Report by Jennifer Castner, The Altai Project and Pacific Environment and Johannes Rohr, Senior Advisor, Russia at International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs
1. Russia’s Indigenous Peoples
This briefing will describe the status of Russia’s Indigenous peoples and explore challenges facing the Indigenous defenders movement, its leaders, as well as other structural and institutional challenges. We will also discuss meaningful opportunities and principles for investment and international support for the movement.
Russia is a multiethnic state of 145 million. While ethnic Russians account for four-fifths of its population, 160 ethnic groups make up the remaining 29 million. Among those, the most vulnerable are 40 “Indigenous Minority Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East” [see box]. They sparsely occupy two thirds of Russia’s landmass, from Saami reindeer herders on the Kola Peninsula near Finland to Yupiq whale hunters in Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska. These peoples number about 260,000, just 0.2 percent of Russia’s population. While three-quarters of the mainstream population is urban, two-thirds of Indigenous peoples are rural, relying on subsistence activities such as fishing, reindeer husbandry, gathering, and hunting for food and income. Their languages, many of them close to extinction, are unrelated to Russian. At the same time, the industrial resource extraction that accounts for most of Russia’s revenues occurs on their ancestral lands, usually without their consent, and very often without their prior knowledge.