Tuesday, September 20, 2022
The People’s Forum 320 W 37th St, New York, NY 10018
Galina Angarova (Buryat), Cultural Survival Executive Director
Pavel Sulyandziga (Udege) Chairman, Batani Foundation
Event by: Cultural Survival, Batani Foundation, First Peoples Worldwide, Earthworks, Society for Threatened Peoples, A Growing Culture
Transition is inevitable. Justice is not. The push for a sustainable transition predominantly centers “green” technologies that continue to threaten the self-determination and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples worldwide. Instead, a just future depends on centering Indigenous-led, place-based climate solutions and supporting intersectional efforts to guarantee the rights of all people.
Join the Securing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Green Economy (SIRGE) Coalition and A Growing Culture to learn about how Indigenous and peasant leaders are taking action to hold companies accountable to human rights commitments through the supply chain.
Performances by Pavel Sulyandziga Jr. (Udege)
Refreshments will be served.
THIS IS A HYBRID EVENT: In-person (space is limited) and virtual.
Translation into Spanish will be available via zoom.
Co Sponsors: Cultural Survival, Batani Foundation, First Peoples Worldwide, Earthworks, Society for Threatened Peoples, A Growing Culture Date: September 20, 2022 Time: 11:00 am-2:00 pm EST Location: The People’s Forum 320 W 37th St, New York, NY 10018 also virtually acessible via zoom.
Presentation for the OSCE Expert Meeting “Addressing Hate Crime against Indigenous Peoples” by Dmitry Berezhkov.
The “Hate Crime” topic regarding indigenous peoples is still relevant for Russia. It is a great challenge that has roots in colonial history and the colonial nowadays of the ultimate nature of the Russian Empire, then the Soviet Union and today’s Russia, which has similar origins to the colonial suffering of other indigenous peoples around the world. So I will not touch today on the history of the issue in Russia as it is very similar to the history of other indigenous peoples whose lands were colonized by other nations.
The topic “Hate Crime” was very relevant for Russia in 2000 when we received every year messages about killings and beatings of indigenous students by skinheads in Russian capitals, Moscow and Sant Petersburg. That was dozens of killings, many of which were not reported as “hated crimes” because, for police, it was more comfortable to consider them domestic crimes.
It has to be said that it was not directed against indigenous peoples but against every person whom Russian far-right radicals consider “others”. Primarily against people with Asian appearance as persons from the Caucasus could fight back roughly.
And Russian authorities at those times demonstrated evident efforts to fight against skinheads. Police arrested some of their leaders; authorities tried to control football fans’ organizations, one of the primary sources of skinheads activity. But the main milestone of reducing skinheads activity became 2014 when president Putin was able to trick the situation and refocus the hatred of the Russian far-right radicals against Ukraine, the US and NATO after the annexation of Crimea.
At the same time, domestic intolerance and xenophobia continue to be one the main features of indigenous peoples’ living, especially in urban and industrialized areas.
In a short presentation, I will not concentrate on this topic but need to mention the problem of keeping indigenous children in boarding schools. Formally these schools are organized for children from every family. Still, in practice, in remote villages of the Russian Arctic, Siberia and the Far East where indigenous peoples live, mainly children from indigenous families live in such boarding schools.
Besides the problem of assimilation, losing the native languages and traditional culture, the challenge of domestic intolerance against indigenous children by personnel of such boarding schools is still actual for many Russian regions. We were reported that indigenous children were beaten by boarding school personnel in Novy Port village (Yamal) in 2019. In another boarding school (Beloyarsk village, Yamal) in 2019, the director organized an illegal hotel for migrant workers who lived just in neighboring rooms with children. In 2021 in the boarding school in the village Polunochnoe (Sverdlovsk region), indigenous children who adapted to traditional food did not like the unusual for them boarding school cuisine. But when one of the personnel supported by indigenous parents tried to raise this issue in the media, the boarding school fired the person and wrote a statement against her to the police.
In some cases, local informants provide us with information that the municipal administration specially put indigenous children not in usual schools but in boarding schools to keep state finance from Moscow for the municipal budget. In other cases, we were reported that boarding school personnel didn’t fight against bullying but participated in it.
These examples show that domestic intolerance regarding indigenous peoples is still a problem for Russia until nowadays.
At the same time, I want to highlight another aspect of xenophobia closely connected with the rights to lands, resources and self-determination. Today these continue to be the hottest challenge for the Russian indigenous peoples’ development. As you know, Russia is a world producer of natural resources. Yet, Russian businesses closely connected with authorities through corrupted links try to use any opportunities to press out indigenous communities from their traditional lands.
I will give you an example. Some years ago, in my homeland region Kamchatka, the speaker of the regional parliament, Boris Nevzorov, implemented the legislative act that had to exclude South Kamchatka from the federal list of indigenous traditional lands. We have such a list of territories in Russia, and only indigenous peoples who live in these territories have some rights to traditional fishing, hunting and other traditional livelihoods. At the same time, a lot of indigenous traditional lands where indigenous peoples continue to live were not included in this list.
So Boris Nevzorov prepared the rationale for this law. In this document, he noted that only a small percentage of indigenous peoples live in these territories – less than 5 percent of the total population. He based on the history that during the Soviet times, the South of Kamchatka as most comfortable for living area was intensively industrialized by authorities (so he put the historical colonization as a justification for future one). There were also many other unnatural arguments, including that indigenous peoples’ traditional fishing threatened national security as the South Kamchatka is a base for the Russian Far East nuclear submarines fleet, and American forces could use the indigenous peoples to raise separatism in Kamchatka. This is a nonsense for us or any sane person, but this is a reality of Putin’s Russia.
But the reason why Nevzorov tried to exclude these lands from the federal list of indigenous territories was straightforward. While he is a Russian official and represented legislative authorities, he, at the same time, was an owner of the biggest Kamckatka fishing company, “Ustkamchatryba,” and tried to exclude indigenous communities as competitors for access to fishing resources. It must be noted that Boris Nevzorov is officially one of the reachest Russian state officials.
After he failed to lobby this legislation in Moscow, which we tried to block with all efforts, he started an information campaign in local media. In this TV show, journalists asked ordinary Kamchatka residents what they think about the law, according to which only indigenous persons in Kamchatka have the right to fish free without a license. Of course, this is a tiny amount of fish per year – about 50 kilos, but for the poor Kamchatka population, even such an amount is substantial.
The question was formulated like this: “Indigenous peoples in Kamchatka have the right to fish salmon without licenses while others who live in Kamchatka for many years or maybe their whole life have no such right. Do you think it’s fair?” I will not explain how chauvinistic further discussion this question followed by.
And this is a trick used by business and state officials regularly in Russia to continue to control indigenous lands and resources.
I would be able to give you many other examples of intolerance, xenophobia and chauvinism towards indigenous peoples in Russia. It is dangerous when such cases continue to happen in any state. It is very dangerous when the state does not fight against xenophobia. But it is extremely dangerous when the state canalizes xenophobia in a politically or economically beneficial way for state powers.
Now Putin canalizes the energy of the Russian nationalists against Ukraine. What target will be next? We don’t know.
I think international institutions like OSCE have to rethink their approaches to democratic discussion with totalitarian states like Russia regarding human rights, whether it is indigenous peoples’ rights, hate crimes or any other human rights.
30 August 2022, Vienna.
As the war in Ukraine drags on, Arctic states need to find more permanent avenues for collaboration in the region.
The Arctic was supposed to be exceptional — an area of the globe substantially removed from the pressures of great power politics. Russia and the U.S., despite their military and security interests there, found ways to cooperate regardless of troubles elsewhere. The Arctic Council in 2021 celebrated its 25th anniversary as a successful forum for cooperation on economic and environmental issues among the eight states with territory above the Arctic Circle.
Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, which dealt a long-term blow to regional harmony.
It has been six months since the work of the Arctic Council was put on hold by the U.S. and other members besides Russia. The most important venue for pan-Arctic cooperation — and thus a central element of Arctic cooperation itself — ceased to function for the first time. As the Ukraine conflict shows few signs of winding up, it is time to take stock of where we are and what the future paths for Arctic relations may be.
