Indigenous Way of Life under Threat in Siberia

Khanty children pose in front of a reindeer sledge near Lake Numto, Khantia-Mansia, Russia. Source: ugraland / Irina Kazanskaya from Moscow, Russia – Flickr.

The Reindeer Herder Struggling to Take on Oil Excavators in Siberia

By Alec Luhn, March 17, 2017

Sergei Kechimov, an indigenous Khanty reindeer herder, lives in a one-room cabin with no running water more than 20 miles from the nearest village in Western Siberia. But his home is not as silent as you might think.

Across the swampy woodlands the beeping and rumbling of excavators are audible as they search for oil to prop up Russia’s slumping economy. Environmental protection for indigenous lands has recently been abandoned.

Kechimov, who has been appointed by his community as the guardian of holy Lake Imlor, remembers the lakes and rivers being so packed with fish that he could catch them by hand, but he believes that oil drilling has severely damage the ecosystem.

The compensation the regional oil giant Surgutneftegas gives to the reindeer herders can’t make up for the harm done to their traditional way of life, he said. “They poison us with this filth and trick us.”

On Friday, the United Nations mechanism for the rights of indigenous peoples will travel to the Khanty-Mansi autonomous region where Kechimov lives to observe what the government calls “the sustainable development of indigenous minorities”, but the real story is an escalating conflict between extraction companies and vulnerable native peoples – similar to battles in the US over the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, in the Peruvian Amazon and in the Queensland region of Australia.

Expert mechanism chairman Albert Barume said that the trip was not meant to “provide any endorsement of the practices in the region.”

Imlor is not the only area under threat. In October, the regional government re-zoned the nature reserve around the holy Lake Numto, a habitat of the endangered Siberian crane, to allow oil drilling in these wetlands, despite objections from local indigenous residents. The Khanty-Mansi region is Russia’s hydrocarbon heartland, producing more than half of the country’s oil…

“It’s classic colonialism, like at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century,” said Mikhail Kreindlin of Greenpeace Russia. Indigenous people can only negotiate “small compensation that doesn’t compare to the wealth the oil companies make on these territories”. …

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