Dear readers of our site, today I am opening a new rubric to introduce you to the current issues that Russia’s indigenous peoples are facing, well, not only Russia’s. 

After I have read the horrible news about the remains of indigenous children that were found in Canada, I decided to share a story of boarding schools’ problems of my people. The problem that might seem ancient, but that is still happening nowadays. 

My tribeswoman Christina Voronova of Anyui Udege did leave her homeland (Arsenevo, Khabarovsk State) after all. She left her homeland where she was a maths teacher at school where she studied herself. She was the one who told me that awful story. I didn’t share this information publicly, as I promised not to make an issue out of it, and in return, the local authorities would deal the discrimination and humiliation towards the Anyui Udege. He story I am about to tell in happening in the State of Khabarovsk, which is widely celebrated for being one the country´s most prominent states in regard to ensuring the right of indigenous people.

Christina told me the story herself, she also sent me copies of the letters and appeals to different institutions of the State. 

To make it easier for you to understand, I will tell you what was happening in my school in Krasniy Yar during the Soviet times, something I thought was gone a long time ago. But now I think that this “Soviet era” practices are still existing in its worst way in other regions of Russia. And if it is the case, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to share with other people, in order to stop these ongoing humiliations and destruction of aboriginal children lives.  

… For noble (as usual) purposes, the soviet authorities have made special classes for indigenous kids who “could not manage” the school program, “had difficulties” understanding their teachers, “lagged behind in mental development” compared to other kids. These kids were taught the basics: counting, writing, and reading. Which seemed like a generous offer. But in fact, in those classes children were being bullied and humiliated. Children from the other classes and even some adults called them idiots and morons. I cannot think about these children from these classes without the feeling of pain and guilt, just like they used to always feel guilty, and there has always been this longing and sadness in their eyes. But back then, as a child, although I did not participate in bullying, I did not stand up for these children because I did not know what was happening.  

After receiving my university degree, I returned to my hometown to work at my old school. This happened in the middle of 80s, I quickly ranked up and became the chairman of the Council of Deputies. One of the first things I did, was to close the boarding school, which reminded me of the children’s humiliation. 

As it turned out, many of the people who could have influenced this situation, knew about the horrors that were going on, knew that this was immoral and wrong. But they kept the system, the main reason stated for that usually was connected to providing the workplaces in the village. As you might know, finding jobs might be hard, especially in the indigenous areas. But back then, I was able to convince people and the deputy that this was a necessary step to save children’s and their parents’ dignity. As the boarding school got shut down, I thought that these nightmares would forever stay in the past. 

And then Christina told me story of her school, the story of her mom. Her mom was a teacher, who tried to fight the same system I fought against. Christina´s mother saw the suffering of the kids assigned to these “special” classes with her own eyes. Moreover, she saw the special needs classes were filled with the udege kids. The school´s authorities were putting indigenous kids in those classes for the same reason as many years ago: to keep to workplaces.

Christina´s mother was trying to fight it as much as she could: for instance, by writing official letters and appeals to the authorities and relevant institutions. However, her heart could literally not go on with it, and after yet another round of “face-off” fueled by the school´s management and village´s authorities, Christina´s mother passed away.

Another disturbing thing is the fact that the school never appointed an udege principle. Even in the situations when there were no qualified candidates among the non-resident/non-udege teachers, they still got the position even despite the lack of higher education. The appointing managers preferred the non-udege candidates, possibly thinking that both children and adults alike were incompetent and incapable people. All of this happened while the district authorities together with the indigenous leaders reported on the alleged success and achievements, and the Khabarovsk district was considered to be the most forward-thinking.

I really hope that the Association of indigenous peoples of the Khabarovsk district will initiate an official check of the actions taking place in Arsenevo village right now. As far as I understand, Christina has left the village. She did so because she realized how useless her efforts were and got so horribly tired of trying to fight the system. For Christina the horrors are over, however, the Anyui Udege children are still suffering.

Stating this situation with the Anyui Udege people as an example, I would like to address many of the indigenous leaders (or those who are trying to help their tribesmen to survive), who think that they are outside of the big political game, and/or those who think that there must be a collaboration with the authorities, no matter what. I do support your views, however, please keep your actions dignified, know that you are powerful people of your land, and that you are the ones working towards the preservation and development of your people. I do understand that syndrome of being a graduate of these “special classes” still guides our lives. However, if we do not end this system, it will end us.