The pause initiated on March 3, 2022 by the seven so called “A-7” or “Arctic 7” states was by its terms supposed to be temporary, with participation in Arctic Council activities hopefully to be resumed pending improved circumstances. When conditions didn’t improve, on June 8 these states announced a limited resumption of work on council projects that do not involve Russia’s participation. While such projects account for a substantial amount of work, the step was awkward given that Russia holds the council’s two-year rotating chairmanship and was leading the council’s efforts.
The invasion of Ukraine had a deep impact on the U.S. and Western countries in particular, and it could not be ignored in the Arctic. It brought war to the heart of Europe, and led many countries including Arctic Council member states to provide arms to Ukraine that are being used against Russian soldiers. In the Arctic, Russia became widely seen as a not just a theoretical but an active threat, with the result that Finland and Sweden took the extraordinary step of applying for NATO membership. As a result, NATO will increase its northern (and thus Arctic) presence, and all Arctic nations besides Russia will be NATO members — a disquieting development for Russia. The council — and other Arctic institutions and processes — had muddled through Russia’s attack on Crimea, but this was more serious.
What has become clear is that the degradation in Arctic relations will be with us for the long term. Where does that leave us?
Multilateral Arctic cooperation is more necessary than ever. The latest science informs us that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe (not just two to three times faster as thought until quite recently), and seven times faster in some areas. Circumpolar science conducted in the Arctic is vital for addressing climate change worldwide.
The Arctic Council has made a tremendous contribution on a wide range of environmental and economic issues, and its programs need to be continued and strengthened. It has taken years for the council to develop into an effective organization, and its collapse needs to be avoided because Arctic residents and stakeholders have come to depend on it. Rebuilding the institution could be time consuming and difficult.
Yet, working with Russia in the Arctic Council isn’t appropriate or feasible at the moment. The council isn’t a regulatory body that produces rules for governance the way the International Maritime Organization does for shipping or the International Civil Aviation Organization does for air traffic. It is a forum that achieves its objectives on the basis of discussions and mutual accommodation. Governments at odds over Ukraine can’t be expected to make progress on environmental rules where trust is needed, or to jointly promote business opportunities.
Indigenous groups have insisted that Arctic collaborations must continue despite the war in Ukraine, to find ways to improve health conditions, promote adaptation to a changing environment and improve infrastructure and living standards. They point out, with considerable justification, that the needs of their communities have little to do with the crisis in Ukraine or geopolitical rivalries.
It is important to bear in mind that aspects of Arctic multilateral cooperation not involving Russia remain robust and effective. There are strong economic and science links among the other Arctic states, as well with non-Arctic states active in the region, that in no way depend on Russia. These are ongoing and are not necessarily impeded by the Arctic Council being sidelined or by lack of access to Russian territory or support.
And yet, in the long term, there is no meaningful pan-Arctic cooperation without Russia. It makes up about half the Arctic, and is a country not only of considerable size but also influence and capability. Hence, it is necessary to keep in mind and indeed hope for the eventual reintegration of Russia into systems of Arctic cooperation, including the Arctic Council.
With all this in mind, what are the next steps that the U.S. and allied countries should take?
The A-7 countries moving ahead with Arctic Council on projects not involving Russia made good sense, but doesn’t deal with the more fundamental question of the status of the Arctic Council itself. Should the council, even in the midst of the Russian chairmanship, be taken over by the other members and operated without Russia?
I believe this should be avoided. The basic concept of the council at its creation is that it was a body comprised of eight states with equal status, and that all decisions would be taken by consensus of the eight. This was a fundamental aspect of the 1996 Ottawa Declaration. As the council is a forum and not an international organization as a legal matter, there is no breach of international law if the A-7 decide to ignore the consensus rule and in effect jettison Russia. But that would be inconsistent with the declaration and the rules of procedure of the council, and Russia is likely to object strenuously. The council would face difficult procedural problems. The work of the council’s subsidiary bodies are supposed to be endorsed by the Senior Arctic Officials and by ministers who would meet in May of next year. However, Russia is slated to host the next ministerial, and it isn’t clear how or when a ministerial without Russia could be convened, or how Norway, as the incoming chair, would have its proposed work program agreed by ministers.
Thus, if the Arctic Council is operated without regard to Russia during the Russian chairmanship, or if the other countries host their own ministerial or begin a new Norwegian chairmanship without Russian concurrence, it becomes more likely that Russia would resist returning to the Council in the future. Russia has already withdrawn from the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Council of Europe, and so as has been suggested elsewhere, “the danger is real.”
A possible way to avoid this problem is for the A-7 and Indigenous groups to agree to interim measures under which they would continue Arctic cooperation, both Arctic Council projects not involving Russia and other forms of cooperation that they wish to undertake as a group, without formally doing so under the banner of the council. They could, at least as an initial step, agree to follow the procedures of the council as appropriate and continue to receive support from the Arctic Council’s secretariat located in Tromsø, Norway.
In pursuing any course of action, there needs to be active consultation with the Indigenous groups who would normally wield considerable influence within the Arctic Council. That said, the solution is unfortunately not as simple as inviting all the Permanent Participants, as these groups are known within the Council, to join in a collaboration with the A-7 states, as one of them, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (or RAIPON), has taken a formal position supporting Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Including RAIPON would likely not be acceptable to the A-7.
Beyond the diplomacy that takes place in the Arctic Council, the A-7 and their allies need to pay increased attention to Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic. Contact between their coast guards and Russia’s remains important, along with attempts to establish and implement protocols that reduce the risk of accidental conflict on the sea and in the air.
In addition, the stoppage within the council presents non-Arctic states with an opportunity to work more closely with the Arctic states. This will be true for the A-7 states, which can increase their collaboration with actors such as the EU, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea on economic, scientific and security matters. But in parallel we can expect that Russia will reach out to China and India, to involve them even further in Arctic affairs.
It turns out that Arctic exceptionalism was a mirage. Nevertheless, while we can hope that the Arctic Council will regain its footing in future years, as the Ukraine crisis continues, the U.S. and other Arctic countries should search for other ways to promote Arctic cooperation.
Over the last decade, Canada has seen an increase in the number of initiatives to green or circularize the economy through sustainable development, as well as those that support and enhance Indigenous environmental leadership.
Both projects are desperately needed given our rapid progress towards capitalist-driven climate catastrophe. Although there is interest in creating new economic systems, Canada is failing to recognize the transformational potential of Indigenous-led conservation economies.
These economies have immense reconciliatory potential and need to be respectfully supported and engaged with in order to create new shared and equitable economic systems.
Environmental management is not just ecological. All social and economic drivers require respect for earth, water and animals in order to halt degradation and enhance environmental and human health.
In September 2015, Canada along with every other United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Seventeen action categories were identified with the purpose of “leaving no one behind” and with the goal of bringing everyone in Canada up to a level of economic stability connected to overall environmental health.
In November 2021, Canada then established a target to protect 30 per cent of the country’s lands and oceans by 2030.
Alongside this announcement was a recognition of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA). They have been dubbed “territories of life” functioning as ecosystem networks in traditional territories. They are Indigenous-led and represent a long-term commitment to conservation that elevates Indigenous rights and responsibilities.
These IPCAs have also become generative sites for Indigenous economies, with the potential to influence real change in economic development practices.
The processes and activities which contribute to Indigenous-led conservation can be referred to as environmental stewardship practices. Indigenous people generally take a holistic approach to the stewardship and management of their territories which has resulted in harmony with the land and sustained biodiversity conservation.
Understanding how stewardship produces values beyond monetary ones, can create vital learning opportunities for alternatives to conventional development.
Guardians and Watchmen enterprises are two forms of Indigenous environmental stewardship. In both cases, cultural values are respected and utilized to create new enterprises and environmental management systems.
In Kitasoo Xai’Xais on the central coast in British Colombia, community leadership has created a robust tourism program through the Spirit Bear Lodge and Coastal Stewardship Network. There, community members are employed to steward their traditional territories, becoming guides for tourists and sharing their knowledge and experiences within their unique coastal region.
These reciprocal economies are not based on the creation of private wealth. First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Turtle Island are pursuing sustainable development by investing in clean energy transitions, working as scientists to support ecosystem research, creating regional conservation partnerships and advocating for our shared habitats through collective movements.
