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Polar Times

Capacity building in the Russian Artic

In March 1998, leaders from 28 indigenous groups residing in Arctic Russia met to discuss common problems related to their threatened environment and natural resources. By Kathrine I. Johnsen and Valentin Yemelin.

The main output of the 1998 seminar was an assessment report of indigenous peoples’ environmental problems, proposed
actions and request for help from international fora. This led to the development of the UNEP/Nordic Saami program for capacity building and participation of Russia’s Indigenous Peoples in the sustainable development of the Arctic. The program supports the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and is based on the experience and competence of Nordic Saami organisations in environment and development issues from an indigenous perspective. The program develops links to RAIPON and the United Nations through GRID-Arendal
– the Key Polar Centre of UNEP.

The program is unique. It is designed to develop the capacity of the regional and central organisations of the indigenous peoples of Arctic Russia in the fields of environmental knowledge, networking, information, and awareness-raising. The program further supports sustainable development in Arctic Russia through focus on indigenous knowledge and strengthening of the capacity of the indigenous peoples to participate in the process. All program activities are defined from indigenous standpoints and priorities. The project consists of four main activities: Program management and RAIPON capacity building; networking and public relations; local reporting on health, environment and living conditions; and training courses in impact assessment.

Program management and RAIPON capacity building
This involves training of RAIPON staff in program and project development and management as well as training and seminars on institutional development. This activity consists of coordination with other existing or planned donor supported RAIPON projects, feeding into annual reports and fund raising.

Networking and Public Relations
The purpose of this project is to enhanceRAIPON’s capacity to inform and communicate externally on the situation of the indigenous peoples of the north, Siberia and the Far east. The long-term capacity of the regional chapters of RAIPON to inform and communicate externally and internally is the goal. This includes supporting of RAIPON’s journal and website. Production of a documentary on the living conditions of indigenous peoples of Arctic Russia is in the pipeline.

Local reporting on health, environment and living conditions
The third project is focused on producing indigenous knowledge based reports on health, environment and living conditions of indigenous peoples in Arctic Russia. These reports enable local communities to make their state of environment and living known both within Russia and internationally (including documentation of traditional land use). This involves regional structures and provides input to national, circumpolar and global assessments. Finally, this task also involves training RAIPON members in environmental reporting.

Training course in impact assessments
Ultimately, the program partners are developing a course that will train members of indigenous communities to conduct independent environmental impact assessments and to use other tools to assess projects influencing the In March 1998, leaders from 28 indigenous groups residing in Arctic Russia met to discuss common problems related to their threatened environment and natural resources. BY KATHRINE I. JOHNSEN AND VALENTIN YEMELINrights and interests of the indigenous peoples in Russia. This will include assessments of existing and planned industrial, communication and conservation developments that may have impact on indigenous peoples and their environment. During the summer of 2002, two surveys on indigenous peoples health, environment and living conditions were conducted in Arctic Russia. Data from the survey is in the process of being analysed. The results will be published late 2003 or early 2004. However, one of the main messages from the individuals in the survey is the lack of access to information. This is connected to the lack of infrastructure, outlined in Tamara Semenova’s article There and back again: accessibility is the key.

Another important output from the survey is that people in general feel they have very little access to the federal authorities that take decisions with a direct impact on the environment, health and living conditions of indigenous communities and individuals.

There is a continuing need to ensure a reliable flow of information and to focus on awareness-raising amongst the Russian Arctic indigenous communities. Further, there is a need to continue developing the ability of indigenous communities to express and report on their state of environment and living.
Each year four issues of RAIPON’s journal Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika (Indigenous World – Living Arctic) are published and disseminated to over 700 indigenous settlements in the Arctic Russia. A set of selected articles from the journal are translated into English and published on the RAIPON website. According to RAIPON, the journal is the most important channel for communication of regional and national information relevant to indigenous peoples in Russia. The regular publication of the journal is one of the printing issues of the program.

KATHRINE I. JOHNSEN is project manager at GRID-Arendal, responsible for the Arctic Indigenous Peoples Program. VALENTIN YEMELIN is project manager at GRID-Arendal, working on issues of environmental information in Russia, Belarus, ukraine and Moldova.

For more information:Katrine.johnsen@grida.no. See also the partners’ websites: www.grida.no, www.raipon.org and www.saamicouncil.net