Activist organizes concert in Yarmouth to benefit Ukrainian children

Pavel Sulyandziga and a Yarmouth High School student have teamed up to present a benefit concert performed by his opera singer son, Pavel Sulyandziga Jr.

Human rights activist Pavel Sulyandziga Sr. of Yarmouth has been fighting for the rights of his fellow Crimean Tartar people for years and empathizes with the people of Ukraine suffering through the Russian invasion.

With the help of his son and a Yarmouth High School student, he is organizing a benefit concert for Ukrainian children. The concert, featuring his son, opera singer Pavel Sulyandziga Jr., will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at the Universalist Church in Yarmouth. Attendance is free but donations are encouraged. Sulyandziga Jr. also performed to benefit Ukraine last year at the church.

“For me, it’s very sad and painful to see how Russia became an aggressor,” Sulyandziga Sr.  told The Forecaster with the help of interpreter Vera Solovyeva. “Families have been shattered by the war and separated.”

Sulyandziga is chairperson of the Board of the International Development Fund of Indigenous Peoples of Russia, which “helps Indigenous people to protect their rights and in their efforts to get justice, life and dignity,” he said. The foundation was 10 years old in 2014 when Russia occupied Crimea, and the Russian government declared it a foreign agent in 2015, he said. In 2016, foundation workers were charged as criminals and forced to leave the country. Sulyandziga settled in Yarmouth, was granted asylum and registered the foundation as an NGO in the U.S. in 2018.

As a former member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, he said he felt a particular duty to stand up against Russian wrongdoings in Ukraine.

“The future of any country are children, and children are the most vulnerable part of society, so we must help them for the future of the nation,” Sulyandziga said. 

When his son proposed a concert to raise funds for Ukrainian children, he supported the idea as a way to bring awareness to the plight of the people and families of Ukraine, he said. 

Yarmouth High School freshman Katya Fromuth heard about the plan for a benefit concert and wanted to be involved in the “really great cause.” The plight of Ukrainians had been weighing on her.

“Always seeing it on the news and hearing it on the radio, it makes you want to do something,” Fromuth said.

She has been involved in political activism from a very young age, she said, and offered her volunteer services to Sulyandziga, who welcomed them.

“I really want to appreciate Katya’s support in organizing the concert and event,” he said.

Music is a beautiful way to appeal to empathy and humanity, Fromuth said.

“Sometimes things are better sung than spoken,” she said, adding that the pain of what others have experienced often comes through more clearly in music than in conversation.

“It can be easy to forget very important things that are happening in other parts of the world,” she said.

The event will open with a speech from a representative of the Crimean Tartar Resource Center, the organization which the event will benefit. The center is working towards the de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea.


Indigenous land rights key to curbing deforestation and restoring lands: Study

  • Indigenous communities with land rights in Brazil’s Amazon not only curb deforestation, but better restore deforested land in their territories than the privately owned and unincorporated lands around them.
  • Secondary forest coverage on previously deforested lands grew 5% inside Indigenous territories with tenure over the 33-year research period. This is 23% more growth than directly outside their borders.
  • Secondary forests are around two years older on average inside Indigenous territories than outside their borders.
  • Some scientists worry that reforestation research and policies are distracting from a much larger issue in the Amazon: the deforestation of old-growth forests. But these authors say policies that support Indigenous land rights can help stop deforestation and restore forests.

Indigenous territories with secure land rights not only reduce deforestation inside their lands in the Brazilian Amazon, but also lead to higher secondary forest growth on previously deforested areas, says a new study.

This new report, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is off the back of multiple studies in recent years pointing to the efficiency of Indigenous forest conservation in Brazil’s Amazon once their territories gain full recognition by the government. According to the report, these territories support higher rates of secondary forest growth than the privately owned and unincorporated lands around them.

The secondary forests that grow back after clearing of original old-growth help revive biodiversity and capture carbon, combating climate change. Regenerated forests, also known as secondary forests, attempt to mimic the old-growth forest that was once there and act as carbon sinks, explains environmental and natural resource economist Nilesh Shinde, a postdoc at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a co-author on the paper.

“Granting tenure to these Indigenous lands in Brazil is not only a really good human rights policy, but it’s actually a great environmental policy as well,” says political scientist Kathryn Baragwanath, now at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia, and lead author of the study.

Land tenure prevents outsiders from entering territories for logging, mining, setting up crop pastures and land-grabbing, and it protects Indigenous traditional ways of life largely based on forest stewardship. Studies show this form of land protection contains some of the most healthy forests with only 1.6% of deforestation in Brazil from 1990 to 2020 occurring on these protected Indigenous lands.

Indigenous village of the Huni Kuin people in Jordão, Acre.
Indigenous village of the Huni Kuin people in Jordão, Acre. Indigenous territories with secure land rights not only reduce deforestation inside their lands in the Brazilian Amazon, but also lead to higher secondary forest growth on previously deforested areas. Image by AgniBa via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Forest fire in the Amazon.
Heat spots in areas with Prodes warnings, next to the borders of the Kaxarari Indigenous territory, in Labrea, Amazonas state. Image by Christian Braga / Greenpeace.

Researchers found that secondary forest coverage on previously deforested lands grew 5% inside Indigenous territories with tenure over the 33-year research period. This is 23% more growth than directly outside their borders.

They also found that forests inside fully recognized Indigenous community borders were around two years older on average, which the authors attribute to forests being more likely to grow back and less likely to be cut down after recovering inside Indigenous territories.

The authors used remote satellite data from 1986 to 2019 to observe the proportional growth of secondary forest coverage inside and outside of 377 Indigenous territories. Some of these Indigenous territories received tenure within the study window, while others have yet to, allowing the authors to compare before, after or without tenure.

The study excluded protected areas from its scope, focusing on comparing Indigenous management with private and unincorporated lands. Baragwanath says she and co-author Ella Bayi, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University, are now working on comparing secondary forests on Indigenous territories with other types of protected areas in Brazil. Protected areas in Brazil have a comparable deforestation rate to Indigenous territories.

Mosaic of seeds before they are mixed together.
Mosaic of native plant seeds before they are mixed together for the muvuca planting. Image © Conservation International/Inaê Brandão.

To restore deforested lands, many Indigenous communities tend to take on a holistic approach. The authors provide the example of Rede Sementes do Xingu, a grassroots organization led by Indigenous peoples and local family farmers. Their mission is to promote the restoration of the Amazon through the preservation and distribution of diverse native seeds while honoring the autonomy of Indigenous peoples. They have recovered more than 7,000 hectares (17,297 acres), planting 25 million trees and providing nearly $7 million in income to seed collectors in the local communities.

After 40 years, secondary forests can recover an average of 88% of their species richness, according to a 2018 study in Global Change Biology. As they generate new growth, they can also capture up to 11 times more carbon than old-growth forests, according to a 2016 study in Nature. But, a 2020 study in Ecology found that secondary forests in Brazil uptake only about twice as much as primary forests. It also takes time for secondary forests to grow and meet old-growth forests’ carbon capture capabilities.

Despite carbon uncertainties, regenerating the forest provides benefits to the ecosystem and global climate and also to the local communities who rely on it, says Shinde.

In 2015, the Brazilian government pledged to restore 12 million ha (about 30 million acres) of native vegetation in the Amazon by 2030 as part of the Paris Agreement. But under former President Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation rose by nearly 60%. The lush lands of the Amazon are in high demand for cattle ranching and soy plantations, largely encouraged by Bolsonaro and pro-agribusiness lawmakers, leading to the clearing of forests. In 2022, scientists estimated that more than 13% of the Amazon’s original old-growth forest was gone, a chunk of land bigger than double the size of California.

Total Amazon forest loss from the original estimate to the present. Data from Amazon Conservation Association and MAAP. 
Map showing total forest loss in the original Amazon forest biome. An estimated 13.2% has been lost due to deforestation and other causes. Data from Amazon Conservation Association and MAAP.

Now, Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, promised to restore environmental policies, forests destroyed in recent years and the Paris Agreement reforestation goals.