Amidst louder calls for Indigenous Peoples’ free, prior and informed consent — which means Indigenous people need to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories — on land-intensive development proposals, decolonial movements like #LandBack and various projects to diversify our understanding of economies have taken root.
A recent article by geographers Lindsay Naylor and Nathan Thayer investigates how power operates when considering decolonial and anti-racist solutions as a necessary evolution of diversifying our economies.
In the article they explore how the diverse economies framework “neglects the theft and occupation of land that unfolded over the previous centuries of colonialism, which fundamentally changed people’s relationships to the land.”
In settler-led economic development systems, conservation is considered an external feature to be managed by capital investment projects and philanthropic activities. They propose flipping the script and paying close attention to the voices and actions of Indigenous Peoples who can offer some much-needed guidance.
The authors of a recently published Yellowhead Institute paper, Cash Back, write:
“The multiplicity of Indigenous economies is not a future prospect: it is already here … At their core, what makes them Indigenous economies is that they do not exploit that which they depend upon to live, including people. And they protect a world that is not prepared to value people’s time, homelands and harvests solely in cash.”
New conservation-based economic developments in the blue economy, the project finance for permanence — which gives permanent and full funding to conservation areas — and regional conservation finance actions are excellent examples of how Indigenous knowledge and voices are beginning to influence the way national development policies are informed.
These plans and programs involve diverse perspectives on how to pursue economic development which can be thought of as “parallel rows,” knowledge systems stemming from distinct settler and Indigenous knowledge systems.
This parallel row idea comes from the Two Row Wampum treaty which represents the peaceful and respectful coexistence of two distinct nations.
The brilliance of this term lies in its ability to propose a joint system where both Indigenous and settler perspectives are self-directed and complementary in collaboration without having to be integrated together. A resurgence of Indigenous autonomy and culture is a key feature of this strategy.
We may all learn from Indigenous Peoples’ continuous collective efforts to shift away from settler-based models of accumulation and toward maintaining and developing healthy economies of abundance.
The Biden administration announced Friday it will nominate an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic, raising the profile of American policymaking for the region.
Why it matters: The move comes at a time of increased militarization in the far north, with NATO members squaring off against Russia, and at a time of rapid climate change that is making the Arctic more accessible.
The big picture: U.S. Arctic policy is currently handled by a coordinator within the State Department. The White House is seeking to elevate such a role to a full ambassadorship, pending confirmation from the Senate.
Context: Until recently, the Arctic was a region characterized by cooperation, rather than competition.
In the early hours of February 24 th the Russian military build-up along Ukraine’s northern, eastern, and southern borders finally erupted into a full-scale war against Ukraine. Russia’s aggression has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, both among the civilian population, military, and paramilitary groups. It has pulverized Ukrainian cities, destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure, and further resulted in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Additionally, it exacerbated the ongoing food crisis in the Global South, increased pressure on Europe’s economy, launched an extended economic recession in Russia, and has driven Russia’s decay into full-blown dictatorship at a pace that would have
been hard to imagine in times of peace.
While the war itself has no declared Indigenous dimension, it will certainly have serious repercussions on Ukraine’s and Russia’s Indigenous peoples and the international Indigenous movement. As Ukraine’s Indigenous peoples traditionally mostly reside on the Crimean peninsula, they have been subject to Russia’s aggression since 2014.
It is difficult to predict how the conflict will evolve and what impact it will have on the survival of the current political regime in Russia. Predictions range from consolidation of Vladimir Putin’s regime, the regime’s transformation into a full autarchy, to a coup by discontented elites or popular uprising eventually leading to a democratic transition and/or territorial disintegration of the Russian Federation.
The present document is not seeking to explore any of these scenarios, but rather looks at some of the already visible effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine for Russia’s Indigenous peoples and beyond. Further, it explores the war’s short and mid-term political and economic consequences for Indigenous communities in Russia. Finally, the report will present recommendations aimed at improving the situation of Indigenous peoples in Russia in these very difficult circumstances and protecting those brave human rights defenders who continue their important work despite spiraling repressions.
This report was initiated by the International Committee of Indigenous peoples of Russia (ICIPR) with the support of a coalition of several human rights and Indigenous organizations. To prepare the report, the authors used open sources and interviewed Indigenous rights activists located both in and outside Russia. To protect the identity of informants, some circumstances in the evidence from Russia have been altered. This, however, does not affect the key information, conclusions, and recommendations contained in this report.
Ever since the 1999 appointment of Vladimir Putin as Boris Yeltsin’s successor, the Russian government has been busy silencing the independent and critical voices that flourished in the country in the first decade after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The first victims of this political course were large media holdings and independent political parties.
After Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, the Russian government turned its attention to civil society organizations. Draconian laws enacted since 2012 regulate the work of organizations engaged in activities deemed political by the government. The constant harassment of these organizations by the authorities have made it next to impossible to openly and freely discuss issues relating to Indigenous peoples rights, especially where they concern the right to self-determination, and more specifically land rights. A particularly worrisome aspect was the expansion of extractive industries on Indigenous peoples’
territories without their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), actions broadly supported by Western businesses and governments.
As a result, today, the once vibrant Indigenous activist movement in Russia has been reduced to a handful of people. Those activists must be extremely careful about what they say and do as anyone who openly questions the political and economic choices made by the national and sub-national authorities is at risk of criminal prosecution. A number of prominent Indigenous rights defenders left the country fearing for their own and their loved ones’ safety and freedom. Some of those who chose to stay in Russia are experiencing arbitrary criminal prosecution initiated by the state or extractive companies.
The war in Ukraine has provided the Russian government with a new opportunity to further tighten an already very limited civic space in Russia. Soon after the start of what they insist is a “special military operation,” Russian authorities introduced various restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression and association.
On March 4th , less than one week after the start of the war, Russian authorities approved amendments to Russia’s administrative and criminal codes that effectively criminalize not only the expression of anti-war positions, but even the very use of the word “war” in specific circumstances. Law enforcement practice goes even further. Cases are on record of protesters being arrested for holding up a piece of paper saying “dva slova” (“two words”) that hints at the outlawed two words “nyet voyne” (“no war”) or where protesters were detained just for holding up their hands as if they were holding up a placard.
On March 23rd , Russia’s parliament adopted amendments expanding the ban to include criticizing the armed forces and criticism of all Russian government actions abroad. Additionally, Russian authorities insist that media sources only share information about the war provided or channeled by the Ministry of Defense. Russian authorities consider all other information as misinformation, which, when disseminated publicly, could be punishable by law.
The penalties for committing the offense of “discrediting the Russian armed forces,” including public calls for armed forces to be withdrawn or to stop fighting ranges from hefty fines to long prison sentences. As of today, the number of people who have been detained for their participation in anti-war protests exceeds 16,000 (most of them were released a few hours or few days later, while some were fined according to Russia’s administrative code) and dozens are facing criminal prosecution. Many of them are journalists, civil society activists, or political leaders. There are also examples of the prosecution of Indigenous activists.
Soon after the start of the war, Russian authorities went on a spree of extrajudicial closures and blocking of the last remaining independent media outlets in Russia and Russian- language media based abroad. The last free and notable news outlets were Radio Echo Moskvy, an influential radio station which was closed formally by its own Board on March 1st and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The latter’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. The newspaper initially tried to adapt to the new rules, but ended up suspending its activities in Russia, succumbing to the ongoing pressure by the government’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor. In April, a group of exiled journalists from the newspaper launched a Latvia-based namesake Novaya Gazeta Europe, Russia’s access to which was quickly blocked by Roskomnadzor. Journalists who chose to stay in Russia attempted to launch a new weekly, called “NO.Novaya Rasskaz-Gazeta,” but this too was blocked by Roskomnadzor.
Further, the last independent TV station operating from within Russia, TV Rain (Telekanal Dozhd) ceased operations on March 4th . In July, TV Rain restarted its operations from Latvia and is currently streaming its programs via YouTube. To date, YouTube remains the only major outlet yet to be blocked. In doing so, the government risks a major outcry from the millions of Russians who use it for entertainment.
