from the camp to safety.

Representatives of the oil company promised to provide him with building material for a new house. But in September the whole family still was living in a chum (teepee) and they hadn't received a single nail of the promised compensation.

The road to the production platform has been built straight through marshes and lakes for several miles, cutting through one of the largest lakes in this region. It's true when the workers through up the dam they let in pipes to provide water exchange between the two halves of the lake, but their diameter was too small. Consequently in the winter the water inside froze, exchange of water stopped and fish died away from lack of oxygen. Through all of spring it kept stinking from rotten fish.

Up to now Pires Iki always preferred to draw back more and more. He is an old man who still maintains a very traditional life together with his family. At his place there is no generator, no video player, which have been already adopted by many Taiga people. Pires Iki no longer fights for compensation and as a result he has much less money than other Khanty who came to an arrangement with the oil industry.

If the oil industry keeps on to spread out over the country like today, then in the foreseeable future there will not be enough remaining pasture land to feed his reindeer. Then what's going to happen? Why not just refuse to sign further agreements? Would the heads of the big oil companies dare to disregard his will?

Many Khanty fear legal confrontation with the oil industry. Even Khanty intellectuals doubt the legal validity of the agreements and they assume that in court they would be seen merely as voluntary self-commitments by the companies. In today Russia there are no legal safeguards for the Khanty's land rights or usufruct rights. Due to the fact that Russia's budget depends largely on oil and gas exports it seems rather unlikely that an act could be pushed through that limits the power of the industry.

Unfortunately the Association to Save Yugra that was founded by Khanty, Mansi and Nenets intellectuals hasn't been able to give support to all indigenous reindeer herders, to unite their resistance against oil exploitation and to voice their demands for a just compensation for the losses they have suffered.

Today to my opinion changes can occur only if a network of support groups begins to voice the concerns of the Khanty and Nenets peoples in the consumer countries. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union Russia has become the main oil and gas supplier for many European countries, so it's time to pay attention to the people who are paying the price.

Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology
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