Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Dolgan Indigenous Peoples and Oil and Gas Development in Russia

The Dolgan (meaning "people living on the middle reaches of the river") indigenous peoples of the Arctic are experiencing many challenges in the face of climate change and the growing drive in Russia to exploit Arctic oil, gas, and coal deposits. Descendants of several Evenki clans (Tungus speaking peoples), who later adopted a dialect of the Turkic-speaking Yakut, the Dolgan indigenous peoples currently form the basic population of the Taymyr Autonomous Okrug (Province) of Russia. Their population is believed to be around 5,500, although there are no recent figures.

Migrating from the southwest to their present area of residence in the eighteenth century because of activities in the former Russian empire, they traditionally were nomadic reindeer herders and hunters. Under the Soviet regime they were strongly encouraged to abandon traditional lifeways - especially nomadism. In 1930 the Taimyr, or Dolgan-Nenets National Territory, was proclaimed and the traditional tribal councils were liquidated, and new territorial councils were formed. At the same time the process of collectivization was begun. The result was the complete destruction of the Dolgans' traditional economy and currently the Dolgan indigenous peoples subsist on agriculture and dairy-farming.

However, their current homeland along the Yenisey and Lena Rivers in Arctic Russia is also the area of growing oil and gas exploration and drilling. The Yenisey River - the largest to drain into the Arctic Ocean - starts high in the Mongolian Plateau and widening further down. This remote region (Tunguska - Тунгуска) is most famous for the 1908 meteorite impact, but is now being explored for oil and gas. As Russia has recently noted, there are plans to construct several new, large hydrocarbon-producing centers in the Lena-Tunguska oil- and gas-bearing province. In the Lena-Tunguska basin of the Siberian-platform, a Large Yurubchen-Tadhom zone of oil and-gas accumulation has been discovered in the sub-salt formations, with-the Yurubcheri and Omorin fields containing the aggregate reserves of more than 1 trillion meters of gas and about 300 million tons of oil.

The Dolgan indigenous peoples are not part of this process, and are largely being left out of any discussions about development of the region and their homeland. Another development project taking place in the region involves tapping into the huge coal reserves found under the ground to feed the growing Russian energy needs. Again, with little say from the Dolgan indigenous peoples.

How the impacts of this new development impacts the Dolgan indigenous peoples is still unknown. Because much of their lifeway depends on continued access to large areas of good land for reindeer herding, it is thought that if major oil and gas development does take place traditional pastoral practices will no longer be viable. However, there is little stopping Russia from continuing with this development as indigenous peoples in Russia have comparatively few rights. One organization working to amend this is RAIPON. RAIPON was created in 1990 at the First Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the North. The Association was originally called the "Association of Peoples of the North of the USSR" and united 26 indigenous groups of the North. On November 24, 1993 the Association was registered as public political movement “Association of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of Russian Federation” and on July, 1999 it was reregistered at the RF Ministry of Justice as All-Russia public organization and received the registration number 2174.

Do you know of any other organizations working to help the Dolgan indigenous peoples or other indigenous peoples in Russia? If so, leave a comment and add them.

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