It was reported that, between the start of the war and July 2022, the Russian government has blocked over 5,000 internet resources for violations of the newly introduced laws related to the “special military operation.” Therefore, the media that are still operating in Russia do so by almost entirely avoiding the topic of the war in Ukraine or by accepting the rules imposed by the government and are, thus, relying completely on the information provided by the government.
Lastly, authorities are further blocking access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. On March 28th , a Moscow court declared Facebook’s and Instagram’s ‘Meta Platforms Inc.’ an extremist organization and banned it in Russia. While authorities emphasized that the use of Facebook and Instagram is not punishable, there are fears that this might change if authorities find it to be a useful tool for silencing its critics. As a precaution, when crossing the Russian border, some Russian Indigenous and political activists have begun erasing all applications from their smartphones that authorities could consider extremist in order for them not to be found in case of an inspection by the FSB or other law enforcement authorities.
Thus, by late March, the Russian government had established a near-complete monopoly on the narrative of the ongoing war in Ukraine. For the most part, it is only politically active and urban citizens that have the means to access independent information about the conflict in Ukraine and its political, economic, and environmental dimensions.
Today, Russian independent journalism exists mostly in the form of citizen journalism (private YouTube channels, Telegram channels, etc.). Some Russian media continues its work from abroad, but, with rare exceptions, is only accessible to Russian users via virtual private networks (VPN). To use VPNs, however, one needs to understand the benefits of its use, to have access to these networks, and the capacity to use it. Also, one needs to be able to pay for it, now complicated for Russian bank card holders as their cards can no longer be used for transactions abroad. They are, therefore, not very widely used, especially in remote areas where many Indigenous peoples live. While the use of VPNs is not criminalized, there are indications that Russian authorities are not happy with their growing popularity.
For some, consumption of disinformation is also partly self-imposed. Evidence from Russians abroad shows that some continue to consume and believe Russian state media propaganda, despite having access to independent media.
Yet, the reality for the overwhelming majority of people living in remote areas like Russia’s Indigenous communities is that they have no access to the internet, let alone the skills to avoid restrictions on information access imposed by the government.
“We use only TV to receive information in our village. Mobile internet is expensive and very slow, so we primarily use it for texting with relatives and friends. To surf on the internet, you have to drive around half an hour from the settlement closer to the seashore. We don’t use VPN or anything. My grandson, who lives in the city, told me I could use it now, but I don’t know how to do it. I am not too familiar with all this computer science, and anyway, he says that the government is blocking VPNs,” comments one Indigenous inhabitant of Kamchatka.
Additionally, a new law that will enter into force by the end of the year, introduces a concept of “foreign influence.” This new law replaces the infamous law “On Foreign Agents.” According to it, organizations and individuals do not necessarily need to receive funds from abroad to be branded “foreign agents.” It is enough to be deemed “under foreign influence.” Foreign influence is described in very vague terms and could even be an interaction with colleagues from abroad or with organizations and individuals who already have foreign agent status. A person or organization under supposed foreign influence is banned from receiving public funds, cannot offer education services or teach, nor can they organize public events
such as demonstrations or conferences. They are also subject to a different system of taxation.
All people, including Indigenous activists, who write public texts of a political or apolitical nature and cooperate with foreign counterparts will thus be at risk of being recognized as such. Given that Russian authorities often apply laws retrospectively, foreign influence could be explained by something done in the past.
Impact of the war on Indigenous peoples in Russia
Indigenous soldiers in the Russian army
The Russian media reported that the overwhelming majority of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are not coming from large urban centers in western Russia, but rather from smaller and poorer localities in Siberia and the Far East and the Volga and Caucasus regions.
The percentage of Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities among soldiers in the Russian
armed forces who are fighting and dying in the war seems to be disproportionately high.
According to our informants, one Indigenous village in Siberia with a population of around two hundred individuals, had five young Indigenous soldiers fighting in Ukraine. Their entire Indigenous nation numbers fewer than 2,000 people.
In many smaller towns and cities in the Russian Arctic, Siberia, and the Far East, contract military service is sometimes one of the very few paid jobs available and better paid than many other public jobs. Those who fight in Ukraine receive additional bonuses. It was reported that the average monthly salary of a soldier fighting in Ukraine is around 200,000 rubles, whereas in March 2022, the average salary in, for example, Tyumen Oblast where Khanty, Mansi, and Nenets Indigenous peoples live, was around 61,000 rubles. Given that Tyumen Oblast leads Russia’s oil and gas extraction, the average salary in many other
regions, especially in remote Indigenous villages, is much smaller.
Some Indigenous activists from Russia informed the authors of this report that armed forces recruitment does not provide potential recruits with realistic information about what to expect in the army. This issue is also supported by other sources. And given that the Russian government severely limits information about human casualties and the war’s brutality in Ukraine, many people who sign contracts do not understand the dangers they are getting themselves into.
There have been confirmed deaths of Indigenous soldiers from Chukotka, Khabarovsk Krai, Tyva, Buryatia, and other Russian regions. However, the total number of Indigenous soldiers’ deaths is difficult to estimate as many Indigenous peoples in Russia have Russian names, making it impossible to distinguish them from non-Indigenous servicemen in open databases.
Given the high fatality rate in this war, one can tell that Indigenous peoples are paying a disproportionately high price for the war waged by Moscow politicians. While any loss of life is a tragedy, for small-numbered Indigenous peoples it could be a question of their very survival.
While the death rate is notably higher among ethnic minorities, many of those who return home alive will likely suffer from injuries and long-term mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorders. At the same time, Russia’s healthcare infrastructure in remote areas where most Indigenous peoples live has very limited capacity to address these issues.
Finally, when the extent of the crimes committed on occupied Ukrainian territory was made public, there was an attempt to racialize the brutality. Russian social media portrayed these crimes as committed by “savages” from remote corners of the empire, thus characterizing Indigenous soldiers as people who are more prone to violence “due to cultural traits.” Such an interpretation of events was trending not only among the Russian, but also the Ukrainian public. While investigations by Ukrainian authorities into these crimes are ongoing, it is too early to say exactly who committed the horrific crimes against Ukrainian civilians. However, even if Indigenous soldiers had committed some of these crimes as members of the Russian armed forces, one needs to be aware of the racist narrative propagated by such stories as well as the fact that, willingly or unwillingly, it distracts from those higher up in the hierarchy that are actually responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law and who allowed war crimes to take place.
Russian Indigenous movement
For many years now, the Indigenous peoples’ movement in Russia has been divided. For much of recent history, the Russian government has historically divided Indigenous peoples into different legal and political categories, each treated differently: “small-numbered Indigenous peoples” with fewer than 50,000 total population, “Indigenous peoples” with more than 50,000 total population, and simply “peoples” (as in the Caucasus and western Russian regions). This “divide and conquer” strategy has been an effective tool in exerting state control over Indigenous peoples. This report focuses largely on the category of “small-
numbered Indigenous peoples.”
The Russian Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) is a large umbrella organization for Russian “small-numbered Indigenous peoples” and was once a fierce defender of Indigenous rights in Russia. In the past decade, RAIPON’s role has largely been reduced to rubber-stamping government decisions. The organization came under full control of the regime in 2013. At the time, Grigory Ledkov, a member of parliament for the ruling United Russia party, was promoted to the RAIPON leadership role by the Russian government. To this day, Ledkov remains president of the organization and as such claims a
monopoly to represent forty-one Indigenous peoples of Russia North, Siberia, and the Far East at the national level and internationally.
The other “wing” of the Indigenous movement is mostly represented by Aborigen Forum, an informal alliance of independent Indigenous activists, organizations, and experts on Indigenous peoples rights founded in response to the de facto takeover of RAIPON by the government’s United Russia party.
This division in the movement persists to this day and is only further reinforced by the war.
On March 1st , RAIPON released an address to the Russian president expressing its full support for his decision to start the “special military operation” in Ukraine. The document is signed by leaders of 33 regional chapters of RAIPON, many of whom work for government bodies. On March 3 rd , RAIPON was joined by another pro-governmental Indigenous organization: the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian Federation, whose leadership signed an open statement by the leaders of federal Indigenous and cultural autonomies and civil society institutions expressing their support of Russian leadership.
