Right now the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues is taking place in New York. There’s a lot of lofty talk about indigenous peoples rights to free, prior and informed consent. This means indigenous people have a right to say no to industrial development that may affect their way of life and the health of their lands. However, in reality, the oil industry often ignores this consent. The indigenous reindeer herders from Numto village by Western Siberia are familiar with this lack of responsibility. They wonder, will this be addressed when the UN forum holds its session on Russia on May 2nd?
Their lives and way of life at stake:
There are over 180 communities in Russia, only 40 of them are officially recognised as indigenous. Khanty and Nenets reindeer herders are native to Numto Lake. For the Khanty, oil extraction means wrecking the environment: heavy vehicles destroying land, which is difficult to recover in the Arctic, possible oil spills poisoning water and less and less places to eat for the reindeer which feed on plants or wild herbs. Many realise the threat oil drilling presents, but few dare to oppose. Nonetheless, courageous protest does take place.
Secrets & security:
Numto village is located in Numto natural Park in the south of the Russian tundra. Except from the oil industry, It is isolated from the rest of the world. Mobile phones barely get a signal, and the road built by Surgutneftegas is private and 200km to the nearest town. Earlier this year there was a “public” hearing. Finding out about it afterwards, locals called it a sham consultation. While the oil company Surgutneftegas claims it put documents on its website, the locals do not have internet.
Strangers are kept out by a guarded checkpoint. The press is especially not welcome. Two years ago a German journalist tried to visit to report on the tension between locals and oil industry. She was denied access both by car and helicopter. Recently a journalist managed to visit during the reindeer herders’ day festivities– the day Surgutneftegas announced they are installing three more oil drilling wells in Numto.
Hunger games for Numto.
Tatiana Merkushina who has worked in local government bodies for 23 years was fired soon after she refused to stop speaking out against a re-zoning that allows for drilling in a protected area. According to Merkushina, her firing was retaliatory. As she explains, the re-zoning surveys authorized by the Governor were financed by Surgutneftegas.
The former Director of Natural Park Numto Segey Lavrentyev also believes he was the victim of retaliation: his contract was not renewed after he objected to the re-zoning.
Expose the cover up
Residents live as close to four kilometres to the nearest drilling site. While the profits go to Surgutneftegas the water and lives of the Numto are under threat. The oil industry does not want people to know what goes on in this remote indigenous territory. The reporter who managed to get in Numto village was discovered and stopped by officials:
“How did you get here?”
“Which car? What was the driver’s name?”
So, Numto residents aren’t allowed to invite guests to their own celebrations? They are isolated and under an oil producer’s supervision. People feel that they live like a prisoners, surrounded by the oil industry and find it increasingly difficult to tell their story to the press. Do you want to expose how oil development is threatening indigenous peoples’ life and rights?
Share this news and expose the cover up. And if you really want to let Surgutneftegas know how you feel about trespassing on indigenous rights and Numto Natural Park, please drop a line to Director general office Bogdanov-VL-REF@surgutneftegas.ru.
This blog is based on this piece by Russian Journalist, Aygul Khismatova and reworked for Greenpeace International by Greenpeace Canada, Sunset on Oil coordinator, Chihiro Geuzebroek.