'We protest against the destruction of our land. To destroy its nature is to destroy us. We realise that the country needs oil, but not at the cost of our lives! All work here is being done as if we do not exist, as if our ancestors did not live here, as if life is at an end for our people.'
Plea from the Yugan Khanty Community
Yugan Khanty threatened by oil industry expansion
The Siberian taiga in Russia, an area of sub-arctic swamp and forest, was home to the Khanty people for thousands of years before the Russians arrived. Each family had its own particular territory (believed to be protected by family gods) where it lived by hunting, fishing and trapping, moving seasonally in search of food and fur.
In the 1960s there was an oil rush on Khanty land. At that time many of the region's river systems were populated by Khanty families, but most are now deserted. Even those Khanty who were not forcibly removed to make way for oil companies had no choice but to leave their land, as the game they hunted had been driven away and they could not fish in the oil-polluted rivers. Those who have been forced to move into villages, where they have no means to support themselves, are living in poverty. The loss of their land and way of life has pushed many into alcoholism and suicide, and they are discriminated against by the Russians who call them dogs and abuse them for having dark skin.
The collapse of the Russian economy and lax environmental regulations mean that the oil companies use increasingly aged and dilapidated equipment, with the result that more than 20,000 tons of oil run into the soil and rivers each year, waste which only spurs the industry on to further expansion. Many oil company representatives also hold positions in local government while the Khanty are unrepresented, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation. The 847 Khanty of the Yugan region, consisting of more than 40 extended families, are one of the last groups of Khanty whose land and sacred sites have not been destroyed by oil exploitation. Despite the efforts of the Soviets to destroy their language and culture by sending their children to boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their own language, and the efforts of the Orthodox church to convert them to Christianity, they still speak their own language and maintain their own beliefs.
The Yugan Khanty have been trying to turn their land into a biosphere reserve, which would protect it from oil exploitation. This had been provisionally accepted by the regional authorities, but it has just been announced that their land is being put up for tender to oil companies. The leader of the Yugan Khanty has pleaded with the authorities not to allow this to happen and Survival is adding its voice to that of the Yugan Khanty, calling for their rights to the ownership and control of their land to be recognised and respected.
Please send a letter of protest to the governor of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, Alexander V. Filipenko, urging that he respect the land rights of the Yugan Khanty and that there should be no oil development on their land without their full and informed consent.
Governor Alexander V. Filipenko, Ul. Mira. 5, Khanty-Mansiysk, Tyumen Oblast, 626200, Russia. Fax: + 7 34671 3 34 60
Survival newsletter 40, 1998
see also: http://www.survival.org.uk