But, “Not all trees are equal,” says Shinde. Plantations with expanses of single native species used for agriculture, like oil palm, also count toward reforestation goals. But their benefits can’t compare to secondary forests, which attempt to mimic the diverse old-growth trees once there, says Shinde.

The authors hope their findings can drive policies that encourage the tenure of Indigenous territories in Amazonia. “If Brazil wants to reach its climate goals, these are actually really good policies to pursue,” says Baragwanath. At the moment, there are 726 Indigenous territories in Brazil covering 23% of Brazil’s swath of the Amazon, while 487 are tenured. President Lula says he is committed to recognizing more territories during his administration.

But some argue that secondary forests are taking too much of the limelight. The study’s emphasis on secondary forests neglects the real issue at hand in the Amazon: stopping deforestation, says biologist Philip Fearnside, head researcher at the National Institute for Amazonian Research who was not involved in this study.

“This restoration in different deforested areas is a glorified detour,” says Fearnside. “You’re doing something but not actually facing the deforestation problem.” But, he says, reforestation is a more appealing solution than protecting the old-growth forest still there.

“If you restore a few hectares of forests, you can go and make a video clip of trees with smiling children and so forth,” argues Fearnside. “You have something to show, whereas if you’ve done something that changed the policy that has produced deforestation somewhere you don’t have anything concrete to go and show for it.”

After 40 years, secondary forests can recover an average of 88% of their species richness, according to studies. Image by Bruce Potter via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Baragwanath agrees that deforestation should be the first and foremost concern, pointing to her 2020 publication on the value of Indigenous territories in preventing deforestation. But she says this recent study, among others, shows the important role secondary forests also play.

“If you can enact one policy that does both things at the same time, that’s even better than doing a policy that only does one thing,” says Baragwanath. “What we’re doing in the second paper is actually measuring even other positive effects of granting tenure, which hasn’t been considered before, but actually are quite sizable as well.”

Shinde also agrees that deforestation is a top concern and that restoration and stopping deforestation can go “hand in hand.” “Even small patches of secondary forests can help combat climate change and improve biodiversity,” says Shinde, referencing this 2019 study in Global Change Biology.

“But I totally agree that if you were a policymaker, and you had a budget, you would 100% first want to focus on policies that target deforestation,” says Baragwanath.


Mark Zdor: “I was threatened with arrest in RAIPON”

Interview with youth activist of the indigenous peoples of the North of Russia Mark Zdor.

We met with Mark Zdor in Berlin, in the building of the Bundestag (German Parliament), where we took part in parliamentary hearings on the problems of the indigenous peoples of Russia.

A young guy, strong, downed – a representative of the Chukchi people turned out to be an interesting conversationalist. To my question – how did he end up in Berlin and why did he come, he replied: “it’s a long story.” I, in turn, explained that I have time and I am ready to listen if the story is interesting. Here’s what he said.

Hello Mark. Nice to meet you. I did not expect at all that I would meet one of our northerners in Berlin. My name is Dmitry and I am the editor of the Russia of Indigenous Peoples website. We publish materials about the rights and problems of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, and of course it was very interesting to meet you in Germany . Who you are? Tell a few words about yourself.

My name is Mark Zdor. I was born in the small village of Neshkan, on the shores of the Chukchi Sea. This is a Chukotka village of sea hunters and reindeer herders. I was brought up on the traditional values ​​of the Chukchi – take care of nature, respect elders, value freedom and equal rights for everyone.

After finishing school, I continued my education. In 2014, I graduated from the Khabarovsk School as a plasterer-painter. In 2020, I graduated from the College of Physical Culture and Sports with a degree in physical education and sports teacher, wrestling coach and teacher.

In 2020, I entered the Herzen University of St. Petersburg at the Institute of the Peoples of the North. Philology became my specialization. At the University, I also studied the culture of the peoples of the North of Russia. I dreamed of exploring the current state of the Chukchi language and the dynamics of its use. I also have some research experience. I wrote a research essay on the topic “National Sports of the Peoples of the North”. Despite the fact that I am currently in exile, I continue to study the cultural values ​​of my people. 

Are you in exile? So you left Russia? Forever? How did it happen?

It’s quite hard to figure it out, but in general, during the time when I was in college and then at the university, I got involved in social activities because I realized that no one but us, representatives of the indigenous peoples, can preserve our identity.

In 2019, I joined the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East of the Russian Federation (RAIPON) – you probably know about this organization.

Yes, heard.

In RAIPONe, I started working in a youth organization. We have put a lot of time and effort into preserving the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Arctic. I dreamed of visiting all the Arctic regions of Russia in order to personally get acquainted with the culture of the indigenous peoples who live there. In those years, I was sure that we, at RAIPON, were working to protect the rights and preserve the identity of the indigenous peoples of Russia and the world. I worked there very actively, I think.

In 2020, the Vice President of RAIPON, Veysalova Nina Glebovna, “recommended” us to vote for Putin’s amendments to the Russian Constitution. Many of my colleagues in social work, representatives of the youth of indigenous peoples, students were indignant at the fact that we were dictated what to vote for.

We were told that this would do us good, but we all understood that this was only necessary so that Vladimir Putin would have the opportunity to be elected for another presidential term. After these events, I realized that RAIPON is a quasi-governmental organization and became distrustful of its leaders and their activities.

Nina Glebovna personally threatened me with prison. As it turned out, the leadership of RAIPON and the Institute of the Peoples of the North have a close relationship. They discuss everything among themselves and report to the University about political activists – students from among the indigenous peoples. All my peers who criticized the Russian authorities were psychologically pressured by RAIPON leaders and threatened with expulsion, problems with employment, and even imprisonment.

After the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2021, I finally came to the conclusion that political changes are needed in Russia. Like many tens of thousands of Russians, I went out to protest at the beginning of 2021. After the January rallies, I was called to the St. Petersburg branch of RAIPON because I posted a post about the rally on Instagram. Because of the persecution, many members of our youth organization were afraid to protest and speak out against political repression in Russia. At RAIPON, I was threatened with expulsion from the university, that they would make sure that no one would hire me, as well as with arrest and even prison. The leaders of RAIPON also forced me to return to the organization, tried in many ways to change my views. In addition, they tried to bribe me – they offered me paid work. Despite these threats, I eventually left RAIPON.

But how did you end up abroad?

In February 2022, immediately after the start of the war, I was detained in St. Petersburg at a rally “AGAINST THE WAR IN UKRAINE” and taken to the police station. A day later, a trial took place and I was fined.

At the police station, they told me that we, the protesters, are enemies of the people, and Putin supports the actions of the police and they can do whatever they want with us. In the police station where I was, the policemen mocked us, did not let us drink. We also could not sleep, because. the cell of the police station was overcrowded. My friend brought me a package – food, water and clothes, but they didn’t let him in and they didn’t give me the package, and they didn’t let us see a lawyer from a human rights organization, where we managed to report our arrest. Some of the guys were beaten, they did not let an ambulance to them for a long time, which was eventually called only after 5 hours in the cage.

After I was released from the police and I came to the university, they began to threaten me with expulsion and prison, and RAIPON representatives called and wrote to my relatives also with threats. After this arrest and before leaving Russia, the police came to my house several times. They checked what I was doing, even on weekends.

A couple of days after the arrest, I also received a message from a person with the nickname “Criminalist”. She wrote to me on social networks with words of support, but I suspect that it was some kind of provocateur on the part of the security forces. As a result, I closed access for outsiders to my page. I think she was testing me for extremism. Later, I also learned that both the University and RAIPON sent a testimonial to the police department, where they described me in a negative way.

And by mid-March, it became known that in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian legislation was sharply tightened and that arrests at rallies would lead to criminal cases. Therefore, I decided to leave Russia. I bought tickets for the next flight and flew to Georgia. At the Moscow airport, the border guards searched me and my personal belongings, but let me out of the country.

Yes, but how did you end up in Germany?

Since March 16, 2022, I have lived in Georgia for a whole year. At first he was afraid to return because of his anti-war position. But then, when the mobilization began, I realized that the opportunity to be mobilized for war was added to this. Therefore, I applied to the German Embassy in Georgia in order to obtain a humanitarian visa. I told my story in an interview, showed documents that I was arrested, about police supervision and others. As a result, I received a humanitarian visa and flew to Germany.