In further response to RAIPON’s statement, seven exiled Indigenous activists from Russia announced their decision on March 10th to establish the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia (ICIPR) with an explicit objective of countering the Russian government propaganda relayed by RAIPON.
Given their political persecution and harassment at home, the exiled activists behind ICIPR are unable to visit their home communities. They maintain, however, close contacts with their communities and their peoples and thus give voices to their Indigenous brothers and sisters who chose to or were forced to stay in Russia and who continue their activism less publicly.
Ever since the creation of ICIPR, RAIPON has invested significant resources in trying to discredit the newly established organization and its individual members. They do so by making public statements questioning ICIPR’s legitimacy and accusing them of discrediting the Russian armed forces.
Polarizing attitudes toward the war are also increasingly noticeable among Indigenous peoples throughout Russia. Widespread disinformation and the difficulty of accessing independent information in remote regions, among other barriers, is leading to a split in the Indigenous rights movement. With laws becoming ever more repressive, Indigenous activists are increasingly divided and under growing threat. Authorities pressure communities and activists to comply out of a fear of prosecution.
Finally, Indigenous sources report that their communities are frequently misused for propaganda purposes. This happened, for example, on the Kola Peninsula, where members of an Indigenous community were invited, under false pretenses, to a meeting hosted by local authorities and were then forced to participate in a performance with militaristic symbolism. This is emblematic of the fact that Indigenous people in Russia are not seen as independent agents with rights and needs, but as subjects who do not deserve to be
meaningfully represented, respected, and consulted.
Because critical Indigenous voices fear persecution, they can no longer effectively stand up for their rights and criticize the government, its proxy organizations, and crony businesses. This has a direct impact on their human rights situation in Russia, and the erosion of opportunities to express resistance will likely lead to further intensification of repressions and worsening of Indigenous peoples’ social and economic situations.
The Russian government’s criminal decision to wage a war against its neighbor had a devastating effect on its Indigenous peoples’ participation in international advocacy mechanisms.
Following the start of the war on Ukraine, the Arctic Council, a unique institution in which the Arctic’s nations, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs work on sustainable environmental development and protection of the region, has suspended its work.
Despite different challenges and the fact that, in recent years, Russia’s permanent Indigenous representative – RAIPON – has been mostly relaying the government’s agenda, the Council’s potential in fostering peaceful cooperation in the Arctic has been recognized by most of its members, states, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs alike. Suspension of the Council’s activities effectively put an end to various regional projects, including those involving Indigenous peoples of Russia.
Meanwhile speaking out at the UN has become extremely dangerous for independent Indigenous voices from Russia. Anyone voicing opposition to Russian government decisions at international fora risks intimidation and prosecution in Russia. This is a huge challenge, as participating in international fora is of great importance for the many marginalized Indigenous peoples of Russia. Just how far Russian government representatives may go in their attempt to intimidate independent Indigenous activists was seen at the July 2022 session of the United Nations’ Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).
On July 4th , the first day of EMRIP’s 15th session in Geneva, indigenous Shor activist Yana Tannagasheva was verbally assaulted and physically intimidated by a representative of the Russian state. In her speech, Tannagasheva drew the audience’s attention to Russian government and business community violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples and spoke about the case of her native village, allegedly burned by a coal company in response to some villagers’ refusal to sell their land to the company. Tannagasheva ended her speech by highlighting the government’s attack on freedom of speech and government harassment and criminalization of Indigenous activists in Russia and called for the UN Human Rights Council to establish a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the situation of Indigenous peoples in interstate conflicts. During her speech, Sergey Chumarev, a representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (deputy department head for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights) sat down immediately behind Tannagasheva. Following her statement, Chumarev insisted on obtaining Tannagasheva’s contact information in an intimidating manner and then insulted the Indigenous activist and violently reclaimed his business card,
presented to her earlier, from her hands. His open hostility was documented by the Geneva Observer, the Swiss Radio Television SRF, and others, and provoked a strong reaction among other participants, who encircled Tannagasheva to form a human shield against the Russian official’s intimidating behavior.
It should be noted that Yana Tannagasheva was forced out of Russia four years earlier and granted political asylum in Sweden. Once again, she was confronted with the fear she and her family constantly experienced when still residing in Russia. The unacceptable and undiplomatic behavior is emblematic of the Russian state’s attitude towards Indigenous peoples of Russia and Ukraine and especially towards women. They continue to persecute those who speak openly about the real situation in the country.
Immediately after the incident, the Indigenous Russia website, possibly the last remaining independent media addressing Indigenous peoples rights issues in Russia, published a statement by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia (ICIPR), of which Tannagasheva is a member, denouncing the behavior of Russian government representatives. Shortly after it was published, Dmitry Berezhkov, director of Indigenous Russia, received an email from the website’s hosting provider, saying it had received a request from the Russian government to remove the page from the Internet within 24 hours. Aware of the fact that this request was politically motivated, the provider declined to act.
However, access to the website from Russia has now been blocked and can now only be accessed via VPN. In his statement at a later EMRIP session, Berezhkov said: “This is the way that Russia immediately responds to the truth about violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples, a truth voiced in this hall. One way or another, we will continue our work to convey information to the international community about violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Russia.”
Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands are divided by national borders suffer additional impacts of the war when contacts with brethren across the border are severely limited.
The cross-border dimension is particularly evident in the case of the Sámi, who live in both Russia and Nordic countries. Here, the war in Ukraine has resulted in suspension of all cooperation between Russian and non-Russian members of the Sámi Council, the Sámi people’s main representative body. The suspension followed an explicit expression of support by some Sámi leaders in Russia for the Russian government’s decision to launch the war against Ukraine. And although not all Russian Sámi organizations endorsed the government on that issue, the decision to suspend Russian participation was made unanimously by the Executive Board of the Sámi Council, a body that consists of four people, one of which is a representative of Russian Sámi.
While the impact on cooperation between Inuits and Aleuts residing in Russia and those who live in North America and Greenland is yet not as evident as it is in the case of Sámi, Russia’s growing isolation and escalation of its antagonism with the West will likely lead to a reduction in transborder contacts. Some prominent members of the Inuit community in Chukotka publicly supported Russian aggression against Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Inuit Circumpolar Council which, among other roles, represents Chukotka’s Yupiq people has voiced its concern over the suspension of Arctic Council activities in a press release without
denouncing or even mentioning Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
Other Environmental and Social Impacts
One by one since the first hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western governments announced economic sanctions against Russian government agencies and institutions, businesses, politicians, and other individuals. The sanctions severely restricted financial transactions between Russian entities and their foreign counterparts, led to freezing of the government’s financial assets abroad, limited the transfer of technological know-how, complicated Russian exports, and restricted air and maritime transit for Russian aircraft and vessels. It is estimated that the volume of sanctions imposed on Russia is the highest ever imposed on any nation in modern history. Government sanctions were quickly followed by foreign businesses choosing to leave the Russian market on their own initiative, suspending production in Russia, and closing retail outlets there.
In a globalized country like Russia, this led to immediate economic consequences felt by many within Russia, but also beyond its borders. Initially, it provoked panic among the population and spikes in prices for essential goods. Although prices for many goods have stabilized at this point, the sanctions’ long-term effects are difficult to estimate. It is expected that by the end of 2022, the Russian economy may shrink as much as 20%. Meanwhile, Russia is already experiencing shortages of some essential supplies, like medicines. The lack of fuel, food, and medical supplies will hit remote Indigenous communities especially
hard, as many are only accessible by air transport much of the year.
During the highest tensions between Russia and the West since the Cuban missile crisis, and considering Russia’s strategy of silencing any opposition, it seems obvious that the Russian government will prioritize maintaining its military, security services, and law enforcement agencies, both technologically and financially, over providing economic support to vulnerable populations. Indigenous peoples in Russia are among the most vulnerable groups in the Russian population.
Dispossessed of their lands, they are excluded from decision-making when it comes to
resource extraction and other industrial development on their territories. As a result, many
Indigenous communities’ dependence on already meager state welfare for subsistence is increasingly coming under pressure. Today, these groups may face an even greater socio- economic crisis, similar to the one they experienced in the early 1990s. At that time, when the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a breakdown in food supply chains and social services, some communities in the Russian Arctic experienced high levels of food insecurity as a result.
