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Russia: Indigenous Evenks to be treated as poachers on their ancestral land

The Evenks of Zeya district might be soon left without their hunting grounds, where they have lived and hunted for many generations. As reported by "Amur.info", the lease of the indigenous obshchina (community-based cooperative) "Yukte" expired in November 2014, meaning that in order to continue they would have to pay six and a half million roubles (more than 105,000 US Dollars) for their hunting grounds, money which they don’t have. Earlier this year, the Deputy Chair of the regional Association of indigenous peoples Elena Kolesova met with the vice chair of the regional government Vladislav Bakumenko, who, however, failed to offer any remedies.

A s Elena Grigorievna told the correspondent of Amur-info, in Soviet times, when the kolkhoz (state collective farm) "Udarnik" still existed, it held a lease over 3.6 million hectares of hunting grounds. Back then, the Evenks held a license for 49 years. After the kolkhozes were disbanded, the indigenous people of Zeya district established their obshchina which they called "Yukte".

In 2009, on the basis of the revised law on hunting, the community received a lease for hunting grounds. Only, this time it covered just one third of their previous territory: 1.26 million hectares, and a period of only five years. The remaining Evenk ancestral territories were given to a private company named “OOO Bomnak” for 25 years. On 18 May, 2012, the Ministry of the Environment issued a decree according to which the Evenks are now required to rent their own hunting grounds for a fee under conditions no different from those applying to commercial business enterprises. According to Kolesova, rates are established by each region of the Russian Federation individually. "In the Amur region, lawmakers agreed to charge 5 roubles per hectare. In other regions between one and three roubles are charged", Elena Kolesova said .

Meanwhile, it was claimed in the Amur “White House”, the seat of the regional parliament, that the rates are determined neither by the regional, by Federal lawmakers, but instead by a the decree of the Russian government dated 30 June 2010.

The Evenk obshchina "Yukte" has no such money to cover the lease fees. Moreover, due to legal amendments in recent years, the indigenous inhabitants of these lands no longer have legally ensured preferential treatment in obtaining land use rights. Instead, their hunting grounds will be put on a public auction, and they have to submit their bids just as everyone else. In 2009, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) had recommended to the Russian Government to restore the indigenous peoples’ right of preferential access to territories and resources in a number of legislative acts, however, Russia failed to comply to take according action.

"Having tenure of the hunting grounds is what gives us the opportunity to obtain licenses for hunting Sables and selling their skins. Right now, the price for a sable fur is to two thousand roubles (32 US Dollars), down from five thousand (80 US Dollars). Nonetheless, sable hunting provided us with the opportunity to earn a living. During one season, a hunter can yield 20 to 30 skins," said Elena Kolesova.

Already now, she says, Evenks are being caught while hunting and accused of poaching. The lease to the hunting ground held by the community has expired, but their collective hunting license is still valid until the end of the season. Documents from the regional authorities confirm that the community members of “Yukte” still have valid hunting licenses.

What happens next is unknown. Theoretically the Evenk hunters could obtain personal licenses for shooting sable. But to obtain a license, everyone would have to make the journey from Bomnak village to the distant regional capital Blagoveshchensk, and they would to pay individually for it.

"They will not go”, - says Elena Kolesova. “And thus they will be considered poachers on their ancestral land". The meeting with the Chairman of the regional government did not help to improve the situation of the Evenks of Zeya district a bit. Everything that has happened to "Yukte" (and to other Evenk communities along the Amur river, as well as to other indigenous minority peoples of Russia), is in full accordance the law. "Legislation makes no provisions at all for exempting indigenous peoples and their communities from the fees. We believe that the refusal to conclude a hunting agreement without auction is therefore lawful", - was stated in the official answer. Elena Grigorievna invited Vladislav Bakumenko to visit Bomnak that the official could see how the Amur Evenks are living.

Elena Kolesova wrote a letter to the President, is litigating before the regional arbitration court, but there is little optimism in her voice: "Our children are leaving Bomna. They say: You have spent your life fighting for this cause, and it has only ruined your health."

Tags: Land rights



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