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Pacific Environment: Alaska tribes, environmentalists work with traditional reindeer herders in Russia

March 3rd, 2011 | Alaska Newspapers Staff Print this article   Email this article  

Pacific Environment, an international environmental NGO focused on protecting the living environment of the Pacific Rim, will travel to Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in Russia next week, March 7-16, with a group of indigenous leaders from the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, as part of a cultural and informational exchange to strengthen ties between these communities in an effort to foster supportive relationships across the Arctic and identify opportunities for collaboration, a press release from the group said.

This 10-day exchange will bring leaders working on indigenous issues and a traditional way of life from Alaska's Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope to the Sakha Republic to meet with Evenk tribal and NGO leaders and officials in several Sakha villages. The Evenk community in Sakha, a traditional reindeer-herding culture, is working to protect its culture and way of life in the face of increasing resource extraction activities and industrial development. Through the exchange, indigenous leaders will convene to share experiences and to learn from each other. Participants will discuss their communities' approach to protecting sacred traditional lands, participation in decision-making processes regarding natural resource use, and community leaders' experience negotiating with resource extraction companies and monitoring industrial projects.

This will be the third in a series of exchanges between the Sakha Evenk community and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope. The first exchange, in 2008, brought Evenk leaders from the Sakha Republic to Barrow for information-sharing and a cultural exchange that resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding, under which the communities agreed to mutual support for efforts to protect indigenous peoples' rights and preserve traditional lands in the face of industrial development.

The relationship initiated here was strengthened in March 2010, when Evenk leaders from Sakha and Russian geological experts visited Barrow for cultural presentations and to share the effects of hydrocarbon extraction on the indigenous reindeer economy. This third exchange will provide further opportunity for both communities to deepen knowledge of the each other's culture and community challenges, and to identify ways to support each other's efforts.

Indigenous communities on both sides of the Arctic, including Alaska's North Slope and Russia's Sakhalin Island, have for decades watched their pristine homelands and traditional fishing and hunting grounds be sacrificed to oilfield development.

Traditional Arctic communities are often the first to experience the effects of global climate change, and stories abound from both sides of the Pacific about environmental conditions changing in response to warming trends, such as the melting of Siberian permafrost or the recent appearance of new insect species in Alaska. Such rapid change necessitates strong community organization and cooperation among indigenous groups to protect their lands and traditional ways of life from the impacts of global warming and resource extraction projects.

"Our goal is to continue to help foster the longstanding relationships between native Russian and Alaska tribal communities that can eventually be developed into an influential information-sharing and advocacy network," said Shawna Larson, Alaska Program Co-Director for Pacific Environment. "We see this as an opportunity for both groups to gain a better understanding of the impacts of oil and gas projects on indigenous life in the Arctic and how to collectively best approach this."

Members of the delegation will be available for interviews upon returning from the exchange, during the week of March 21, 2011. For more information contact Colleen Keane at or (907) 277-1029.

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