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There and back again: accessibility is the key

Though the indigenous peoples’ communities in Russia may seem more reachable now, the accessibility of the remote settlements, government bodies and sources of information continues to be the hurdle for improvement of self-governance, education and health. By Tamara Semenova

More than 200,000 people live in the Russian north. The area of their traditional territories is very extensive and spreads from Karelia in the west to Chukotka in the east, and from Taimyr in the north to Buryatia in the south. But getting access to these remote communities is a struggle both for the people living there and people from the outside. Issues varying from education, health care and information to availability of primary facilities like plumbing, is often aggravated by the difficulties in accessibility
to these communities.
The importance of accessibility to the Russian indigenous communities and its effect on the communities’ health and environment has been assessed by the all-Russian non-governmental umbrella organization Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) within the framework of the project: Local Health and Environment Reporting by Arctic Indigenous Peoples, conducted in partnership with GRID-Arendal. The project is the first study extensively covering this issue in the Russian north.
The total indigenous population in Russian rural regions is approximately 150,000 people, residing in over than 750 settlements, which considerably vary in size, natural and geographical conditions. They are mostly located in the boreal zone, and only a limited number of tundra settlements belong to the Arctic zone. The population of a northern settlement falls within the range of 1 to 9,000 inhabitants, its average size being 200 people. These are relatively small settlements, which significantly differ in the proportion of indigenous population. In general, the smaller the community – the larger this proportion is.

The study has indicated that, due to the remoteness, local aviation is, by far, the prevailing means of transportation to northern settlements. In 55 percent of cases local aviation is a predominant and in 37 percent – the only means of transportation
to the regional administrative center. Cars, 4-wheel drives and tractors are used in 33–40 percent of the communities; motorboats and snow mobiles – in 28 and 21 percent, respectively. Thirteen percent indicate motorboats as their main means of transportation. The motorcycles, buses and speed motorboats are used in 11–17 percent of the communities, but if there is a regular bus line to a regional center, bus is the main vehicle for commuting.
The indigenous communities’ access to governmental bodies and power structures seems to have slightly improved. Naturally, the most accessible ones are reported to be local council deputies and local militia, then comes district administration and finally regional authorities. Deputies of the national (federal) level are regarded as practically inaccessible. RAIPON’s local and regional chapters are perceived as much more open bodies to indigenous people.

Northern communities are very isolated and their access to mass media is of high importance to residents. Television and radio are reported to be out of reach in 27 and 15 percent of the communities, respectively, and 64 percent are not able to receive regional or national periodicals.

TAMARA SEMENOVA is research and project coordinator in RAIPON.For the project report see