Already when I was here, I received an invitation from the Bundestag to come to Berlin and tell my story.

Thanks Mark for sharing. I hope that in the future you will have the opportunity to live in safety and study the culture and language of your people, as you originally planned, even while in Germany.

03/30/2023, Berlin, Germany


Arctic Report 2022 : Focus on Russia and beyond

 In 2022 , the Covid-19 pandemic narrative which dominated headlines throughout the last two years was overshadowed by the Russian government’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine (also known as “a special military operation” among Russian circles).

The ongoing war has a knock-on effect beyond the two nations; it caused the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War, a shakeup of global trade blocs due to unprecedented sanctions imposed against Russia, reinvigoration of the transatlantic alliance, to name a few. The conflict has also triggered a major turmoil across Russia’s public itself by stirring up tensions between different society groups including the most invisible one – indigenous communities.

The Russian invasion influenced the country’s indigenous peoples on a range of fronts: through division and disruption of indigenous movement, censure and silencing of indigenous representatives who oppose the war, putting Arctic cooperation and partnerships in many critical spheres in jeopardy, etc.

As the Ukraine War rages, the following questions are being raised: How will the conflict play out for Russia’s/Arctic indigenous communities?What impact will it have on the state’s approach to indigenous peoples, and, more importantly, on the Arctic Council which has been perceived as the last of the major international platforms still functioning in which the Russian Federation remained an important partner?

“Arctic exceptionalism”- a mirage?

The Arctic Council is the pan-Arctic organization that includes the Arctic Eight, six indigenous organizations (known as Permanent Participants) and over 30 non-Arctic observers. The Council was once seen as an exceptional space for cooperation with the Russian Federation, removed from the pressures of great power politics, and has been in particular frequently described as a largely successful and unique model of governance where indigenous peoples are granted with equal rights together with the states.

What has changed?A week after Russia’s invasion of its neighboring country, the seven Arctic states (the US, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) announced a “pause” in its work. Later it was announced the Council would ‘implement a limited resumption of work on projects that do not involve the participation of the Russian Federation’. In the meanwhile, Russia who ironically holds the council’s two-year rotating chairmanship, will continue to do so in complete solitude until May 2023 when the position is expected to be passed to Norway.

Notably, decision to boycott the Arctic Council was taken by the seven states without consultation with the six Permanent Participants. For organizations representing the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, it can signal a tectonic shift in regional governance and put a hard-won prominence of indigenous voices in Arctic order in jeopardy.

Russia’s attack to Ukraine provoked a split among Arctic indigenous organizations themselves with the two-decades efforts to build up and strengthen relationships being torn down overnight. RAIPON, Russia’s indigenous non-governmental umbrella organization, openly aligned with the government and supported Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. In response, Saami Council, a cooperation body that brings together Russian, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Sámi, suspended formal relations with Russia’s organizations—the Kola Sámi in Murmansk Oblast. At the moment, Russian government turned Council indigenous agenda into the platform for aggressive propaganda under RAIPON flag.


Although the present conflict is not the outcome of centuries old hatreds but a war of choice and decision of one man, the signs of Russia’s rapid transformation into a pariah state were seen long before 2022. Country’s indigenous strategy approaches need to be therefore analyzed closely in relation to and as a part of a general trend of centralization of Russian policy. During the first two decades of the new century, dozens of new laws were adopted to strengthen the power vertical, control on society, mass media, non-governmental sector, etc. In varying degrees, it has affected all civil society sectors, including human rights’ defenders, ecologists, journalists and others. New regulations curtail freedom of press, criminal prosecution of organizations or its members, judiciary loses independence. The result of this transformation became a policy targeting economic modernization in the strong paternalistic state with focus on national interests and intolerance towards a critical civil society.

Since 2000, the power structure between the federal center and regions has shifted dramatically. Vladimir Putin and his elite initiated a series of reforms designed to (re)strengthen the position of the federal government vis-à-vis the regions. Under the firm rule of the newly created national political party United Russia, some autonomous areas were decimated or merged with bigger regions with idea to strengthen the controllability of the regions. Coupled with diminished political control of region, districts have not avoided changes in economic incentives neither. The federal government centralized the distribution of revenues from mining operations to tax away natural resources profits from the regions. Another feature of Putinism in line with weakening of regional powers is a growth of the political influence of big business and the rise of oligarchs (or oiligarchs as Etkind refers to them). Skyrocketed demand for natural resources has enabled a rapid advancement of the so-called “resource colonialism” defined as the rhetoric of development that benefits the extractive communities and “understood as economically driven discourses, programs, and policies promoting extractive activity” into the resource-rich Arctic region. Under Putin, strategic companies were subdued, many enterprises have become concentrated in the hands of the state, while control over strategic companies has been passed to a small number of people who had close ties to the President. Increased centralization and the reduction of regional powers have forced the governors to search strong economic partners who would compensate for their loss of economic and political resources. Big business, in turn, has come to rely on the support of the “friendly” governors to guarantee the preservation of their regional properties and provide then with preferential treatment. In 2004, the elections of governors were replaced by presidential appointments forcing business to create new forms of lobbying and channels to access to regional politicians. Powerful lobby of extractive industry and business representation in political structures are typically found in those regions where there are important business assets and where governors rely to a significant extent on the economic support of large enterprises. In this context, Arctic region has become the main platform and the backbone of big business.

During the turbulent 1990s indigenous activism was rather successful and was developing in line with the global trend of indigenous empowerment. Yet, somehow, 30 years later, as indigenous peoples were seemingly in control of their fate, they came to be, once again, outsiders, both politically and economically. After a brief moment of democratization in the 1990-2000s, indigenous hopes have been shattered by the government of Putin and thirsty-for-profit industries. The twenty-first century brought deforestation, pollution of water with industrial wastes, degradation of reindeer pastures and put Arctic diversity at risk. After dissolution of the USSR and transition to a market economy, Soviet laws lost the power and became ineffective, yet, with challenges multiplied, no alternative approach has been proposed either. In realities where the federal government does not deliver, regions are losing power, companies depend on authorities, indigenous population of the country finds itself alone. And although indigenous peoples and their lands and rights are often easily manipulated, their challenges are often left on the shelf.

Russian Chairmanship: Expectations and Unsolved Problems

In 2020, while countries around the world were fighting against the Covid-19, Russia’s apparatus was bound up in tactlessly changing its 1990s constitution. Indeed, for Kremlin, 2020 was a busy year to say the least: protests in Khabarovsk; the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny; deteriorated relations with the European Union; unrest in neighboring Belarus, uncertainty relations with the USA under the incoming Biden administration. The economic impact of the pandemic compounded by a decade-long period of near-zero growth and stagnation added the final flourish to the Russia’s 2020 outlook. And, against the background of growing social inequality, the government (yet again) praises Arctic programs to save the day. By fiercely pushing forward Arctic projects amid hopes of becoming the engines of national economy, Kremlin launched a series of measures targeting its indigenous peoples and Arctic region’s development:

  • Registry of Indigenous Peoples in Russia (January, 2020)
  • Federal Law On Government Support for Business Activities in the Arctic Area of the

Russian Federation (July, 2020)

  • Decree on Compensation for loss or damage to indigenous environment (September, 2020)
  • Standards for Arctic residents’ responsibility to indigenous peoples (September, 2020)
  • Strategy for the Development of the Russian Arctic Zone and Provision of National Security Through 2035 (October 2020)

In 2020 Russia was preparing to assume the two-year chairmanship of the intergovernmental Arctic Council; hence, the following initiatives were rushed through in record time and were mostly centered around environmental protection, sustainable development, and the “human dimension” as the priorities of the upcoming 2021-2023 Russian Chairmanship.

At a closer look, the “Strategy for the Development of the Russian Arctic Zone and Provision of National Security Through 2035” adopted in October 2020 essentially announces Arctic the platform and the backbone for big business. Support of the resource-based economy – a motto of the Strategy – effectively requires development of the regulatory system aimed at giving primacy to thirsty-for-profit industries whereas environmental and social costs of this priority scheme are largely omitted from the document. Although indigenous peoples were given a passing mention in the document on different occasions, no separate chapter dedicated to their specific development and rights has been included either.

