"Economic Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II

Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved

Conflict or Compromise?
Traditional natural resource use and oil exploitation
in northeastern Sakhalin/Noglikskii district

Emma Wilson


Local Populations
The Native question in Noglikskii district is a particularly complex one. The official policies of assimilation during the Soviet era - based on ideology and carried out through collectivisation and sedentarisation programmes - have today been replaced by a broadly accepted assumption of assimilation based on public demands for equal rights for all (e.g. Davydenko, 1999). This takes the form of an official and public denial of indigenous claims to special status (e.g. Psiagin, 1999) that finds resonance with the local non-Native populations, especially the long-term residents.
The percentage of Native people in the total population of Noglikskii district is relatively low. According to the district administration, of a total of 14,700 population in Noglikskii district, 1,086 people or 7.4% of the population are indigenous (including those of mixed parentage). Of these, 205 live in rural settlements. *1  There are about 17 reindeer herders (Uil'ta, Evenki) who live in the forest in winter and on the shores of the eastern bays in summer. There are also about 15 Nivkhi and at least one Russian (married to a Nivkh woman), who live permanently on the shores of the Okhotsk sea and north-eastern bays and depend on fishing for their livelihoods.*2
According to the Federal Law of 30th April 1999 "On the Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation," indigenous people include those who: (i) live on the territories where their ancestors traditionally lived; (ii) preserve the original way of life and economic activities of their forebears; (iii) number in Russia less than 50 thousand; (iv) consider themselves an independent ethnic community. The law also includes those non-Native people who live a traditional lifestyle on traditional Native lands (Article 3). Essentially, no-one denies the special rights of those people involved in subsistence fishing, hunting and reindeer herding, and official regulatory organs make special efforts to accommodate the needs of these people. However, the question of whether the indigenous semi-urban populations of Nogliki satisfy the above criteria, and can therefore make any claims on the basis of this law, is hotly debated. "The problem for the Native people of Nogliki is proving that we exist" (Mongush, 1999).
The situation is compounded by the fact that support for indigenous rights, while fairly strong at a national level, decreases with distance from Moscow. The long-awaited appearance of the law "On the Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation" gave a significant boost to those fighting for indigenous rights, but it is a framework law and needs to be filled out with appropriate legislation at the regional and local levels. Article 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees the rights of Native people according to international norms and principles, while article 73 "m" acknowledges the responsibility of the federal and regional governments to protect the traditional environment and livelihoods of indigenous populations. Article 12 of the Sakhalin Regional Statutes (Ustav) (1995) echoes this, while article 20 confirms the representative of northern Native people in the Sakhalin regional parliament and article 76 confirms the responsibility of the regional and local authorities to set aside territories of traditional natural resource use (TTPs), to allow use of these without payment and to give priority in agreements and for licences for use of renewable natural resources.
However, at the local level, the Noglikskii District Statutes (1999) do not provide an adequate foundation to address issues of Native rights or TTPs. Furthermore, the job of "Specialist in Native issues" in the local administration was dissolved in 1998. There is a strong lobby in the local administration and the local district assembly (including the deputy head of the local assembly who is a Nivkh himself) which claims that since the Native people of Nogliki, who live in houses and flats like the rest of the population, cannot be considered indigenous, there can be no talk of Native rights to land, resources or social privileges in the district as a whole. Thus legislative and political support for Native rights effectively comes to a halt at the district level. This is largely related to the desperate need for the district as a whole to survive, given the absence of support from the federal and regional governments.
In fact the issues relating to the indigenous populations and traditional natural resource use - especially those that relate to conflict with the oil and gas industry - extend beyond the scope of the law "On the Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation." Native people living in semi-urban centres may not live traditional lifestyles, but they still depend heavily on the natural resources of the local area; their diets depend on fish - probably more so than the non-Native diets; many are involved in fishing as an occupation (very few are involved in hunting). At the same time, many Russians who are second and third generation settlers in the district consider themselves as "indigenous" as the Native populations. Many of them hunt and fish, have an in-depth knowledge of the land, depend on the natural resources for their livelihoods and are not planning to move away anywhere. Many Russians are suffering extreme poverty in the same way as many of the Native residents. Therefore the issue of fish quotas, priority licences and other special privileges for the Native population are a source of some division and resentment among the local populations.
In many cases, when talking about the effects of the oil industry in general and the off-shore oil developments in particular, it is important to consider the local population as a whole and the overall pattern of natural resource use represented by the activities of all sections of the population.
On the other hand there are specific issues relating to the Native populations that have historically not been resolved and are important issues today, from a socio-economic as well as from a psychological viewpoint. Within living memory, many of the Nivkh people lived in Native villages (e.g. Venskoe, Nyivo) on the shores of the northeastern bays. In the 1950s and 1960s they were forced to move to Nogliki, and thus their ties with their lands and fishing areas were broken. Many have found it very difficult to overcome the trauma of removal, and to get used to life in the major settlement. Reindeer herders refuse to move to a settled life in the villages and continue to lead their traditional way of life despite the total collapse of State support, the non-payment of salaries, the non-profitability of their occupation, and the continuing loss of reindeer to poachers and reindeer pastures to forest fires, oil extraction, geological explorations, road building and pipeline construction. It is estimated that 90% of summer pastures have been lost over the past 70 years to fires and industrial encroachment (Roon, 1999). Two pipelines from the Sakhalin off-shore projects are planned to cut across the remaining pastures, though the final routes have yet to be finalised.
