Maria Pogodaeva - Reindeer Herders International Cooperation
Written by Philip Burgess   
Wednesday, 10 December 2008 11:23
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maria_pogodaevaCooperation of reindeer herders from Norway and Yakutia started in the 1990s, when a lot of foreign delegations were visiting Topolinoye, but the Norwegian delegation met with our reindeer herders. It consisted of Johan Matis Turi, Odd Erling Smuk, the General Secretary of NRL Anne Kathrine Rorholt and a very young Svein Mathiesen. This was the start of the establishment of the Asociaton of World Reindeer Herders.

Now it has been seen that the Association has been successful, and in March  we’ll celebrate its 10th anniversary. As for me as a representative of the indigenous peoples of Sakha/Yakutia this is the most valuable cooperation, since it’s connected to reindeer herding, which is a traditional occupation of all 5 indigenous peoples of Yakutia. This cooperation has made great contribution to reindeer herders’ perception of their past, present and, crucially, their future.

During the last 10 years Sakha (Yakutia) has become a field of international cooperation. Our Government listened to us and looked for solutions to our problems with our participation. Five years ago a Program for the development of reindeer husbandry financed from the Republic’s budget was prepared and is in operation now.


There was chaos across Russia in the 1990’s, when we nearly lost reindeer husbandry. This had also happened in our Republic. This was a catastrophe for us and unfortunately no actions were taken to prevent this. Only President Shtyrov (the President of the Republic of Sakha Yakutia) took action. At that moment only 138 000 reindeer were left, 10 years ago number of reindeers accounted for 380 000 animals. As per 1.01.2007 there are 173 000 reindeer. Pasturing areas are allocated to reindeer herding enterprises. Our republic occupies the area of 3 million square kilometers, and about 80% is covered by the territories of traditional resource management. This is also one of greatest achievements. For over a decade, we struggled for this and just last July (2006) the Republican Law on the Territories of Traditional Resource Management was passed. Much organizational work lies ahead.

No one wants to admit our land claims, but we believe that such territories will be established. Last year the President of Sakha (Yakutia) Vyacheslav Shtyrov has addressed the President of the Russian Federation (RF) Vladimir Putin to include the development of reindeer husbandry into the list of national projects.  This proposal was accepted by the President. Specialists of our republic have prepared the draft program on the development of reindeer husbandry in RF. It has been recently considered by the Government of RF.


The 3rd Congress of WRH was held under the patronage of the President of Yakutia. I have been dealing with the issues of reindeer husbandry for over 16 years. To the Congress we brought about 150 herders, sometimes by freight carriers and other transportation means and the results of the Congress were described in the WRH Report to the 23rd session of the UN workshop on indigenous peoples. The public was amazed, because usually indigenous peoples come with complaints and I was telling about the great successes of the 3rd Congress! This was also a successful presentation of WRH in UN.

Cooperation between Sakha and Norway proceeds in the field of education. For 80 years in the Russian North children were separated from their parents, children did not see their parents for over 9 months or even some years. Several generations of children were withdrawn from their parents and their traditional activities. A hostility to traditional occupations of their parents was cultivated at school. Now these generations enlarge the numbers of unemployed. That’s why many herders are uneducated – they’ve escaped from the school. This was a form protest by many young northerners.


I am also a child of boarding school. I went through it by myself and I understand that we need to make a great deal of progress now. The traditional knowledge of Northern peoples is not taught at school. One can say that traditional knowledge is irreparably lost. The last generation of experienced herders is left now, and I’m afraid we have no time to hand over this knowledge to the younger generations. Our task is to develop a system to educate reindeer herders.


Throughout all 16 years of our cooperation within WRH there was a puzzle for me as to how Saami in Norway preserved their language, culture, and proudly wore their national dress. Last year I’ve found an answer, during my visit to a Saami School in Tromso in September 2005 which launched the project “Lena – education for reindeer children”. This project focusses on children and the preservation of reindeer husbandry. The project lies in the staying of a teacher with two children in a Saami school and studying children’s educational programs and methods of teaching. I’m thankful to the school and all the teachers who create the proper conditions for learning and working.


Another educational project is an agreement, signed between the pro-rector of Saami University College Kristin Nystad and Yakutsk University on establishment of the Faculty for the Peoples of the North in Yakutsk.

Our future dreams are about the Northern Peoples’ Institute in Yakutsk! The cooperation between our peoples will develop further within the EALAT project.  It’s a great responsibility for us that Sakha (Yakutia) is also involved in the project, as well as reindeer herders from Chukotka, who we have to come to Norway to meet!

We have an extreme continental climate in Sakha (Yakutia). Last century an air temperature of 73C below zero was registered in Verkhoyansk, in summer it can reach plus 45C. Reindeer herders, staying in the open air all year round, currently notice changes in the climate. Two years on end it was raining at the end of October. Luckily for us, it was followed by warming, and we were able to preserve some of our herds. Last year it was raining from the beginning of July. We’ve lost a lot of reindeer due to fungus. In Southern Yakutia bears couldn’t squat. These are examples of global warming.

In Yakutia there are also indigenous peoples’ obschinas that need to be studied. The Ministry of Agriculture fights against their establishment instead of supporting them, as it should be. After visiting Norway, five people have established obschinas. Administrative pressure is put upon them by not allocating lands and a denial of their registration. Presently there are about 90 to 1.5 thousand reindeers in the obschinas. There are more than 70 reindeer herding communes and 45 million hectares of lands allocated for them. In the nomadic school in Evenki children observe climate change by measuring some meteorological parameters already during 5 winter seasons.

EALAT should not evade pastures problems connected to industrial development. We have had to reconcile ourselves to the withdrawal of huge territories by gold and diamond development and resulting pollution of environment. Since last year there have been raised an issue of industrial development of the Southern Yakutia – 9 hydro power stations will be built on two rivers, an oil pipeline will cross the Lena River, where the earthquakes are common. This is not only a problem of Evenki in Southern Yakutia, who are doomed to loose their reindeer husbandry; according to scientists vast fresh water resources will be destroyed. This is a problem for the whole Arctic.


There is a lot of information in mass media about the pipeline to be laid across Yakutia – were there any public consultations on this project and what is your impression about them?

Maria Pogodaeva: Public hearings were held only in the towns – Aldan, Neryungry, Olekminsk, Yakutsk – where newcomers are interested in pipeline construction and building of Power Stations. Indigenous peoples were not asked, although we participated in all public events (hearings and consultations). We’ve experienced offensive attitudes during our speeches, even from our government when holding those hearings. Now we are pressing for a referendum in the places of indigenous peoples’ permanent residence. At parliamentary hearings concerning this issue we were told namely the following: “Why should we ask reindeer herders, who can sell his land for a pack of tea and cigarettes?” Nevertheless we will continue our work in this direction. Just before to come to this meeting I addressed the President of Sakha Republic, stating on the breaches of international and Russian legislation by this project. I hope to meet the President regarding this issue. During public consultations we were told that this is only a project, but actually it has been already supplied with construction materials. EALAT should support us at least by its presence, so we could feel the common support of international community. We have developed draft agreement with the President of Sakha Republic.

(This is from Maria Pogodaeva's presentation to the Indigenous Peoples IInternational Polar Year Opening, Kautokeino, 2007.)
ICR Feature, Maria Pogodaeva, WRH, WRH Activities