Nonetheless, in order to comply with largely declarative yet necessary-for-international- approval standards for indigenous peoples’ wellbeing and demonstrate “adherence” to indigenous rights implementation, several decrees targeting indigenous groups in Russia were   adopted   this   year,   including   Decree   on   Compensation    for loss   or    damage to indigenous environment (September,   2020),   Federal   Law On Government   Support for Business Activities in the Arctic Area of the Russian Federation (July, 2020) and its article 28 on indigenous traditional activities in particular, Registry of Indigenous Peoples in Russia (January, 2020), etc.

Decree on Compensation for Loss or Damage to Indigenous Environment adopted in September 2020, was hoped to clearly define the process of calculating damage that an industrial project would potentially inflict on the native habitats of indigenous group including social, economic, environmental, and cultural costs (impact on language, way of life, etc.), compensation that should be paid, and, finally, lead up to the adoption of the federal law on ethnological expertise. Yet, the document turned out to be vague on who determined the damage, what was the established procedure, how and on what grounds the loss and damages were assessed. Rather successful regional experiences (the Law of the Republic of Sakha Yakutia “On Ethnological Expertise” adopted already in 2010) were left ignored.

As the Decree reads, compensation for loss is made based on the agreements to be signed between companies and regional councils of representatives of indigenous peoples. In practice, it means that authorities (in tandem with business) will play a key role in managing and allocating the benefits. While the state is the principal duty-bearer in relation to human (and indigenous) rights, its duty to protect against abuses of rights by third parties, including by business entities, has received limited attention in Russia. Instead, even when companies are required to pay compensation to indigenous inhabitants, negotiations are rare and limited in scope. If past experience is any guide, backed up by authorities, businesses are at liberty to weaken protection of indigenous rights to participate in decision-making and usually take full advantage of their position of strength in negotiations. Aspects of infrastructure and welfare are, hence, presented as gifts or limited to “ribbon-cutting” ceremonies while a desired support targeted at long-term sustainable development for the community is not even on the table. Instead of developing ground for responsive change and delivering sustainable economic benefits to indigenous communities, state policy reinforces their dependence on companies/patronage networks, whereas their basic and inherent rights are equated with charity.

Numerous amendments to indigenous laws and business exemptions initiated over the past decade reflect an increasing influence and powerful lobby of extractive industry in the country. To this day, in Russian realities revenue sharing from the industrial activity for negative effects of extraction on indigenous communities leaves a great deal to be desired.

Ultimately, the Decree hides a far bigger problem for country’s indigenous peoples: absence of land rights to their traditional territories. Land is owned by the state, and may be leased to companies and other users. While resource extraction has severe impacts on indigenous environment and livelihoods, no real protection is afforded by legislation.1 The preservation and revitalization of indigenous cultures depends on access to and control over their traditional territories; without land rights, indigenous people find themselves stuck in a legal, social and cultural limbo. These kind of legal provisions, in essence, extinguish original indigenous title to their territories and force communities to accept questionable monetary payouts for their unrecovered land, sell off nature, territory and potential for development, and finally surrender their rights as indigenous peoples.

Another long-awaited initiative, the Registry of Indigenous Peoples in Russia was intended to protect indigenous rights, make indigenous people eligible to receive state support, minimize corruption, stop misuse and reduce the number of fraud and abuses of the benefits’ and entitlements’ system.2 The need of a simple process to define and prove indigenous status was voiced repeatedly by numerous indigenous advocates and organizations in previous years. However, current measure was criticized for a complexity of documentation to be submitted and, more importantly, limitations by place of residence and occupation. As the current law reads, to enter the register, indigenous person must live within the confines of places of the traditional habitation (List of the places of traditional residence and traditional economic activities of Indigenous small- numbered peoples of the Russian Federation, 2009) and lead a traditional lifestyle (List of the types of traditional economic activities of Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Russian Federation, 2009) while no other sources of income other than traditional activities are permitted. Exclusion of indigenous people who pursue ‘non-traditional’ employment is a matter of obvious concern; in addition, many indigenous homelands where indigenous peoples live and work are not included in the official list of the traditional residence.

In general, when discussing issues of indigeneity, it can be observed that in Russia indigenous legal framework shapes indigeneity rather than the reverse. Indigeneity is factually dictated by country’s own version of “indigenous” politics and artificial bureaucratic circumscriptions. To start with, the Russian law does not employ a concept of “indigenous peoples”. Instead, it proposes its own definition of “indigenous small- numbered people” not known internationally and grants the status of “indigenous” to those groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life.

What is most remarkable is that the decrees such as the law on Registry of Indigenous Peoples is a clear reflection and continuation of the state policy of paternalism. The government itself decides for the indigenous peoples what they should do and where to live, takes on the task of deliberately confusing already complex and multilayered indigenous identities, ruling whether they are “incomplete” and necessarily causing a conflict between recognized and unrecognized groups. As a result, what we have now is a highly problematic indigenous identity that is inherently contested and devalued.

Not only that kind of policy facilitates the cultural rupture of Russia’s indigenous peoples and degrades indigenous voice, erosion of indigenous Self also plays into hands of politicians and business who use laws and affirmative action measures to render indigenous claims secondary. Permitted to celebrate solely cultural markers of their identity and confined in a certain “traditional” lifestyle”, indigenous peoples are not seen as a source of rights and political voice (even less – as rightholders), but as objects of outland exotic cultures and recipients of state support.

This is not to mention the irony of the law’s limitation by residence clause. It is notorious that the main reason why indigenous peoples do not live in their homelands is connected with the fact that for centuries indigenous peoples were deprived of the access to their traditional lands and resources; indigenous land loss is a cumulative impact and the result of systematic pressures and state policies, forced relocation, and environmental destruction by industrial development.

Lastly, Registry tracking process was given into hands of the Federal Security Service on the pretext of helping to fight extremism. Indigenous rights advocates fear, however, that these measures are intended to strengthen control on indigenous activists. In the light of a general trend of centralization of Russian policy, all civil society sectors are becoming a target for a closer state watch; during the first two decades of the new century, dozens of new laws were adopted to strengthen the power vertical, control on society, mass media, non-governmental sector, etc. Since the assertion of indigenous rights to ancestral land, territories and resources essential to their survival, is increasingly seen as a threat to Russia’s national resources development, indigenous peoples have currently been operating under the special attention of the intelligence services and state-controlled media.

What is missing?

Indigenous peoples comprise 15% of the total population of the Russian Arctic. Therefore, matters of region’s future cannot be discussed without their direct participation. Region’s indigenous communities should, by all means, have the same possibilities to decide on their development as all Arctic residents.

Reconciling indigenous and non-indigenous legal traditions in the country is a complex yet critical step in realization of indigenous rights. Instead of “fitting” indigenous peoples into existing system, this step inevitably requires the change of institutional arrangements and a control transfer from mainstream structures to indigenous institutions and actors. By constantly attempting to “upgrade” and “upscale” indigenous self- sufficient initiatives into its own version of “indigenous” politics, government apparatus tends to treat indigenous claims as something that only needs to be partially considered, without giving it any actual power or force in its own right. Legal framework must, hence, accommodate, advocate and even take on indigenous forms instead of getting in the way of implementation basic rights. The practice of indigenous rights’ must be in the control of indigenous people themselves.

For that matter, it is crucial to reframe the ways in which indigenous issues are discussed and handled. Governments and public institutions have failed to see that many social challenges experienced by indigenous peoples are often not about individualized failure but monumentally a legacy of government policies of displacement: physical (when they were denied access to their traditional territories), social and cultural (when they were forced to abandon traditional values), political (when they were forced to participate in structures, procedures and legal systems that are not of their own making). Repeated assaults on the culture and attacks on collective self-determination of indigenous groups targeted whole generations and weakened the foundations of indigenous society. That is why affirmative actions alone isn’t sufficient to counter all the wrongs of the past centuries. What is most urgently needed are rights.

