iRussia archive: 2004.06 Land Rights for the Itelmen! Time for Moscow to put legislation protecting the indigenous inhabitants of Siberia into effect

The letter of the international campaign to restore the Itelmen’s Territory of traditional nature use (TTNU) «Tkhsanom» (Kamchatka). 

The Itelmen, a numerically small ethnic group living on the Kamchatka peninsula of Siberia, are fighting to secure land rights in order to safeguard their self-sufficient existence as salmon fishers and hunters and gatherers.

The Itelmen are members of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), the official association of numerically small indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of Russia that represents their interests in Moscow and internationally. In 1998, the Itelmen, who are original inhabitants of Siberia, created a «Territory for traditional natural resource utilization», the Tkhsanom Traditional Subsistence Territory (TST), in the Koryak Autonomous Region where some 1019 Itelmen and 800 Koryaks live along with Evens, Chukchis and Russians descended from immigrants from elsewhere in Russia. The land occupies a very important place in the religion and culture of these indigenous people. 150 sacred places, most of which have been formally registered, lie within the boundaries of the Territory.

In 2001, the Governor of the Koryak Autonomous Region, which includes the area occupied by the Itelmen, withdrew recognition of the «Tkhsanom Reserve» on the grounds of a conflict with federal interests. He advised the Itelmen to refer the issue to the Government of the Russian Federation and to ask for the creation of the Tkhsanom TST to be recognized under the provisions of the «Law On Traditional Subsistence Territories of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia» approved on 11 May 2001.

However, the Law has not yet been implemented because its implementing regulations have not been approved. The Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, the Ministry responsible for implementing the Law, has been dragging out the proceedings. Until the regulations are in effect all applications submitted by indigenous ethnic groups, the Itelmen included, are being turned down, time after time.

Article 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation expressly recognizes the rights of numerically small ethnic groups, in accordance with internationally recognized principles and standards laid down in international law and international conventions to which the Russian Federation is a signatory. Land and natural resources must be utilized and protected because they serve as the basis for the lives and activities of the ethnic groups living in the territory concerned (Art. 9.1). Despite this, numerically small ethnic groups are still threatened with the loss of their subsistence livelihoods as a result of licenses being granted to commercial enterprises to exploit natural resources in and on land belonging to indigenous peoples before the original inhabitants have had the opportunity to establish legal title to it.

The principal traditional occupation of the Itelmen is fishing. Their creation myths, their culture and their main feast of «Alkhalalalai» all centre on the salmon that they catch in the rivers and coastal waters of Kamchatka.  Commercial exploitation and inadequate quota levels have made it difficult for the Itelmen to catch enough fish to survive. During the 1980s they were actually forbidden to catch salmon because the Russian authorities were keen to promote the offshore fishery. The indigenous people of the area gather berries, herbs and roots and they collect driftwood for use as fuel. The hunting of land or sea mammals is of secondary importance.

The Itelmen have repeatedly voiced their opposition to all commercial exploitation of their land and natural resources. Consequently, it is important for them to secure recognition of their land as a «Traditional Subsistence Territory». The main threats facing them are the depletion of salmon stocks caused by the commercial coastal fishery, the pollution of fishing grounds by the Khayryuzovo coal mine and proposals to carry out test drillings for natural gas and oil on the continental shelf of the Sea of Okhotsk.

With the help of the Rodnik legal advice centre the Council of the Itelmen Tkhsanom and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) have brought cases before the Supreme Court in Moscow and the European Court of Human Rights challenging the failure to recognize areas of traditional natural resource utilization. Their aim is to persuade the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade finally to complete the necessary procedures in order to implement land rights legislation benefitting the numerically small ethnic groups of Siberia.

We are asking you to help the numerically small ethnic groups of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia by taking part in this appeal to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

Please distribute this campaign amongst your friends and acquaintances. We would be thankful as well to receive a copy of your appeal. Please write to: “Yvonne Bangert” <>


Vladimir V. Putin
President of the Russian Federation
103132 Moscow, Russia
Staraya Ploshad, dom 4
Fax: 007 095 206 51 73 or 007 095 230 24 08

Dear Mr President,

The numerically small indigenous ethnic group of the Itelmen urgently need to secure their land rights. The «Law on Traditional Subsistence Territories of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia» concerning the creation of areas of traditional subsistence exploitation was adopted on 11 May 2001.  However it has not yet been implemented because the implementing regulations are still not in place. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is delaying proceedings. Please do all in your power to ensure that this law is finally put into effect. All other legislation and constitutional measures aimed at providing protection for indigenous peoples should also be put into effect.

Respectfully yours

Source – Arctic Consult