With the closure of Western markets, the Russian government is tightening its focus on markets in India and especially China. While Chinese and Indian businesses are interested in Russian raw materials and the Russian market in general, Western sanctions are a deterrent and they are not prepared to risk their access to much more lucrative Western markets. As a result, they have so far been rather hesitant to respond to the Russian government’s generous invitations to enter its domestic market in order to replace Western
As a consequence of the state of the Russian economy, it seems likely that the government will drop already very limited and ineffective environmental and human rights regulations in favor of shoring up extractive industries to increase the competitiveness of their products in Asian markets. In fact, there are indicators that this has already started to take place. In mid-April, opposition politician Yulia Galyamina wrote that officials in Yakutia have authorized logging in one of Siberia’s last virgin forests for export to China. The forest in question is located on the traditional lands of the Evenki people for whom the forest is the essence of their traditional lifestyle and spiritual culture. Additionally, the environmental impacts of
logging in this area will almost certainly have severe impacts on Indigenous peoples living downstream as well.
Russian mining giant Nornickel may also be using this strategy. So far, the company has relied heavily on the European market to sell products that are in great demand for the green economy transition. With the sanctions imposed on Russia and increasing supply chain instability, the company is considering turning its back on Europe and developing a new focus on Asian markets.
While dependency on exports to Europe was one of the last leverage points human rights and environmental activists had at their disposal to improve the situation of Indigenous peoples in Russia, the sanctions regime increasingly complicates the situation. It is no secret that, e.g., Chinese firms and investors care less or not at all about international environmental and human rights standards. Evidently, a shift in focus towards the Chinese market would most probably lead to even more limited human rights and environmental accountability for Russian extractive companies and their new partners.
As we demonstrated in this report, the Russian authorities’ criminal decision to invade neighboring Ukraine has had devastating impacts on Indigenous peoples in Russia, impacts that have clear demographic, political, and economic dimensions. The war further divides the Russian Indigenous movement in many ways and hinders international contacts and cooperation.
We see that military recruitment in Indigenous communities to fight in Ukraine has been disproportionately high as is the number of casualties among Indigenous peoples. These trends will further reduce already small populations of Indigenous peoples and could possibly result in additional pressure on the already insufficient healthcare and social services infrastructure that remote Indigenous communities can access.
Even before the war, Indigenous peoples living in remote communities have been hit hard by spiraling inflation and suffer from food insecurity and a lack of social services. All these problems are likely to be amplified by the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile in the economic sphere, Western businesses have been steadily replaced with Chinese and Indian companies. This means that Western human rights and environmental accountability standards and mechanisms, however insufficient and imperfect, will be abandoned in order to ensure the quick and easy resupply of the Russian government’s coffers, funds that will ultimately be
spent to fund the war in Ukraine.
Politically, the war has divided the Indigenous movement within Russia, destroyed platforms of effective cooperation between Russian Indigenous organizations and their counterparts abroad, and has seriously impacted transborder cooperation for divided peoples, such as the Sámi, who live both in Nordic countries and Russia. It is quite evident that the Russian government has been active in using proxy Indigenous organizations to amplify state propaganda and to discredit independent Indigenous voices from Russia.
Call to action
The International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia, created by a group of Indigenous activists from Russia in response to the Russian government’s aggressive war on Ukraine, unambiguously denounces the Russian President’s criminal decision to invade Ukraine and calls for the occupation to stop. The Committee also calls on the Russian government to immediately start working with the Ukrainian government on the peaceful return of territories annexed in 2014.
The Committee calls on the Russian government to abandon its imperialist ambitions, to seek peace and reconciliation with Russia’s neighbors, and, instead of spending billions of rubles in destroying lives of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian citizens to invest them in the wellbeing of the most marginalized groups within the country, including the Indigenous peoples of Russia.
Recommendations to the international community
2. Support initiatives countering Russian government propaganda
3. Document the human rights situation for Russia’s Indigenous peoples
5. Practice business responsibly with Russia
For comments please contact the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia
at: [email protected]
On August 9, 2022, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous leaders will launch a new site—www.sirgecoalition.org—as part of the official public announcement of a new coalition to Secure Indigenous People’s Rights in a Green Economy (SIRGE Coalition).
The minerals necessary for renewable energy minerals, such as nickel, lithium, cobalt, and copper are critical to the development of a green, low-carbon economy. As demand for these transition minerals is skyrocketing, increased mining threatens Indigenous rights and territories where there is not a comprehensive assessment of risks and harms to Indigenous Peoples, and complete participation of Indigenous Peoples who are impacted.
In order to solve the growing climate emergency, a true Just Transition to a low carbon economy requires governments and companies involved in the new green economy to observe and implement the rights of Indigenous Peoples enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
Cultural Survival, First Peoples Worldwide, Batani Foundation, Earthworks, and the Society for Threatened Peoples have launched the SIRGE Coalition as a platform to champion a Just Transition to a low-carbon economy. SIRGE Coalition is calling upon government, corporate, and financial decision-makers to avoid the mistakes and harms of past resource development by protecting the rights and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples around the globe, many of whom live on lands rich in transition minerals.
A few of many examples of Indigenous Peoples currently experiencing harms and threats from unconsented development of transition minerals include:
Peehee Mu’huh, or Thacker Pass, sits at the southern edge of the McDermitt Caldera in Humboldt County, Nevada. Lithium Americas is attempting to develop a lithium mine on these lands, which are sacred to Shoshone and Paiute Peoples.
In Guatemala, members of the Indigenous Q’eqchi’ community peacefully blockaded the Fenix Nickel Mine to protest the lack of consultations and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for the mine, which has polluted their traditional fishing grounds in Lake Izabal.
In Russia, Indigenous communities on the Taimyr Peninsula suffered food insecurity after a fuel spill in 2020 from a subsidiary of Nornickel—a mining firm that supplies some 20 per cent of the world’s Class I nickel needed for electric vehicle batteries—polluted local waterways. Despite pressure from companies in the supply chain, Nornickel has failed to respond to requests from Indigenous communities for adequate compensation and restoration of the fragile Arctic environment.
Indigenous territories contain significant concentrations of untapped heavy metal reserves around the world. In the United States, a study by MSCI estimated that 97 per cent of nickel, 89 per cent of copper, 79 per cent of lithium, and 68 per cent of cobalt reserves and resources are located within 35 miles of Native American reservations. A 2020 study found that mining potentially influences 50 million square kilometres of Earth’s land surface, with 8 per cent coinciding with Protected Areas, 7 per cent with Key Biodiversity Areas, and 16 per cent with Remaining Wilderness.
About the SIRGE Coalition
The SIRGE Coalition’s primary goal is to elevate Indigenous leadership through the creation of a broad coalition and the promotion of constructive dialogue. In accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the coalition will uphold all rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories, and especially their rights to determine their own priorities as to their lands, territories, and resources. Indigenous leadership is essential as Indigenous Peoples conserve about 80 per cent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity.
The SIRGE Coalition is staffed by an Executive Committee made up of representatives from each organization and is governed by an Indigenous Steering Committee made up of two representatives of Indigenous Peoples from each of the seven socio-cultural regions across the globe along with a global chairperson and the chairperson of the Executive Committee, chosen from Indigenous members.
SIRGE Coalition is calling for full implementation of the UNDRIP, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, in all endeavours related to the extraction, mining, production, consumption, sale and recycling of transition and rare earth minerals around the world.
Sharp criticism of interest groups that support Russia’s war of aggression: “Organizations whose representatives support the war and the killing of civilians in Ukraine, including the murder of indigenous people, must not represent the interests and rights of indigenous peoples at the international level.”
Von Jan Diedrichsen
The Kremlin demands unconditional loyalty; criticism is severely punished. The indigenous peoples of the North also had to experience this themselves. Official indigenous organizations support the war against Ukraine, and some officials even enthusiastically celebrate it. The damage is enormous, the credibility of these organizations has been undermined. International organizations, both within the UN and within the Arctic cooperation, must immediately stop collaborating with Putin’s claqueurs.
But there are also courageous exceptions of those who fight back, condemning the crime of Russia’s war of aggression and openly criticizing the corrupt indigenous associations loyal to Putin. By doing so, they expose themselves to the wrath and vengeance of the Kremlin, as well as to attacks from their compatriots. They, allegedly, are traitors and defilers.