Then, there is always a concern about the extent that governing structures within indigenous groups truly reflect the interests and concerns of the communities being governed. The implication is that the state must engage not only with formal indigenous representative bodies but also with grassroots community members in order to avoid cultivation of pro-government indigenous politicians and ensure representation of indigenous interests. To magnify indigenous voices, support of human rights and other justice organizations ready to stand up as an ally with indigenous people and advocates is also essential.

Conclusion: The False Promise of the Arctic Dream

Based on numerous legislative acts adopted in 2020-2021, it is actually hard to tell what exactly Russia’s current indigenous policy is being aimed at. While seemingly aimed at the conservation of certain elements of indigenous cultures and symbolic markers of national identity (folklore, museums, language, food, etc.), it takes the focus away from more substantive discussions regarding the reclamation of indigenous territories, livelihoods, natural resources, and self-government, and most importantly, from the discourse of rights per se.

Inclusiveness and empowerment has to be systemic, from the bill draft on down in order to be successful. Instead, indigenous issues are handled in the usual paternalist manner in hopes that the solution lies within short-term remedial provisions or ribbon cuttings. In no case will anyone expect that by narrowly framing indigenous rights and enacting laws focusing solely on a small fraction of what lies beneath (such as the state support on traditional cultures) would ensure equality or magically fix the actual challenges of indigenous peoples who have been structurally deprived of rights, power, privilege, voice and, on top of all, capacity to fight back.

Whereas before February 2022 country’s strong paternalism was tempered by the presence of international actors in the region, now the Russian state is relentlessly nullifying any progress made through deregulation and reassertion control over indigenous lands and resources. Under the circumstances, indigenous agency has found itself in organizational void and institutional capture incapable of developing self- defense mechanisms. The laws themselves have become yet another site that obstructs indigenous agency. Approved by the state with the aim to control, manage, and contain indigenous communities in designated areas, recently adopted laws render indigenous assertions of difference unsubstantial.

Delineation of indigeneity boundaries in Russia has become an entirely political process and is inevitably tied to benefits and who can access them. Instead of beginning to build (once again) a solid foundation to indigenous rights legal framework thoughtfully and wisely, country’s laws are finalized in a slapdash and at the end, remain unfulfilled promise but with more damage done. And of course, even the best articulated and detailed legislation becomes futile when the ability and intention to fully or even partially execute them is uncertain.

Both West and Russian observers tend to view the Arctic as a source of the Russia’s strength; in practice, it is more of a country’s blind side. The Arctic is threatened on all fronts, from climate change, toxic contamination, plastic pollution, and extractive industries’ projects.3 In response, Kremlin has cemented Arctic future with oil and gas. Condemned to remain a mere raw material colony, whose greatest treasure isn’t its residents, but resources, what Arctic (and the whole country) needs now in the absence of a powerful counterweight to state propaganda is better protection and, critically, bold politicians.

With Russia’s absolute certitude about the raw material extraction as the Arctic’s only

viable option, what will the future of the region look like?

Today (and for quite some time already), indigenous peoples’ rights in Russia is a sinking ship. Playing the role of the only source of Kremlin’s self-confidence, the Arctic’s and indigenous peoples’ (if not the whole country’s) fate looks merciless: identity devalued, wealth stolen, lands in peril, rights at an endless stalemate, freedom under assault and equality in retreat.

What is known today is that the Arctic is heading into dark times. The region lost its status as a space immune from political tensions and matters of security and militarization. Arctic Council lost one member and is currently considering how to adapt its work to the new reality. The Russian Federation lost its place in the Arctic Council and the partner status in a number of strategic spheres. Permanent Participants are losing their collective voice and a hard-won seat at the table. Russian indigenous peoples lost an important platform to address international community while RAIPON lost the legitimacy to represent indigenous voices of the country at all.

With the Arctic cooperation on shaky ground due to the Russian-Ukraine war – doubts are now being raised about what progress the Arctic Council can actually claim and even the organization’s right to life. A turning point that will determine the fate and the future trajectory of the Council including Permanent Participants and the whole Arctic region will be May, 2023.

Statement on Nornickel’s IRMA self-assessment

By a coalition of Indigenous Rights leaders and non-governmental organizations

Self-assessment demonstrates that Nornickel does not comply with international social and environmental standards
  • According to Nornickel’s own claims, the self-assessment found significant shortcomings with respect to environmental and social standards, preventing a desirable, higher rating within the IRMA standard
  • An international coalition of Indigenous Peoples, environmental and human rights organizations urges Nornickel to publish the results of its self-assessment and to clearly identify corrective actions

Russian mining company Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) announced in March 2023 that the company had completed a self-assessment against the IRMA (Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance) Standard. The self-assessment is an initial, necessary step to begin the assessment process under the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. IRMA has stated that it will not start any audit process in Russia until further notice due to Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.

However, Nornickel’s press release gives the mistaken impression that Nornickel’s compliance with the IRMA Transparency level is to be celebrated. However, IRMA Transparency is the lowest of IRMA’s four achievement levels. The IRMA Transparency achievement only requires that auditors assess performance and results are publicly shared. It does not require any compliance with the industry-leading social and environmental standards identified by IRMA.

Based on Nornickel’s public statements, it is not possible to identify which social and environmental standards the company does not meet. We can only say that Nornickel does not meet 50% of IRMA’s standards or critical requirements identified by IRMA. We request that Nornickel immediately publish the full and unedited self-assessment, which would be required to meet the IRMA Transparency standard, the review of the self-assessment by ENSOR Management Consultants, and Nornickel’s roadmap of corrective actions.  

In view of Nornickel’s historic misconduct and disregard for international standards in dealing with Indigenous Peoples, as well as the fatal environmental disasters for which Nornickel is responsible, we welcome any initiative by Nornickel to respect international environmental and social standards. This must become a matter of course, the proof of which must not depend solely on voluntary initiatives such as IRMA.

In particular, we are concerned that Nornickel does not respect the right of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). IRMA’s standard on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent and associated guidance provides specific approaches and benchmarks that must be followed to demonstrate compliance with FPIC. IRMA has also published a specific fact sheet about FPIC, which is recognized by IRMA as a Critical Requirement.   

Nornickel also has a history of causing environmental harm, including its 2020 diesel spill, in which over 20,000 tons of diesel fuel were spilled into waterways in the Russian Arctic.  Indigenous Peoples on Russia’s Taimyr Peninsula continue to complain about impacts to traditional fisheries resources – which they rely on for food – as a result of the spill.

Nornickel should not be satisfied with its self-assessment. Both Nornickel and ENSOR Management Consultants, which has independently reviewed the results, conclude that in the event of an independent IRMA audit, Nornickel would only achieve the lowest level of the IRMA standard, namely IRMA Transparency. This level is relatively easy to achieve: It is sufficient that an IRMA-certified audit has taken place, with the result and summary published. The next level is IRMA 50, where at least the critical requirements of IRMA must be substantially met. Nornickel has not found this to be the case for itself.

In view of obvious deficits in respecting basic environmental and social standards, Nornickel has announced corresponding “corrective actions” this year to raise the level of compliance with requirements of the IRMA standard. However, Nornickel does neither provide any information on which requirements nor what exactly is to be improved, let alone with which measures.  

We call on Nornickel to live up to its now own claim to transparency and also to publish the results of the self-assessment in full. IRMA’s Mine Measure tool also offers a function to grant selected stakeholders access to the results. Nornickel must also clearly communicate which deficits have been identified and which measures will be used to correct them. Meanwhile, it is important to remain vigilant about Nornickel’s actions towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility to ensure that Nornickel is changing its actions, not just its words.

“Nornickel always states that it complies with international standards,” said Pavel Sulyandziga, President of the Batani Foundation. “However, unfortunately, Nornickel misrepresents its efforts in order to gain recognition, and falsifying information remains part of Nornickel’s culture.  I know that in Russia, the government and business lie regularly to achieve their goals, but international auditors and companies should not be deceived by Nornickel’s falsehoods. I wish Nornickel management would start to actually respect the FPIC Principle, Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination, and transparency, rather than pretending that they comply with international standards when in practice they do not.”