Historically, there is a great deal of resentment towards the non-indigenous population that came into the region and took over the resource management and administration of Native lands, without the agreement of the indigenous land users themselves. A major problem here, as in other oil-producing regions of Siberia, is the question of land rights - officially allocating land for traditional use - and payment of compensation for lands already destroyed by the oil industry (Roon, 1999).
Another factor that particularly affects the Native communities is the education system under the Soviets. Most of the Native population was educated in the boarding school (Internat). This system split families, forced children not to speak their Native language and made them dependent on the State to provide everything from regular meals to clean bed-linen. The "rolling back" of the State has hit all populations in Russia hard, but the Native populations more so. "They were cradled in the arms of the State and have now been cast to the winds of fate."*3
The Native people themselves claim that they are not good at adapting to the new conditions. This is particularly a problem for the men - the women are generally more adaptable and less inclined towards alcoholism. The profession of reindeer herder (Uil'ta and Evenki) used to be prestigious and reindeer herders could support their families. Now many have lost their jobs, while the remaining herders are barely able to survive due to the withdrawal of State support. The occupation has lost not only prestige, but also dignity.
Jobs available in the fishing industry are often taken now by non-Natives. The collective fishing enterprise "Vostok" which used to have the status of "ethnic enterprise (natsional'noe predpriiatie)," due to the representation of indigenous workers, employs only about 26% of indigenous workers, and is run by outside managers. The director is from southern Sakhalin and his second in command is from St. Petersburg. However this is not unusual for the enterprise, whose directors have historically been outsiders. The indigenous population has rarely produced its own leaders and managers. As one Nivkh mother commented: "Competition for fishing jobs is hard for our young men, as the Russians tend to be physically stronger, more ambitious and generally more reliable workers."*4  There is also a tendency for the non-Native population to be prejudiced towards the Native population, resentful of past State nannying and present-day privileges.
The oil industry also does not provide significant job opportunities for the Native populations of the district. The local branch of Sakhalinmorneftegas, for example, employs about 1,350 people in Noglikskii district of which only 6-7 are indigenous. The men have mechanical jobs, the women tend to work as cleaners.*5  The small number of jobs available to local populations in the new off-shore projects (mostly in the service industry) are offered on the basis of equal competition. Many of the indigenous populations do not have the skills to compete for these jobs. Technical jobs require special training; clerical jobs generally require good English language skills, which many don't have. In the service industry serving Molikpaq, there is only one indigenous (woman) employee. The development of the off-shore oil and gas projects is unlikely to create meaningful employment for the Native populations of Noglikskii district.
Sakhalin's Native people, in a relatively recent period of time, have lost the State support they relied on, their lands, their roots, their language and the dignity of being meaningfully employed in their traditional economic activities. Alcoholism (widespread now among the young, too) is both a cause and a consequence of serious socio-economic dislocation. While alcoholism is a serious problem for the non-Native population as well, it is probably more serious for Native people, who are naturally less resistant to alcohol.
A major problem for the Native population is the level at which these issues are discussed. Very few Native representatives write in the local press (and these are generally Nivkh residents of Nogliki), still fewer write at a national or international level. The two most prolific Nivkh writers on these questions have occupied extreme and opposite positions and polarise the debate into "all lands to the Nivkh people" and "there are no Nivkh people." This undermines the position of Sakhalin Native people at a local and regional level, compounding the lack of support from officials.
Traditional natural resource use is struggling to survive in the present economic climate, but there is a movement today, including young Native residents and long-term Russian residents, that is attempting to revive these activities within the modern context (traditional fishing enterprises, tourism and hunting programmes to supplement reindeer herding, etc.). This provides some hope for a broadening of the local economic base, focusing on renewable resource use and providing employment for indigenous workers.
However, the tendency today is still strongly towards developing non-renewable resource use, which does not provide much hope for indigenous populations. The off-shore oil and gas developments threaten lands and waters used for traditional activities. What is more, they are unlikely to bring significant financial benefits to the local (indigenous and non-indigenous) populations who will be immediately affected. If efforts are not made to influence the projects, the indigenous people of Sakhalin will simply be assimilated and forgotten, while Sakhalin's northern communities as a whole will drift into poverty and those people who can will move away (the Native citizens are unlikely to). There have already been plans to make northern Sakhalin into a development zone based on shift work.
At the national and international levels it has taken the multinational off-shore oil developments to draw attention to the plight of Sakhalin's indigenous minorities. While this is a tragic irony, it may prove a final opportunity for them to define themselves and determine the path of their future development. The path will not be easy, particularly given the acute economic crisis that forms a backdrop to their struggle. This economic crisis frames the fate of the entire population, therefore many of the economic issues facing the district as a whole should be addressed in "partnership" with the local non-indigenous populations.
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