A traitorous example of hypocritical taunts: “Traitors to their peoples are always welcome in NATO, and now that it wants to block Russia’s Arctic, the Alliance is creating an organization consisting of traitors to their native peoples. But there are only seven such people in the whole world. Instead of a pack of wolves, only seven little mutts could be fed…” This refers to the founding members of the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia. Such insults can be found on the Internet.
Critical organizations in Russia are liquidated, entities and individuals are declared foreign agents, and the most active representatives are forced abroad.
The Kremlin wants to avoid being confronted with representatives of Russia’s indigenous peoples on the international stage and in international organizations in view of its atrocities. The brothers Pavel and Rodion Sulyandziga are of particular annoyance to those in power. They resorted to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC) to denounce Russia’s aggressive policies in general and the oppression of indigenous peoples in particular.
The loyalty of indigenous organizations and individuals is actively promoted with incentives, while people like the Sulyandziga brothers are being prosecuted.
However, courageous representatives (some of them forced into exile) do not sink to the level of attacks. Recently, a number of named has appealed to international organizations and issued warnings about Putin’s henchmen among indigenous organizations:
“On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of civilians were killed in rocket attacks on Ukrainian settlements – representatives of various ethnic groups and confessions, indigenous peoples, including hundreds of children.
Organizations of indigenous peoples of Russia, such as the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East (RAIPON), the interregional public organization Information and Educational Network of Indigenous Peoples “Lyoravetlian” and the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian Federation (AFUN RF) officially supported the criminal actions President Putin to unleash a war against Ukraine.
We appeal to the United Nations, in particular to the President of ECOSOC, with a call to deprive the organizations that supported Russia’s aggression against Ukraine of their consultative status in the UN ECOSOC, and also prevent the appointment of representatives of these organizations to UN subordinate bodies, such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We appeal to all international organizations that proclaim human life and freedom as the highest value not to allow participation in their work of representatives of organizations of indigenous peoples of Russia that support Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
We believe that organizations whose representatives support the war and, accordingly, the killings of civilians in Ukraine, including the killings of representatives of indigenous peoples, cannot represent the interests and rights of indigenous peoples at the international level.
We appeal to the international community with a request to establish an independent commission to study and prepare a report on the impact of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine on the indigenous peoples of Russia and Ukraine.“
Vyacheslav Krechetov’s documentary “The Gold of Shoria” recounts the story of environmental catastrophe in southern Siberia, where coal and gold mining companies are causing irreparable harm to the traditional lands of the Shor – a small Indigenous people of Russia living on the territories of the modern Republic of Khakasia and Kemerovo Oblast. In 2021, this film won the prize for “best film on social, economic, and cultural rights” at the Bir Duino 15th International Festival of Documentary Films on Human Rights.
We see a striking contrast in the film “The Gold of Shoria”: The sublime beauty of Siberian nature is defenseless and vulnerable before the barbaric activities of mining companies. Against this backdrop, we hear the voices of those trying to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to live on their land. These include the voices of Shor people living in Askizky District, Khakasia and Mezhdurechensky City District, Kemerovo Oblast, as well as environmentalists and experts.
“My film is about the systematic violation of the rights of an Indigenous people – the Shor living in Kemerovo Oblast and Khakasia. As they carry out their work mining for coal or gold, the mining companies ignore the fact that ethnic groups attached to the environment, are leading a traditional way of life and are endeavoring to preserve this way of life in these areas. The destruction of their living environment – the forest taiga – directly harms these ethnicities and ruins their sacred cultural sites, the graves of their ancestors, and their homes,” said Krechetov.
According to the most recent census, just over 12,000 Shor remain. Their numbers have dropped by 14 percent since the mid-20th century and are continuing to fall today. Their places of traditional residence – villages in Askizky District, Khakasia (Balyksa, Neozhidanny, Nikolaevka, and Shora) and Mezhdurechensky Municipal District, Kemerovo Oblast (Orton, Ilynka, Uchas, and Trekhrechye) were added to the Federal List of Places of Traditional Residence and Activities of Small Indigenous Peoples and must be protected from commercial exploitation. In addition, Shor lands within Khakasia were included within the borders of specially protected territories of traditional nature use, where any activity that threatens the condition of natural resources is prohibited. Nevertheless, over the past five years, the scale of land development in places where the Shor traditionally reside has increased, and today almost no untouched taiga is left. The exploitation by subsoil users of places where the Shor have traditionally resided threatens their culture and language, destroys cultural places and sites, and makes it impossible to engage in traditional activities (hunting, fishing, foraging).
River pollution resulting from gold mining is a major problem for traditional Shor territories, because the rivers are the main source of drinking water and an important element of the Shor people’s economy and diet. In May and June of 2021, WWF experts identified 30 cases of complex river pollution resulting from placer gold mining in four regions of Siberia on plots along a total length of 1,474 km. Of these cases, five occurred along 203 km in Khakasia, and five were found along 218 km in Kemerovo Oblast.
The barbaric use of Shor lands and natural resources by gold mining companies is not new. The Shor have tried to protect their lands for decades, but local residents’ complaints to the district administration, environmental watchdogs, and the prosecutor’s office are generally ignored, while the most active defenders of Indigenous rights are subjected to persecution and pressure. These defenders are presented as the opponents of progress and prosperity and accused of extremism and acting in the interests of foreign states. In 2018, the Shor activists Yana and Vladislav Tannagashev, who fought against the illegal activities of the coal companies, were forced to leave Russia with their children because of persecution that lasted several years. During filming, Aleksey Chispiyakov, the film’s author and one of its main heroes, was repeatedly arrested and subjected to searches. The Kemerovo Oblast Ministry of Culture and Ethnic Policy is waging a legal battle against Aleksey Chispiyakov for his critical position.
Amid heightened repressions against civil society in Russia, the new “foreign agent” law, and spy hysteria, opportunities for protecting the environment and Indigenous rights are shrinking. Loyal Indigenous organizations are being transformed into objects of manipulation and forced to participate in propaganda actions supporting Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, Indigenous activists who were forced to immigrate have been clear about their anti-war position. This only deepens the split within Indigenous communities: For example, the well-known information portal Indigenous-Russia was blocked in Russia after it was checked for extremism at the request of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Far East of Russia. On July 6, 2022, participants in the 15th session of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva witnessed the verbal démarche of a Russian Foreign Ministry representative against the activist Yana Tannagasheva, who criticized the Russian government and mining companies operating in her native region of Kemerovo Oblast.
On July 29, 2022, an overwhelming majority of members of the UN General Assembly approved a resolution recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The resolution was supported by 161 countries, and no country voted against it. However, Russia and another seven countries (China, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Syria, Iran, Cambodia and Ethiopia) abstained from voting.
The resolution, which is not a legally binding document, demonstrates the solidarity of the world’s countries regarding global matters of climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and environmental pollution. By abstaining from voting, Russia expressed its lack of interest in cooperating to find joint solutions to global environmental problems, which is a reflection of its lack of desire to solve these problems at home as well.
“The Gold of Shoria” shows the consequences of such an attitude toward environmental problems: The lands, rich with natural resources, are becoming less suitable for the lives and traditional activities of the people who live on them. The fact that the Shor are categorized as a small Indigenous people under the special protection of Russian law should have served as a guarantee that a favorable environment will be preserved not just for them, but for all the residents of these territories. However, Shor lands are being irreversibly destroyed by gold and coal mining. For Indigenous peoples, this policy means not just the destruction of their customary environment, but also the loss of their identity, language, and culture.
Serving on a corporate board is a good gig – and Indigenous people are missing
Mary Smith had a plan: She was going to serve as a member of a corporate board. She already had the resume. Smith is an attorney and she had worked as the chief executive officer for the U.S. Indian Health Service, a $6 billion-a-year-operation.
“I think for most people, you’re not going to get a call out of the blue,” she said. “You have to put yourself out there so that people know that you want to be on a corporate board because there are recruiters that recruit for corporate boards. But, the vast majority of board seats are still filled through networking.”