When asked for context on the company’s claims, IRMA Executive Director, Aimee Boulanger, stated that companies may use IRMA’s self assessment tool to gain insight on ways to improve practices, and even may use that tool confidentially, but may not make claims of performance achievement until an IRMA approved independent audit is done. She went on to say “because Nornickel is publicly communicating about its self assessment results, I encourage the company to share its self assessment publicly as a way to engage with all Indigenous representatives about what they mean, when they say they ‘aspire to follow best practices in sustainability’, and to meet IRMA’s intention for transparency.”


Nornickel’s press release:

IRMA assessment and achievement levels:

  1. International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia
  2. International Indigenous Fund for development and solidarity “Batani”
  3. Cultural Survival
  4. Society for Threatened Peoples – Switzerland
  5. Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
  6. Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany
  7. Altai Project
  8. Indigenous Russia
  9. Saami Heritage and Development Foundation
  10. SIRGE Coalition
  11. First Peoples Worldwide
  12. Earthworks
  13. INFOE

Indigenous Peoples from 34 nations call for total ban on deep sea mining

Indigenous activists have made clear that they don’t give their consent to deep sea mining. In a petition presented today to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), over 1,000 signatories from 34 countries and 56 Indigenous groups called for a total ban on this destructive industry. 

Indigenous activists have made clear that they don’t give their consent to deep sea mining. In a petition presented today to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), over 1,000 signatories from 34 countries and 56 Indigenous groups called for a total ban on this destructive industry.

Addressing the delegates of the ISA this morning, Hawaiian Indigenous speaker and activist Solomon Kaho’ohalahala, offered the delegates a traditional chant and explained that in his culture’s genealogy all life comes from the deep sea: “the ocean is our country and we come from the deepest depths of the seas.” Following Solomon, Hinano Murphy from Blue Climate Initiative and Tetiaroa Society, asked governments to promote a ban on mining exploitation in the oceans with immediate effect.

The 28th Session of the ISA meeting resumed discussions in Kingston, where delegates will decide whether to adopt a precautionary pause and not approve any license applications for commercial mining of the  seabed or permit operations  to begin as early as this year. The talks in Kingston come shortly after the groundbreaking Global Oceans Treaty that provides a mechanism to protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.

“We are not in a position to add any new stress to our oceans by allowing deep sea mining to start. Overfishing, ocean pollution, and rising temperatures have already taken a huge toll on our high seas and we have done a poor job at mitigating these current stressors. So why are we even considering a new layer of destruction to an ecosystem that provides so much for us? We need to start giving back to our ocean, not deprive it of its wonders” said signatory Alanna Matamaru Smith from Te Ipukarea Society, who arrived on board Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise to participate as an observer in the ISA meeting.

The petition was presented to the ISA, where Indigenous activists made it clear that for millennia Pacific people have lived in a relationship with the natural world that is defined by respect, gratitude, and responsibility.

“We are calling for an immediate ban on deep sea mining because we need drastic changes in the way we manage our oceans. The threat of deep sea mining is huge. So our measures to protect the ocean and the life within it must also be huge. My people have lived in and around the ocean for generations. It’s who we are. We are the ocean and we must act now, said signatory Solomon Kaho’ohalahala, Hawaiian Indigenous speaker and activist.

According to the petition signers, Western culture’s relationship with natural ecosystems of land, sea and sky have proven to be deeply harmful for the environment.

The activists are challenging governments and the International Seabed Authority to enact a ban on Deep Sea Mining effective immediately.

Pacific activists from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Cook Islands, Tahiti, and Hawaii arrived in Kingston early last week onboard the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise.

They have been campaigning on deep sea mining but were not previously given a platform at the ISA meeting to express their views despite the significant impact the decision could have on shaping their future. They were joined in the ISA meetings by fellow activists from Fiji and Papua New Guinea.


‘Green colonialism’: Indigenous world leaders warn over west’s climate strategy

UN summit in New York hears how resources needed for sustainable energy threaten Indigenous land and people

World Indigenous leaders meeting this week at an annual UN summit have warned that the west’s climate strategy risks the exploitation of Indigenous territories, resources and people.

New and emerging threats about the transition to a greener economy, including mineral mining, were at the forefront of debate as hundreds of Indigenous chiefs, presidents, chairmen and delegates gathered at the 22nd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“It is common to hear the expression to ‘leave no one behind’. But perhaps those who are leading are not on the right path,” the forum’s chairman, Dario Mejía Montalvo, told delegates on Monday as the 12-day summit opened in New York in the first full convening since the pandemic outbreak.

The longtime advocacy group, Cultural Survival, in partnership with other organizations, highlighted how mining for minerals such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and copper – the resources needed to support products like electric car batteries – are presenting conflicts in tribal communities in the United States and around the world.

As countries scramble to uphold pledges to keep global warming to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels by 2030, big business and government are latching on to environmentally driven projects such as mineral needs or wind power that are usurping the rights of Indigenous peoples – from the American south-west to the Arctic and the Serengeti in Africa.

Let us not forget that climate is the language of Mother Earth

Dario Mejia Montalvo

Brian Mason, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian reservation in Nevada said that the 70 or so lithium mining applications targeting Paiute lands have come without free, prior and informed consent – what is considered the cornerstone of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He described the lithium extraction efforts as being on a “fast track” to supply the Biden administration’s net-zero strategy to create a domestic supply of EVs . “It’s kinda just being rammed down our throats,” he said. “At the cost of Indigenous peoples once again.”

During a special panel discussion, Edward Parokwa, executive director of the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organization (Pingo’s Forum), said a mass migration has ensued of thousands of Maasai violently displaced from their Tanzania homelands to make way for a luxury game reserve – and under suspicions and fear of mobile phone surveillance by the United Arab Emirates. A UAE-based company is believed to be behind the big game hunting operation. “And it’s happening in the name of conservation,” Parokwa said, accusing the Tanzanian government of trying to deflect global criticism for the project, particularly ahead of Cop28 UN climate talks slated for later this year in Dubai.

Attendees listen during the 22nd session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issue at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on 20 April 2023.
Attendees listen during the 22nd session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issue at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on 20 April 2023. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Gunn-Britt Retter of the Saami Council, an organization representing the Sami peoples of Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden, said she had been raising awareness about what she calls the “green colonialism” driving harmful sustainability projects on Sami and Indigenous lands. The most recent example has been the Fosen onshore windfarm that was built despite a supreme court ruling in Norway in defense of Sami reindeer herding grounds.

“They look to us to carry the heaviest burden and it’s a disproportionate part of the burden,” she said of Indigenous peoples caught in the middle of a climate conundrum. “We need to reduce CO2 emissions globally, and we need to seek alternative energy sources, but we also need to protect the Indigenous cultures because we are the guardians of nature, which is part of the solution.”

Mejía Montalvo, who belongs to the Zenú peoples of San Andrés Sotavento in Colombia, said global climate talks have failed to properly include Indigenous peoples, yet at the same time, such dialogue has relied on a well of Indigenous knowledge systems to imagine future climate goals. “The issue of climate change and biodiversity cannot be resolved without the real and effective participation of Indigenous peoples.”

He urged the 193 member states affiliated with the UN, as well as its international governing bodies, to set a quota for actions that guarantee Indigenous peoples can take part in decisions affecting our planet, and in a way that puts them “on equal footing” with states – meaning, voting power, which Indigenous peoples lack.

The most recent example of the disparity came last fall in the historic “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries reached at Cop27 in Egypt. Indigenous peoples lacked explicit reference in the agreement, despite many world leaders, including the US president, Joe Biden, acknowledging the importance of Indigenous peoples in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

But there has been progress. The rights-based Paris agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the environmental treaty to combat the climate crisis – has provided a rare opportunity for formal Indigenous participation in the creation of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform (LCIPP). The constituent body held its first meeting as a recognized working group in 2019, and engaged in dialogue with the Cop presidency last year in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Of the short cast of international leaders who spoke at the start of the global event on Monday was the first ever appearance by a UN secretary general, António Guterres, at a permanent forum opening ceremony. Also present was Deb Haaland, US interior secretary and tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, who received a standing ovation following her remarks where she acknowledged a litany of historic injustices against Indigenous peoples and a collective need to heal, saying Indigenous peoples must be brought into the fold in global human rights decision-making.

