22 session of the Working Group on Indigenous Population Statement by Chagat Almashev, LIENIP
: 21/07/2004
: Indigenous Issues

United Nations
Economic and Social Council
Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on the Promotion of Human Rights
22 session of the Working Group on Indigenous Population
19-23 July 2004 Geneva, Switzerland
Item: 4 b

Statement by Chagat Almashev, LIENIP

Dear Mr. Chairman, colleagues, brothers and sisters

I am representing a Russian network organisation, which is called Lauravetlan Information and Education Network of Indigenous People (LIENIP) and also a local NGO Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai (FSDA), which has been established on the recommendation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Altai Republic.
Russian part of the Altai Mountains are subdivided onto the Altai Republic and Altai krai (territory), two independent regions of the Russian Federation. The Altai Republic is mostly populated by different indigenous peoples belonging to the Turkic group of the Altai family of languages (Altai-kizhi, Telengits, Kumandins, Tubalars, Chelkans, Teleuts and Shors), ethnic groups of the Slavic and other roots peoples.
Our mountains are famous for its biological, ethnical, cultural and historical diversity and its territory is inscribed as the Golden Mountains of Altai into the UNESCO list of the World Nature Heritage. We recognise the global significance of the Altai Mountains diversity and therefore we draw attention to threats, problems and conflicts we face recently in Altai. Rapid economic development, which threatens unique biota and traditional livelihoods and environment is an obvious and hazardous scenario if it is allowed to develop unchecked and unregulated. The key problem, which causes conflicts, is regulation of landownership and landuse.
Our Republic is in the process of setting up so called Ethnic and Nature Parks, which protect areas of environmental and cultural importance while allowing compatible human activities. There are now five Parks comprising 286,370 hectares of land; two more Parks are in the process of formation. What is good about these protected areas? Firstly, these nature parks are totally local people initiative and these protected areas have regional status but recognized by the Federal government and the parks are organised and managed by local indigenous leaders. Secondly, the parks combine conservation and development issues using both indigenous and scientific approaches in zoning and landscape planning of the parks' areas. Sacred sites are identified as core areas equal to biodiversity concentration spots, buffer zones are allowed to local people to lead traditional landuse (cattle farming) and Ecotourism and scientific research activities and development areas include villages and farms with intensive economic development permitted but with certain environmental limits.
Now we have conflict of interests: on one hand, federal authorities are not interested to support Protected Areas of regional status because they are under the regional and local governments, on the another hand, regional authorities does show any interest to expand quantity of regional Protected Areas as federal Strictly Protected Areas occupy almost 22% of the whole territory of the Republic, to add more protected areas even of regional status means to Altai government as real restrictions to regional economic development. 22% federal strictly Protected Areas do not allow any interference indigenous people with their traditional landuse (farming, fishing, hunting). But the indigenous conceive regional Ethnic and Nature parks as an only possible way or mechanism to protect their lands from privatisation, which is very possibly to happen after 2006 according to federal laws. We mean Russian federal "Forest Code" and "Land Code" which are in a process of passing through federal Parliament now and which ignore indigenous people rights to their lands and forests and to lead their traditional landuse at all. We want our sacred sites, mountains, lakes, rivers, lands to be areas of common use at least, which cannot be private or withdrawn and restricted to indigenous population by federal authorities. Therefore our NGOs (LIENIP and FSDA) and international organisations support and foster development process of the regional parks owned by the indigenous leaders in the Altai Republic of Russia.
Tourism is considered as a primary sector for the economic development of the Altai Republic. Districts located near the Republic capital, benefit much: rapid economic development, construction of highways, "western type" hotels and restaurants. Local people in remote high mountain districts witness negative aspects of tourism: "western type" modification and pollution of ecosystems, trash in tourist places and sacred sites, unsanctioned diggings of kurgans (burial mounds), and destruction of petroglyphs, ignorance and disrespect to indigenous cultures. Therefore many local indigenous communities consider tourism as a negative factor and a real threat to their traditional livelihoods and cultures. In the case of the Altai, it is crucial for us to promote and develop community-based tourism (Ecotourism or Ethnic tourism) to provide some income to local rural communities while protecting the natural environment and cultural heritage. Western type tourism is not a remedy for us or for our poor regional economy; only Ethnic tourism backed by local communities is able to be a compromise in a regional dilemma of development and conservation. Ii is our interpretation of a sustainable development concept of our region.
Human resource and local capacity building is very important issue in the case with Altai as the key stakeholders of conservation and development processes are local people and indigenous communities who are strongly motivated to protect their lands and traditional livelihoods which proved to be sustainable and more environmentally friendly for thousand years we live in our mountains. These parks' main conflict with regional and federal governments that lands of the parks belong to different landowners (federal 1 category forests, farming lands, villages and pastures and recreational lands) and they should be converted to municipal status or lands of common use. This is a vision of indigenous peoples of the Altai region of Russia. Summing up my statement I would like to tell one success story in protection of indigenous lands. Indigenous communities of Altai had been fighting since the end of 90-s to take back a small 2,5 hectare area at the coast of the Teletskoye Lake (we call it Golden lake) from a big industrial and tourist company. Just recently in June of 2006 we legally won at the regional courts and took this site back to our indigenous communities. This victory we dedicate to the International Decade of Indigenous Populations to inspire all indigenous peoples to protect rights to their lands and traditional livelihoods.
Thank you for your attention.