Smith’s planning was deliberate. She “very intentionally treated it like a full-time job.” That included learning about corporate governance and board responsibilities, she developed a “board bio” which she says is different from a resume because it highlights attributes that boards are looking for (such as experience with regulatory agencies.) She also hired coaches in order to sharpen her pitch.
“I really wanted to try to get on a board and I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had done X, Y or Z. ‘ If I had done that, I would’ve made it so.”
Smith has made a place for herself at a table where few Indigenous people have historically been invited.
There are some 4,000 companies traded on Wall Street through the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. Each of these companies have professional board members who are responsible for corporate governance. The number of American Indians and Alaska Natives represented on those boards is far less than one-tenth of one percent.
Smith, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, now serves on the board for PTC Therapeutics, Inc., a publicly-traded global biopharmaceutical company that focuses on “ the discovery, development and commercialization of clinically differentiated medicines that provide benefits to patients with rare disorders.”
She is paid a board fee of $30,659, according to the company’s report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, on top of that she is awarded both options and stocks that depend on the success of the company and could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Smith says there is more to serving on a board than showing up to four meetings a year. “That sounds like an easy gig, but, no, it’s actually a lot of work,” she said. There are documents that must be reviewed, a duty of care and loyalty, one poor decision could result in liability.
“So, yes, you have to be very thoughtful and exercise your fiduciary duties to the corporation.”
According to the search firm Spencer Stuart and its annual report index the total average compensation for a board seat is $312,279. “This average reflects actual director compensation, including the voluntary, and usually temporary, pay cuts some boards took during the height of the pandemic crisis. More than three-quarters of boards provide stock grants to directors in addition to a fee.
Serving on a corporate board is a good gig. And the number of Indigenous people who hold board seats is too small to register; far less than one-tenth of 1 percent.
There are a few prominent Indigenous board members. Cherie Brandt serves on the board of TD Bank in Toronto. She is both Mohawk from Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Ojibway from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve. She was appointed last August. Kathy Hannan, Ho Chunk, serves on Otis Elevator and Annaly Capital Management.
There are also a number of Indigenous people serving on regional bank boards, utility companies, across the energy sector.
Across the board the data shows movement. The 2021 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index shows that white directors fell slightly in 2021, yet still account for eight of every 10 board members, and six of the 10 are white men. (Spencer Stuart is a firm that conducts corporate searches.)
The index also found that directors from historically underrepresented groups accounted for 72 percent of all new directors at S&P 500 companies, up from 59 percent in 2020. Female representation increased to 30 percent of all S&P 500 directors.
“Despite the record number of new directors from historically underrepresented groups, the overall representation of some demographic groups on S&P 500 boards falls short of their representation in the U.S. population,” Spencer Stuart reported. “For example, although 42 percent of the U.S. population identifies as African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian/Native Alaskan or multiracial, those groups make up only 21 percent of S&P 500 directors.”
The 6th edition of the Missing Pieces Report: The Board Diversity Census by the accounting firm Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity is a multiyear study that found that public companies are making slow progress appointing more diverse boards. The goal of the Alliance is to have women and minorities make up 40 percent of all corporate board seats, up from 17.5 percent in 2021.
And the thing is, the Alliance for Board Diversity says based on the skill set of new board members, “women and minority board members currently are more likely than White men to bring experience with corporate sustainability and socially responsible investing, government, sales and marketing, and technology in the workplace to their boards.”
In other words: if the new framework is sustainability, especially Environment, Social, Governance, or ESG, then people of color who are appointed to board members are more likely to be prepared for the task ahead.
Native Americans are largely absent from corporate leadership.
The numbers are striking. According to Deloitte, less than one-tenth of one percent of all corporate board members are in the “other” category. There are so few Indigenous people in corporate boardrooms that there is not even a measurement. (The Spencer Stuart Board Index simply reports less than one percent for American Indian and Alaska Native representation.)
There are a couple of initiatives trying to change that. The first comes from the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, or NASDAQ, a computerized system for trading stock. In August of 2021 a Board Diversity Rule was established that requires companies to use a standard template for board representation and “have or explain why they do not have at least two diverse directors.”
And in California a 2020 law requires companies headquartered in that state to have one to three board members who self-identify as a member of an “underrepresented community,” which includes Asian, Black, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander individuals, as well as those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The law allowed the Secretary of State to fine companies who did not comply. Then in May of 2022 a Los Angeles court struck down the law as unconstitutional and its application is on hold until the appeal process is complete.
But companies are acting anyway. Four years ago nearly one-third of public company boards in California were composed of all men. According to the most recent report from the California Partners Project, today fewer than 2 percent are. This year two-thirds of California public companies have three or more women directors—six times as many as in 2018.
“I think it’s very important to have representation, especially from the Native American community,” said Assemblyman James Ramos, D-San Bernardino. Ramos is a citizen of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe, and is the first California Indian to be elected to the California State Assembly. “It serves two different folds, one to make sure that representation of not only California’s first people, but that the nation’s first people has a voice in driving the economics of our community, of our state, and of our nation.”
Ramos said it’s also aspirational, demonstrating opportunity.
“It definitely is right to make sure that Native American people are included in the overall discussion,” Ramos said. “When you’re putting statistics and data together, we hear it all the time: Latino, population, right? Statistics and data. African American, statistics and data. And yet we’re talking about people of color and diversity and not even mention Native American people or even California Indian people in general.”
There have been a significant number of Native Americans serving on philanthropic boards.
Sherry Salway Black, Oglala Lakota, has served on a number of such boards and she said she heard the narrative often that only one or two Native Americans served on private foundation boards. So she did a “quick and dirty” survey and found at least 28 Native people serving on 13 private foundations, and nine Native people on the boards of seven community foundations.
One area where there is a lot of Native board action is for Community Development Financial Institutions that are mission driven and focused on community building and access to capital. There are dozens of such lending institutions and it’s been especially important in the agriculture sector.
Carla Fredericks, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, is chief executive officer of The Christensen Fund, a $300 million foundation. She said it’s important to be intentional about how board members are appointed.
“This is long overdue,” she said. “Even as we’ve tried to get additional board members for our board, we are certainly aware that while there’s incredible leadership experience in Indian Country, and there’s not a lot of board experience that people have. So it’s really important to build that.”
Fredericks said it can be a self-perpetuating problem if boards require previous experience but don’t explore translatable experiences.
“We took a broader lens to looking at candidates,” Fredericks said. “I also think that we had a really intentional lens to recruit Indigenous people to the board. And that’s been a practice that’s been in place before I even got here. We’ve had Indigenous people on and off the board, Winona LaDuke, Rick Williams, others, throughout our history.”
Part of that means reshaping the debate about leadership.
“Many corporations now are adopting leadership structures that may be called something very fancy, but might have really strong roots in indigenous leadership,” she said. It’s the idea that there is a way to think about organizations and values that have not been previously considered.
“You kind of have to peel back the onion really, and try to understand, it’s not just who’s on the board, but who’s really engaged? And in what way, and what committee are they in charge of?” She said that’s all a part of the board governance piece and what will take for people to successfully lead and transform organizations.
ICT has been building a list of Indigenous representations on corporate boards, government-sponsored enterprises, university boards, and major nonprofits. The idea here is that there is a deep talent pool already available. When members of Congress, for example, retire or even lose an election, they are often sought after as corporate board members. That same process is not the same for tribal leaders who have been managing multimillion dollar enterprises, especially large tribes such as the Navajo Nation or the Cherokee Nation.
One part of that equation is how boards recruit new members. The report Missing Pieces, a 2021 census compiled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, said there is an immediate impact after placing women and minorities into key positions, such as on the nominating committee.
“When they have a woman or minority as their nominating or governance chair, boards are not immediately more likely to have higher percentages of women or minorities,” the report said. “After two years, these boards are more likely to have higher percentages of women or minorities.”
Mary Smith, the Cherokee Nation citizen on the PTC Therapeutics board, said there is a need to expand the network beyond former chief executives into other areas of experience, such as tribal leadership.
“I would love to see more Native Americans on boards. And I hope that some people would start to say, ‘yeah, I could do that.’ And then try to put themselves out there to be on the radar for people being on boards. Because I think people in the Native community have a lot to contribute to corporate boards.”