Lahela Mattos of Ka’Lāhui Hawai’i and a representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, urged the permanent forum chair to work with UN agencies like the World Health Organization to develop and implement comprehensive policies to better protect the safety of Indigenous women and girls as a way to protect the planet. “The destruction of and violence committed against our Earth Mother perpetuates, violence against Indigenous peoples, specifically Indigenous women who are protectors and bearers of life on this planet.”

The recommendation regarding “environmental violence” on Indigenous women and girls was first featured in a recent human rights treaty body outcome and represents one of the first fundamental links between human rights abuses and environmental catastrophe – a connection that most stakeholders grappling with the climate crisis have yet to make.

“Let us not forget that climate is the language of Mother Earth,” said Mejía Montalvo.


The Catastrophe Behind Jokowi’s Investment Invitation to European Companies

Indonesia’s Ambition to Become a Big Player of Electric Vehicles

Profit for Industry Players, Profit for the People

President Jokowi’s ambition to make Indonesia a big player in electric vehicles is a big threat to the safety of citizens and the environment in the Sulawesi and Maluku Islands, to West Papua. Furthermore, the accelerated production of electric vehicles will also trigger an expansion in the demolition of coal-rich islands, such as Kalimantan.

As is known, President Jokowi has held a business meeting with three giant companies from Europe, starting from BASF, Eramet, to Volkswagen on Sunday, April 16, 2023, German time.

BASF—a company engaged in the chemical sector, will partner with a French multinational mining and metallurgical company, Eramet, to build a factory in favor of raw materials for electric batteries in Central Halmahera, North Maluku.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen through its subsidiary, PowerCo, will invest by collaborating with PT Vale Indonesia (INCO), US car manufacturer Ford Motor Co, and Zheijiang Huayou Cobalt from China to build an electric vehicle battery ecosystem in South Sulawesi. In addition, PowerCo will invest with other portfolios together with Eramet and Kalla Group for the development of the electric vehicle ecosystem, as well as working with Merdeka Copper (MDKA) for a nickel downstream project into electric batteries.

Eramet’s Awful Footprints in Central Halmahera
The investment plan from BASF, which cooperates with Eramet, with an investment value of up to US$ 2.6 billion (Rp 38.39 trillion) to build an electric vehicle battery industry in North Maluku. In addition, BASF and Eramet claim to implement industrial practices that pay attention to ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) aspects.

In fact, instead of implementing ESG in its operations, Eramet itself has a dirty footprint in its investment in Indonesia, particularly in nickel mining and smelters.

Since 2006, Eramet acquired PT. Weda Bay Nikel (WBN) and started exploring in the Weda Bay area, Central Halmahera Regency, North Maluku, in collaboration with PT. ANTAM. In 2008, Weda Bay Nickel began acquiring community land at a price of only Rp. 2,500 to Rp. 9,000 per square meter. During the land acquisition process, PT. IWIP field officers were suspected of frequently manipulating the land area of residents to reduce costs from the company.

Until 2017, Eramet collaborated with Tsingshan Group from China to form a joint company PT. Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP) to manage nickel mining and processing in Weda Bay.

The process of land grabbing for the development of the PT. IWIP industrial area is also going fast, out of control. Residents’ lands in Lelilef Sawai Village and Gemaf Village, which were full of nutmeg, clove, coconut and langsa crops, were confiscated by the company. Residents who refused to have their land released were intimidated and criminalized, one of which was experienced by Hernemus, a resident of Lelilef Sawai who was jailed for a year in 2013. Hernemus was accused of making threats against company employees who carried out land grabbing.

IWIP’s activities have also polluted four rivers which are the main water sources for residents, namely Ake Wosia, Ake Sake, Seslewe Sini and Kobe. The same goes for the coastal and marine areas that were destroyed by PT. IWIP’s activities. The dam where PT. IWIP’s B3 waste was stored in Lelilef Village, Weda Tengah District, burst and allegedly spilled into the sea on January 30 2022. In addition, Lolaro sea waters, near PT. IWIP area, one of the fishermen’s fishing areas, since the operation of PT. IWIP, fisherwomen are experiencing difficulties due to diminishing fish because mining waste from land clearing pollutes the sea.

WBN’s mining activities in forest areas are also a cause of flooding which keeps recurring every year. The worst thing happened on September 8, 2021, a major flood submerged the houses of residents in Lelilef Woebulen and Trans Kobe in Central Weda District.

Expansion of the mining area by PT. WBN has also exiled the indigenous people group O’hongana Manyawa or Tobelo Dalam. One of them occurred in Ake Jira, a forest that is home and sacred to Tobelo Dalam, which was annexed by a company to expand the nickel demolition area.

Vale’s Awful Footprint in South Sulawesi
In the meantime, Volkswagen through PowerCo will invest in the construction of a nickel smelter with High Pressure Acid Leaching (HPAL) technology in South Sulawesi for the production of electric vehicle battery components. PowerCo will cooperate with PT. Vale Indonesia, Ford and Huayou Group from China. Of course, this investment cannot be separated from the dirty footprint of the electric vehicle industry, especially PT. Vale and Huayou Group, which risk the safety of residents in East Luwu, South Sulawesi and Pomalaa, Kolaka, Southeast Sulawesi.

In 2018, PT Vale’s activities caused Lake Mahalona to be heavily polluted due to sedimentation of ex-mining soil. Until now, the mud is still in Lake Mahalona and triggers siltation of the lake. In August 2021, PT. Vale’s operations also polluted the waters of Mori Island, PT Vale’s Sulfur spilled and polluted the coast and Mori Island.

In 2016, PT Vale allegedly seized agricultural land and damaged the pepper plantations of the people of Asuli Village, Towuti District, East Luwu. At that time, PT Vale promised to provide the community with a temporary economic program, until the community received restoration of their economic and social rights, in accordance with PT Vale Indonesia’s standard of protection. However, at present, the compensation, alternative economy and restoration of socio-economic rights that were promised by PT Vale Indonesia to nearly 200 heads of families in Asuli Village have not been realized.

Moreover, PT. Vale criminalized seven activists and the indigenous people around the mine in March 2022. The criminalization of these residents began when the indigenous people around the mine held a demonstration demanding PT. Vale’s accountability for nickel mining activities on the community’s customary land. The community also demands PT. Vale Indonesia to make public data regarding the CSR programs that have been carried out by the company’s management.

Continue to Dredge Coal in the Name of Low Emission Electric Vehicles
Ironically, all the devastation associated with the electric vehicle industry above, is covered by the mask of a low-carbon, environmentally friendly and sustainable label. In fact, to supply energy at the nickel smelter that produces electric vehicle battery components, it takes millions of tons of coal dredged from Kalimantan’s forests, sacrificing residents and their living space.

For PT. IWIP’s operational needs in Central Halmahera, for example, the company is building a coal-fired power plant with a total capacity of 750 MW. It powers up larger than the capacity of one of the main power plants in Java, PLTU Cilacap, which has a capacity of 700 MW.

The same is the case with PT. IMIP, a subsidiary of the Tsingshan Group in Morowali Regency, Central Sulawesi. For its operations, PT. IMIP requires a coal supply of up to 9 million metric tons annually to operate a PLTU with a capacity of up to 3,200 MW.

This situation is exacerbated by the provisions in Presidential Regulation No. 112 of 2022 concerning the Acceleration of Renewable Energy Development for the Provision of Electricity. Even though this Presidential Decree regulates the early retirement of coal-fired power plants, this Presidential Decree also provides privileges by still allowing the construction of new coal-fired power plants that are integrated with industries that are built oriented towards increasing added value or smelters for processing mining products.

The pace of investment in the electric vehicle battery sector, coupled with various policy incentives to continue building this coal-fired power plant, will further place areas where coal extraction sites, such as Kalimantan, are in a prolonged socio-ecological crisis.

In our opinion, President Jokowi’s invitation to invest in a number of giant companies from Europe, is not in the framework of the welfare of local residents, on the contrary, it is a source of new disaster for residents and their living space.

This fantastic value investment will only add to the profits for business industry players, including a handful of Jakarta’s political elite who are directly or indirectly involved in the investment chain for the electric vehicle ecosystem in Indonesia.

Contact Person:

Adlun Fiqri – Local People of Central Halmahera – +62 813-1401-2618
Muhmamad Al Amin – Director of WALHI South Sulawesi – +62 822-9393-9591
Ki Bagus Hadi Kusuma – JATAM – +62 857-8198-5822
Melky Nahar – JATAM – +62 813-1978-9181


Scramble for clean energy metals confronted by activist calls to respect Indigenous rights

  • At the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous peoples in New York, mining for critical minerals is at the top of the agenda as the push for the clean energy transition gains steam worldwide.
  • Indigenous leaders are calling on countries and companies to create binding policies and guidelines requiring the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of communities over clean energy mining projects that seek to explore and extract these minerals on their lands or in ways that affect their livelihoods.
  • Such binding policies will be very difficult for government, companies and investors to abide by, says an executive, as it gives communities the capability to decline on highly-profitable projects and strategies part of national energy transition goals.
  • Indigenous leaders also highlight FPIC as a framework for partnership with such projects, including options for equitable benefit-sharing agreements or memorandum of understanding, collaboration or conservation.

NEW YORK — When Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, spoke at the 22nd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, he listed clean energy projects as some of the most concerning threats to their rights.

“I constantly receive information that Indigenous Peoples fear a new wave of green investments without recognition of their land tenure, management, and knowledge,” said Calí Tzay.

His statements — and those made by other delegates — at what is the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous peoples, made clear that without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people, these green projects have the capacity to seriously impede on Indigenous rights.

FPIC has always been an important topic at the UNPFII, but this year it’s taken on a renewed urgency.

“The strong push is because more and more of climate action and targets for sustainable development are impacting us,” said Joan Carling, executive director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an Indigenous non-profit that works to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide. Indigenous people around the world are experiencing the compounding pressures of clean energy mining projectscarbon offsets, new protected areas and large infrastructure projects on their lands as part of post-COVID-19 economic recovery efforts, according to The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) 2023 report.

As states around the world trend towards transitioning to clean energy to meet their national and international climate goals, the demand for minerals like lithium, copper and nickel needed for batteries that power the energy revolution are projected to skyrocket. The demand could swell fourfold by 2040 and by conservative estimates, pull in $1.7 trillion in mining investments. Although Indigenous delegates say they support clean energy projects, one of the issues is their land rights: more than half of the projects extracting these minerals currently are on or near lands where Indigenous peoples or peasants live, according to an analysis published in Nature.

A cobalt mine in central Africa.
A cobalt mine in central Africa. Image by Fairphone via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

This can either lead to their eviction from territories, loss of livelihoods or the deforestation and degradation of surrounding ecosystems.

“And yet […] we are not part of the discussion,” said Carling. “That’s why I call it green colonialism — the [energy] transition without the respect of Indigenous rights is another form of colonialism.”

However, standing at the doorway of a just clean energy transition is FPIC, say Indigenous delegates. FPIC is the cornerstone of international human rights standards like the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the International Labor Organization Convention 169 (ILO Convention 169). Though more than one hundred countries have adopted UNDRIP, this standard is not legally binding. It is rather an instrument to interpret national laws. ILO Convention 169 is legally binding, but only to the 24 states that have ratified the convention.

Because of this, delegates are calling on countries and companies to create binding policy and guidelines that require FPIC for all projects that affect Indigenous people and their lands, as well as financial, territorial and material remedies for when companies and countries fail to do so. According to Carling, this will be the mandatory inclusion of FPIC in international standards such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and putting more pressure on national governments to implement policy reforms that include accountability.

However, there is undoubtedly some pushback. The free prior, informed consent process can lead to a wide variety of outcomes, including the right for communities to decline a highly profitable project, which can often be difficult for countries, companies, and investors to abide by, explains Mary Beth Gallagher, the director of engagement of investment at Domini Impact Investments, who spoke at a side event on shareholder advocacy.

Indigenous Sámi delegates from Norway drew attention to their need for legally enforceable FPIC protection as they continued to protest the Fosen Vind project farm that the country’s Supreme Court ruled was violating their rights. “We have come to learn the hard way that sustainability doesn’t end colonialism,” said a Sámi delegate during the main panel on Tuesday.

In the United States, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the People of Red Mountain, and members of the Fort McDermitt Tribe filed lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management for approving the permits for an open-pit lithium mine without proper consultation with the tribes. In the Colombian Amazon, the Inga Indigenous community presented a successful appeal for lack of prior consultation from a Canadian company that plans to mine copper, molybdenum, and other metals in their highly biodiverse territory.

Consternation over governments and multinational companies setting aside FPIC has long extended over other sectors, like conservation and monoculture plantations for key cash crops. In Peru, the Shipibo-Konibo Indigenous people are resisting several large protected areas that overlap with their territory and were put in place without prior consultation. In Tanzania and Kenya, the Maasai are being actively evicted from their landsfor a trophy hunting and safari reserve. Indigenous Ryukyuan delegates condemned the ongoing use of their traditional lands and territories by the Japanese government and the United States military for U.S. military bases without their free, prior, and informed consent.

Eyes on the private sector

While delegates put a lot of emphasis on the lack of FPIC, they put equal emphasis on FPIC as a crucial part of the long-term sustainability of energy projects.

“FPIC is more than just a checklist for companies looking to develop projects on Indigenous lands,” said Carling. “It is a framework for partnership, including options for equitable benefit sharing agreements or memorandum of understanding, collaboration or conservation.”

Mother and son harvest lemons from their plantation in Chile. This family of farmers obtained 10 solar panels, from the “Solar Energy Project for Farmers” provided by CONADI (National Corporation for Indigenous Development). Image by IMF Photo/Tamara Merino.

The focus of this year’s conference has emphasized the growing role of FPIC in the private sector. Investors and developers are increasingly considering the inclusion of FPIC into their human rights due diligence standards. Select countries such as Canada have implemented UNDRIP in full, although First Nation groups pointed out irregularities in how it is being implemented. The EU is proposing including specific mandatory rights to FPIC in its corporate sustainability due diligence regulation. Side events at the UNPFII focused on topics like transmitting FPIC Priorities to the private sector and using shareholder advocacy to increase awareness of FPIC.

Gallagher of Domini Impact Investments says companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, which includes FPIC. “If they have a human rights commission or they have a commitment in their policies not to do land grabs, we have to hold them to account for that.”

In 2021, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, published an expectation that companies “obtain (and maintain) the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for business decisions that affect their rights.” Large banks like Credit Agricole have included FPIC in their corporate social responsibility policy. But in most cases, even when companies have a FPIC policy, it doesn’t conform to the standard outlined in UNDRIP and is not legally binding.

“It doesn’t do the work it’s supposed to do to protect self-determination. It becomes a check-the-box procedure that’s solely consultations and stakeholder consultation instead of protection of rights and self-determination,” says Kate Finn, director at First Peoples Worldwide.

Lithium mine at Salinas Grandes salt desert Jujuy province, Argentina. Image courtesy of Earthworks.

If communities aren’t giving their consent, the company has to respect that, says Gallagher. “There’s obviously points of tension where investors have different agendas and priorities but ultimately, it’s about centering Indigenous leadership and working through that.”

Not properly abiding by FPIC can be costly to companies in countries that operate where it is a legal instrument. It comes with risks of losing their social operation to license, and financial damages. According to a study First Peoples Worldwide, Energy Transfer Partners and banks that financed the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline, lost billions due to construction delays, account closures, and contract losses after they failed to obtain consent from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the United States.

Ultimately, Indigenous people need to be part of decision-making from the beginning of any project, especially clean energy projects mining for transition minerals on their territories, said Carling. “For us, land is life, and we have a right to decide over what happens on our land.”